A very little reflection on today’s gospel reading: Luke 2.15-21
I wonder whether you can remember back to when you were at school, and to the excitement of starting a brand new exercise book? The feeling of the spine as you open it the first time, the way that it springs closed again until you press it flat, the smell of the fresh paper, and most of all the pristine white first page… I know it’s not just me that still finds memories of those ‘new book’ moments to be surprisingly powerful.
Remember, too, that the first thing you ever write in a new exercise book is your name on the cover (and probably your class, your year group, and perhaps the subject that the book is supposed to be used for).
Your name. Where and who you are. What you’re intending to do.
No wonder these ‘new book moments’ resonate so powerfully with us.
And that’s even before you add in the adrenaline rush of starting to write on the first, blank page. The way that your handwriting on page one was always your best, and gradually deteriorated in the pages that followed. The feeling of disappointment at the first mistake or crossing-out. The way that the longer you went without making a mistake, the greater the pressure to keep your book ‘perfect’.
It’s not just me, is it, with these memories?
When the Sunday after Christmas falls on 1st January, and we get the reading about Mary and Joseph taking Jesus to be dedicated, right at the start of his life, for some reason I always think of the new book moments of my life. What do Mary and Joseph have at this point? They have a tiny baby, a lot of promises, and a name. In the book of Jesus’ life, they’ve made the first crucial symbolic step, that of dedicating him to God. And all they have is a name to write on the front cover, some ideas from the angels about what the book will be about, and lots of blank pages of future, for their son, and for themselves as his parents. No doubt they were thinking about what would fill those pages: their hopes, their resolution to do their part to the best of their abilility, and as the grace of God assisted them. But also about all the potential for mistakes, for things going wrong, things that they knew could marr the perfect life story that every parent wants for their child.
On 28th December we remembered the Holy Innocents, all the children slaughtered by Herod in his attempt to destroy Jesus, and the desperate flight of the Holy Family into Egypt. Later, we hear how Simeon warned Mary of ‘a sword that would pierce her own soul, too’ at the suffering of her son. It’s not long before the beautiful blank pages of the book of Jesus’ life are filled not only with wonderful stories and words of life, but with blots of red, and vicious deletions.
But today it’s not just the story of Jesus’ life that we tell. It’s in our nature that as the year turns, we mentally ‘turn over a new page’ or even start a new volume in the story of our own lives. New Year’s resolutions are a way of grasping that new book moment, and the purity and unsullied time between absolution and the start of the next sin.
If you can find one, get out a blank book – some people habitually use rather beautiful journals, others ringbound reporters’ notebooks, whatever you use is fine – and enjoy its potential. Think about all that will be written on its still-blank pages: whether it’s philosophy or shopping lists. Offer all that future to God for his blessing.
Now, choose a really nice pen, and in your very best writing, write your name on the cover. This is where you start. With yourself, just as you are. And this is what you bring to God to dedicate to him, just as Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus. Just a person, starting out, with a name, and a lot of potential.
The mistakes will come. But the dedication to God, and all that it means, remains, and will always remain. Whatever you use your notebook for, whatever aspects of your life are recorded in it (whether it be philosphy or shopping lists), offer them to God today, and every day.