Unwrapping Christmas: The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
Merry Christmas! And if we continue to wish people a merry Christmas and leave our decorations up for a couple more weeks, at least until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, when the Christmas season actually ends, we can count on getting some strange looks from those who mistakenly believe that Christmas was over on Dec 25th
But this year with this pandemic, many people who normally would have been joyfully singing “I’ll be home for Christmas” are actually feeling sad, isolated and alone for Christmas instead. And it’s for times like these that the Church gives us the feast day of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as role models to help us navigate our way in holiness through the ups and downs of life. Because the Holy Family went through trials and tribulations just like our families do.
For example; Joseph and Mary were probably the topic of neighbor’s gossip when Mary was found to be with Child by the Holy Spirit. Then when they traveled to Bethlehem to be counted in the census, Jesus had to be born in a stable because there was no place else to stay. And in the Gospel today Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law: That every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, and to offer sacrifice, but according to dictates of the law, a Jewish family would normally offer a lamb, but for those who could not afford a lamb they were permitted to offer a couple of pigeons instead.
Now I’m not sure exactly how much pigeons cost back then but they may be one of the few commodities in the world that hasn’t been affected by inflation over the past 2000 years, because back then and today, I bet that in any major city one could buy a bunch of pigeons for next to nothing. So that tells us that the Holy family experienced financial hardships just like many of our families do today.
And after the Holy Family returned to Nazareth together, Joseph is only mentioned once in the following verses of the Gospel. So we can assume that the holy family mourned the loss of St. Joseph just like we mourn the passing of a close family member ourselves, which makes it plain to see that we have a lot in common with how the Holy Family lived their earthly lives. And now that they are in heaven they intercede for us to become Holy Families too, despite our human failings, because God can draw strait with crooked lines to transform weak and sinful people like us, into instruments of His grace and change in this world. But we have to do our part One, holy, family at a time.
And that starts with following the advice we heard in our first reading today from the prophet Sirach, Who tells us about the rich rewards we will receive for honoring and revering our family members throughout our lives, which include atonement for sins and the promise that God will hear our prayers. And St Paul expands on that theme in our 2nd reading by telling us to “Put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with and forgiving one another out of love”.
These are things that holy families have in common because the Spirit of Christ who dwells within their hearts. And through Him whatever they do in word or in deed they do it in the name of the Lord Jesus. And that’s who transforms secular families into holy families.
So it doesn’t matter if you’re married, single, living with or without children or if it seems like you don’t have any family at all, you can still be a holy family if Jesus is in the center of your life, because in Christ we are never alone. And in Christ we are always surrounded by family including our Guardian Angels and all the Saints. We even have our departed family members that have gone to heaven before us who now and forever love to intercede and pray with and for our families when we ask them to, because wherever 2 or 3 are gathered in Jesus’ name He’s there too.
And by His presence and power, ordinary families become Holy ones, and through sacrificial love for their neighbors and prayer, God’s grace becomes visible and effective through them. That’s probably why their homes are often decorated in Early Catholic, because those crucifixes, rosaries, and other sacramentals that they proudly display, are simply a reflection of their faith in the one true God who is the source and center of their lives.
And although these families aren’t perfect I believe that Jesus, Mary and Joseph would be happy to stay with them for a visit. But can we say the same about our families? I mean if Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus arrived in town to stay with your family for a few days, would your home have any visible evidence of your Christianity on display? Would they feel at home with the way your family honors and reveres each other or by how much heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience you show towards others? Or do you think after a short visit, the Holy Family might prefer to go and stay in a stable where there is less drama and more peace?
Now of course your answers to those questions might change depending on what day it is, because none of our families are going to be perfect, but they can and need to be holy, because holy families are God’s answer to every single one of society’s problems and our surest path to heaven. But not because of our own power, but from the power of Christ who dwells in the center of each of our holy families. So this is what we want you to know today:
Holy families don’t have to be perfect, but by caring for one another with heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with and forgiving one another, through prayer, sacrificial love and putting God first in all that we do, our families can become Holy families, and by our example, change the world for Christ.
And here’s what we want you to do:
In a few minutes were going to recite the prayer of Consecration to the Holy Family together. And when we do, offer and entrust your family to the care of Jesus, Mary and Joseph from your heart. And when you leave here today, make sure you put those visible reminders of your Christianity on display in your home, and if you don’t have them, get them. It can be something as simple as a crucifix or some sacred art work as a reminder to keep God at the center of your family life, so that day by day and week by week the world around you may be changed for Christ, one, holy, family, at a time.