Feast of the Holy Family - Humble Beginnings...

In a few days, we will celebrate the beginning of a new year - and once again we, as Christians, take this time to proclaim the event and the mystery of the Incarnation - God's explosion into human history in order to give us a share in His own Divinity.  That "explosion" had very humble beginnings. A young, virgin mother and a confused, but faith-filled husband brought their hopes, joys, fears and trust to a stable in Bethlehem - and gave to the world the first-born Son of God, wrapped in swaddling clothes and warmed by the breath of sheep and oxen.

I doubt that Mary and Joseph had any idea of the significance of the event of that first night. That night brought them together as a new family - another human person had entered their lives - human and Divine - God-with-us, Emmanuel.

A humble yet holy family - they must have struggled with the responsibility that God had given them. We think of the events of those first years - those that have been recorded for us - fleeing to a strange land to avoid persecution and death, living apart from all that they knew and were familiar with - finally returning to their homeland to raise the Child given them in the best way possible to them.

Family life is difficult enough for most of us. There are ups and downs, joys and sorrows, fears and expectations. The feast of the Holy Family teaches us many valuable lessons. It teaches us that life is not always perfect, not always the way we imagined it to be, not always the way we want it to be. Life can be harsh, it can be cruel and it can be devastating.

But the coming of Christ offers hope. By his birth among us, Jesus draws us all into the sphere of the divine, offering to those who, in faith, open themselves to receiving his gift the possibility of sharing in his own divine life. The Holy Family reminds that we are all one family - we are all His children, His brothers and sisters - we are all part of the family of mankind. And we all share the same responsibility as Mary and Joseph. We are to bear the good news, we are to bring forth into the world the God-gift that we have received. We are to protect that gift, nurture it and give it freely.

Our celebration of Christmas comes and goes very quickly. But Christmas is a celebration that cannot be contained in just one day. The memory of the Christmas Event lingers on for us, as it did for Mary and Joseph. And it is fitting that we approach a new year honoring them.

Mary answered God's invitation with an unconditional response: "Let it be done to me according to your word." She entrusted her life to His plan. Now that plan had taken over and was leading her along a strange and sometime frightening path. So, too, Joseph was discovering quickly that God's ways are not often ways of our own choosing. A Roman census had forced him out of the warmth and security of his home in Nazareth into the crowded, unwelcoming town of Bethlehem. A threat from a jealous and hostile King Herod would make it necessary for him to lead his young wife and child to the safety of far-off Egypt. 

Neither Mary nor Joseph could begin to imagine what the future might hold. But they had given their consent to God, and they would not back off.  Somehow, they knew they just needed to trust...and they knew that their God would never abandon them. That was enough.

We need to reflect over and over again about the lessons of Christmas. Each of us has, to one degree or another, given ourselves over to God's plan for our lives. Day by day we renew that commitment of faith and trust, even though we often find, like Mary, that God's ways are not our ways. We do not always understand where He is leading us. We frequently wonder why certain things happen, why our own plans don't work out.

Mary and Joseph remind us that we will never be abandoned by God. The Christ Child has been given to all of us. We all share this planet together and we all share His life and love together. His love will continue to lift us up, over and over again, until we, too, experience the perfect reward of New Life.

We approach the new year with high hopes and dreams. 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.

May the faith and trust of Mary and Joseph touch our lives and hearts as we journey together.