During Advent we waited as we prepared for the coming of the Lord. At Christmas we rejoiced when the Christ Child was born of a Virgin and the world worshiped him. Today, life goes on as the Holy Family travels to Jerusalem to worship in the Synagogue. This is one of the few times the Holy Family is mentioned in the Gospels.
In this brief glimpse, we see that the Holy Family was very devout. Today’s Gospel begins: “They took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, and to offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.
The Gospel reading continues: “When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.” The New Jerusalem Bible makes it a little easier to understand: “When they had done everything the Law of the Lord required, they went back to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.”
Mary and Joseph did more than just follow the rules. They believed their faith. During Advent we heard how Mary accepted God’s will even though she did not understand how it could happen. Joseph accepted God’s will even though he had planned to quietly divorce Mary so he would not bring shame to her. Joseph protected Mary on the dangerous roads to Bethlehem. They both marveled at the stories of the shepherds who came to worship.
They took Jesus to the temple to present him to God. They followed their faith just as we follow ours today. While they were in the temple, we hear of two people who saw the Child and were overjoyed: Simeon and Anna. The Holy Spirit revealed to Simeon, a devout Jew, “that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.” Anna gave thanks to God and spoke “about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.” Both of them gave thanks to God for the Child so all could hear.
The Holy Family gave us an example: they followed their faith and it brought joy to the world. It’s easy to become slack in our faith this time of year. All the commercialism of Christmas has reduced it to just another holiday except with a lot more demands on our finances, emotions and relationships. When there should be joy, there is often depression and pain for so many. The pain of past disagreements becomes greater at Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. We invite everyone except that one family member or friend whom we had a fight with in the past. There is more than pain for those who are excluded; there is pain for us as well because it brings to mind the hurt all over again. Christ came into the world to give us joy and a way to overcome the negative events and feelings in our lives; a way to overcome the hurt, to forgive and find healing.
We are all part of a family even though we may not want to acknowledge or associate with some of ours. Some families are missing in action because they were never around and we had to fend for ourselves. Other families smother us with too much interference and still others are always bickering and fighting. It is frequently easier to love humanity – the ambiguous mass of people out there that needs us to help them, than to love our own family. It is usually more difficult to love the ones who are close to us, maybe because they are so much like us.
The Gospel doesn’t end with the Holy Family returning to Nazareth. The Gospel concludes with “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” We too must grow spiritually to love and serve God and others. We must follow our faith; we must be that shining example of sharing God’s love with those around us. Then the season will be a joyful time like it was for Simeon and Anna.
The months leading up to Christmas had troubling times for Mary and Joseph. Each had their own doubts and concerns. We too experience doubts and concerns in our lives and even turmoil within our families. Our spiritual growth is dependent on listening to God’s leading. Mary and Joseph each had an encounter with God: Mary by the angel Gabriel and Joseph by an angel in a dream. While we may not have an angel appear to us today, we still feel God leading us in one direction or another. Mary and Joseph both said yes to God’s will. Will we say yes to God too?
It’s difficult to do this time of year. The bills of Christmas giving start arriving and the weather is gray and dreary. Yet God calls us to follow the example of the Holy Family. In spite of the doubts and concerns, in spite of the anxious feelings and struggles of each day, God calls us to reach out to a family member, both our immediate family and the extended family of friends and church, to ask and grant forgiveness. Then the true reason for the season of Christmas will be realized by Christ bringing peace to the world.
Jesus grew and became strong, filled with wisdom and the favor of God because of the family and their faith. We too must practice our faith like the Holy Family.
In the coming months, will we work for peace within our hearts, our families and our troubled world? Will we reach out to a person within our family or group of friends whom we have avoided? Or will we let the hurt continue to fester and boil over? Will we as a Church continue to be an open and welcoming community to the stranger, the widow and the orphan, to work for immigration reform and the dignity of each person? Or will we turn our heads and look the other way because it is easier to avoid confrontation than to speak up for what is right?
The world, our families and even us as individuals, are desperately searching for peace – the peace that Christ came into the world to give to us. Are we willing to make that peace happen in our lives? Will we commit to set aside just five minutes each day to pray for peace and healing – for the world, for our families and friends, for those around us, and ourselves?