On Sunday, Dec. 31, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family during the eight-day celebration of Christmas. The feast day celebrates the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as a model of love, acceptance, and faithfulness.
When we reflect on all Mary and Joseph experienced during Mary’s pregnancy, and then during the early days of parenting Jesus, we can’t help but wonder how they resisted the urge to run away from responsibility, from fear of the unknown, and from each other. They accepted Mary’s pregnancy outside of marriage without understanding it. They made the journey to Bethlehem to register for the census despite the dangers along the road, the strain on Mary physically, and no plans for where they would stay. And after Jesus’ birth in a stable, they fled to Egypt to save him from Herod’s order to kill all baby boys in Bethlehem.
Before we go further in the Gospel reading, let’s keep our mind on the vulnerable circumstances of the family that God chose for Jesus, and ask “Who is the Holy Family today?”
Maybe the Holy Family is hiding from gunshots in Israel or the United States, crawling out of the rubble in Gaza, running away from militia in Sudan, asking for asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, or seeking shelter at a refugee camp in Bangladesh or Kenya.
Today’s Gospel reading picks up the Holy Family’s story in the temple in Jerusalem, where Mary and Joseph brought baby Jesus forty days after his birth for his formal presentation. As devout Jews, the young, desperate parents were there to perform rituals according to the Law of Moses.
Thinking of all their difficulties, it’s easy to wonder why God allowed things to be so difficult for them, and why God allows things to be difficult for people today. But that is the wrong question. With the virtues of love, acceptance and faithfulness, each of us has the power to transform difficulties in some way, as Mary and Joseph did.
Their story in Jerusalem doesn’t end with difficulties but with revelation of God’s love. Luke describes Mary and Joseph meeting in the temple two devout Jews, Simeon and Anna, who recognize the infant Jesus as the fulfillment of God's promises to Israel.
This is part of Luke’s “infancy narrative,” which is his explanation of the birth of Jesus as the fulfillment of God's promises to Israel – to rescue us from the punishment of sin, to free us from the power of sin, to redeem us for a life with greater purpose, and to bring us into God’s joyful family.
These are the great promises of a great transformation. When we look around today’s world and see the Holy Family living among us, we can be inspired by Mary and Joseph and respond with love, acceptance and faithfulness to God, trusting in God’s great promises and the possibility of great transformation.
Photo of Medieval sculpture in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art of the Holy Family on the way to Egypt by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. via Flickr.