“The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!” Book of Numbers 6:22-27.
On this ancient feast of “Mary, the Mother of God” our liturgy draws on a blessing for this New Year from the Old Testament, Book of Numbers. Interestingly, most blessings come with some future promise.
In the case of the Jews, they were on their desert journey toward the Promised Land, where Moses offers this blessing. But it’s Aaron who takes over the leadership of the Jewish people, and with his kin they enter the “Land of Milk and Honey,” that was promised by God.
I’m also reminded too that in our religious as well as our popular culture, we seek blessings on new endeavors, safety for travel, couples expecting a birth. There are a myriad of blessings in the official Catholic Book of Blessings.
As a priest – in past ceremonies I have blessed new automobiles, for the safety of its driver; and I blessed a college gymnasium — complete with a NCAA approved swimming pool, exercise equipment, and a rock climbing apparatus that hovers over the main floor of the building. You need plenty of prayers before attempting this feat.
Today’s gospel with the scene at the manger, recalls the lyrics of the “Sabbath Song” from the Broadway Musical, “Fiddler on the Roof,” by Jerry Block and Sheldon Harnick:
“May the Lord protect and defend you. May the Lord preserve you from pain. Favor them oh Lord, with happiness and peace. Oh, hear our Sabbath prayer. Amen.”
As they sought refuge and peace in Bethlehem, this blessing could have been addressed to Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Their story continues, as we know.
In the “Year of the Lord 2017,” we pray for a blessing. We pray for peace, on what has been named a “World Day for Peace,” on some occasions.
For this past century, there has been relentless warfare — from 1917 to our present day; we can call it a “one- hundred years” war, with tragedy and human loss — from the bloody fields in France with the “Battle of the Somme,” to the war in Syria, and its town of Aleppo.
Here’s a Christmas blessing and promise. It comes by way of a friend and even a neighbor to those of us who live here in Monterey.
The writer Robert Louis Stevenson came to Monterey in 1879, to join his future wife Fanny, as well as recover from his frequent medical problems, and the long journey from England to California.
Local ranchers nursed him to health. He lived in Monterey, one-year, enough time to see first hand our coast and Point Lobos, which some consider the physical locale for his most famous book “Treasure Island,” published shortly after he returned to England. Sadly, he died in 1894 at the age of 44.
The grandson of a Presbyterian minister, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote this Christmas blessing.
“Loving Father, help us remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds and the wisdom of the wise men.
Close the door of hate and open the door of love all over the world.
Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting.
Deliver us from evil by the blessing, which Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clean hearts.
May the Christmas morning make us happy to be your children and the Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus’ sake. Amen. “
Here’s a footnote. In doing research, I discovered that this lovely passage may have been written by a cousin of Stevenson’s, since it does not appear either in his book of children’s verse, nor in his “Christmas Sermon.” Over the years, however, this prayer blessing has been attributed to RLS.