Again today, we have a unique opportunity to focus our attention on beginnings, endings, and on what might have been revealed to us during this holiday season. Within the period of the next seven days, we will celebrate three special feasts of the Church: The Holy Family, Mary Mother of God, and the Epiphany of the Lord. We will have the opportunity to evaluate the end of another year of our pilgrimage in faith, to set our sights on the beginning of a new dimension of our call to discipleship and to reflect on what we have learned throughout this last year, living through pandemic, fear, and uncertainty.
The Feast of the Holy Family is a celebration of all families: not perfect families, not constantly serene families… but families just like ours. If we picture the family of Joseph of Nazareth as we have seen them depicted in works of art or statuary, it becomes very difficult to model our family lives around theirs.
They were, in fact, ordinary working people, called to an extraordinary mission. They were a typical Middle-Eastern family, living in their own homeland, subjugated by a foreign power, simply trying to survive each day as it came. And they were subject to the ordinary failures of miscommunication, disappointments, worries, and disagreements of every family. “Ordinary families” have more than enough pressure on them in their daily lives, as we all know too well. The Holy Family was not immune to this.
Today especially, we pray for all families: small and large families, those coming to grips with sickness or death, those struggling to find employment or a home, dysfunctional families, single-parent families, those torn apart by disharmony or anger.
Mary, as the Mother of our God, becomes our mother. It is she in whose arms the Babe nestled at birth, and in whose arms the crucified Son lay at the foot of the Cross. "Mary, the Mother of God" is perhaps the most significant of her titles... an ordinary teen-aged girl called to bring forth the Word of Salvation - to care for Him, to nurture Him, to feed Him with the fruits of this life, so that He could feed others with the gift of Eternal Life.
Her presence in the Advent/Christmas experience makes our fears and anguish comprehensible; the uncertainty of life is overcome by the sure hope of God's coming to those who are waiting.
And Mary comes to symbolize God's coming into our hearts with his transforming presence. Longing for the light eventually brings the light. Faith opens into trust, and trust is not disappointed because the love of God is poured forth in the hearts of the brokenhearted.
A fitting way to put an end to 2020 and to begin 2021.
Epiphany seems to brighten the Light of Christmas. Epiphany is a new beginning, and it takes several forms. Magi come from afar and a new revelation of salvation comes to light. Yet in another epiphany, the hushed-tones of Bethlehem shift to explosive manifestations about Jesus. The magi cause quite a stir with their arrival at Herod's palace, and their question about the "newborn king of the Jews." Thus, a new beginning for the young and holy family, in a foreign land as exiles.
Epiphany awakens us today from any glow that might remain from our Christmas celebrations. It celebrates the manifestation of the Incarnation to the whole universe. It embraces the fuller dimensions of the role of the Word-made-flesh: His coming to bring the nations together in peace, His coming to reveal the Father, His coming to change - almost miraculously - the quality of life for all people, His coming to be a light in the darkness.
This is traditionally the time of year for reflection… a time to look back at another year of life-experience and how we dealt with it; a time to measure our progress; and a time of resolve. In the life of the Church, it is also a time of "new beginnings." The Season of Advent ushered in the new liturgical year; Christmastime reflects our affirmation of God made flesh, and we now begin the cycle anew.
Today is another gospel-illumined day. Three interconnected feasts of the Church allow us to put aside the past, to let ourselves be guided by the gospel and to make our journey to the place where our truth can be revealed. This is a time for people who are willing to let go of whatever holds our spirits back, to start all over again, and to make the journey in the direction of the one who gives us new vision. These are feasts of universality, where all are welcomed into God’s saving embrace. Leaving the past behind and looking forward, we have nothing to fear.
We approach the new year with high hopes and dreams.