“We begin this year worried about many unknowns.”
As a new year begins, there is much uncertainty in each of our lives. We don’t know what the new year will bring. We are looking back at a year that had caused us incredible trauma and loss. Understandably, we cannot help but look forward to the next year with as much fear and anxiety.
“Do not be afraid.” In the face of storms and fear, Christ would always assure his disciples with these words. The same message of comfort and confidence also rings true as a new year begins. Christ is calling us not only to be courageous and fearless, but to be confident and faithful. He asks us not only to find peace of mind, but also strength in our faith.
This realization is even made more meaningful as the Church celebrates the solemnity of Mary, the mother of God, at the beginning of the civil year. At the very first instance of the incarnation – at the annunciation of the Lord to Mary – the angel Gabriel begins with the greeting, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” (Luke 1:20)
Imagine the anxiety and confusion Mary felt on hearing the angel’s announcement. In those days, getting pregnant outside of marriage was not only a huge scandal, it was a crime punishable by stoning to death. Before she could even worry about raising the child by herself, she was perhaps fearful of how she would be judged according to Jewish law.
But Mary took the angel at his word. What followed were words of utmost fidelity to God’s will, “Be it done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
“Do not be afraid.” A demanding order for many who have a good reason to be afraid. Those who lost someone they love last year. Those who lost their job or closed down their business. Those who became critically ill because of the coronavirus pandemic. The elderly who worry about their growing needs. The young who are afraid of missing the right opportunities.
Unfortunately, modern society prefers to describe the future with certainty. We like to know for sure what will happen, so we can adequately prepare for how things are expected to be. This is why the New Year’s Day broadcast on televisions was replete with forecasts and predictions on how the coming year will be – and how we can be in control for whatever eventuality.
Looking into the past could also help us assess our place in the present and in the future. But with a year as challenging as 2021, it would be easy for us to be fixated on its adversities and challenges and forget about our success and accomplishments. The value in the lessons of the past is not only to be found in learning what needs to be done better, but also in understanding what we are able to do best. The last year may have been difficult, but it should not distract us from taking the chances of things becoming better this year and for us to take the opportunity to be fearless and faithful.
The Bible speaks of a sign, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel” (which means, God with us) (Matt 1:23). By giving birth to God in the flesh, Mary presents a simple yet profound image of God’s abiding presence. In Christ, we see God walking as we walk. Hungry as we hunger, tired as we tire, God healing human illness with a touch. So there is nothing in our frail human experience, that Christ has not experienced himself. In embracing our human nature, God instills courage into our hopeless hearts, saving us not only sin but also from fear.
We may not know what the year 2022 holds for us, we may not even know the way into the year. But in Mary we receive the assurance that God will always be with us. Confronted by our own fears, God invites us to see in Mary and her motherhood his desire to be part of our lowly human condition. In her fearlessness, Mary consented to God’s will to become what we are so we might become more like him. In her faithfulness, Mary exemplified the challenge to love God and others every day, as a mother would care for her own child.
We may begin this year worried about the many unknowns – about what is going to happen to the economy? When will our children be back in school? How will our healthcare system cope with the growing number of infections? Will this coronavirus pandemic ever end? What does the upcoming elections mean to us as a nation?
It may be natural for us to be afraid and worried at times – but following the example of Mary, we are not a people of fear. We are a people of faith and hope and we need to express in our lives what we believe in our hearts – our faith in the goodness of God and the hope that we continue to hold each other against all odds.
A happy and hopeful New Year, everyone!