For philosophers, life is full of coincidences. But for us Christians, life is providential. While the philosopher talks of coincidence because of chance, we Christians talk about providence because we believe there is a God in charge of our lives and human history.
What is more evident than God's in-breaking into human history in Jesus Christ? Christmas offered the opportunity to welcome God among us and into our history: human history is being divinized because Immanuel became historical, the highest act of God's providential love.
God's providence comes to us in different and differing ways. Often, we consider the mismatch between the Christian liturgical year and our civil calendar new year as a source of confusion. This year, the Christian liturgical year began Nov. 27, while the civic new year began Jan. 1.
The providence of God always precedes human projections because God is the precondition and grounding of all human endeavours. Seen in this light, our liturgical year unravels the divine drama that ushers in our civic year.
The new English Missal, with its "updated" translation, offers ample opportunities to reflect on the link between the liturgical and civic years. This is particularly the case because it takes some consciousness on the part of a Catholic to respond "and with your Spirit" to the priest's greeting, "the Lord be with you!"
In a situation of hopelessness and moral bankruptcy, the reassurance brought by the greeting "the Lord be with you" (Judges 6.12) is consoling and disconcerting all at once. That was the situation of Gideon when the angel of the Lord appeared to him to reassure him of God's presence and assistance among his people. Gideon contested the angel's greetings with examples of humiliation and signs of abandonment (Judges 6.13).
What Gideon forgot was that "the Lord be with you" is always a prelude to God's interventions: a miracle child was to be born – Samson – to restore the dignity of God's people. Gideon's encounter with the angel opened a new chapter in God's presence among his people.
The celebration of New Year on the heels of Christmas manifests, from a liturgical perspective, the world's need and continuous thirst for God. The Christian liturgical response, "and with your spirit," is not certainly without antecedents. Mary's encounter with the Archangel Gabriel, the bringer of good tidings, and his greetings "the Lord is with you" (Luke 1.28) orients us to the angelic salutation to Gideon, but with a wider audience and unique context: All people on earth are the objects of God's beneficence, and the coming of the unique Son of God is the context of Gabriel's greetings.
Two facts are indisputable for a believing Christian: first, as the aftermath of Archangel Gabriel's greetings to Mary, she conceived and bore a Son by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit becomes and is the medium for the realization of God's promise to intervene, in a spectacular way, in human history.
Second, our liturgical response, "and with your spirit," opens up two perspectives on God's intervention in our lives and world: the presence of Christ in the Eucharistic assembly transforming the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ through the Holy Spirit (epiclesis), but also the actions and activities of Christ in the world through the same Holy Spirit.
The antecedence of Christmas – the birth of Jesus Christ – projects the blessings of the Messiah – "and on earth peace among those whom God favours!" – to our world as it begins another year of grace. It is a year of grace because it is a free gift from God to us, at least for those who believe in him and see his activities in nature and in the world.
"And with your spirit" recalls the presence and interventions of God in our lives and world today. It concretizes the meaning of Immanuel – God with us – in an invisible, yet concrete way.
We can say "happy new year" because we have a guarantee of God's presence among us. We can have a "happy new year" because God's favour rests among all people of good will. We can enjoy the "new year" because the Lord is "with your spirit."
Spiritan Father Ayodele Ayeni is a sessional lecturer at Newman Theological College and pastor of Mary Help of Christians (Chinese) Parish in Edmonton.