Merry Christmas! It’s still Christmas and not just Christmas season. The really big feast days, Christmas and Easter, are so important that we celebrate them for eight days. The Sunday between Christmas, December 25th, and Mary Mother of God, January 1st, is the Feast of the Holy Family – Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. This is a great feast for us since Christmas has a lot to do with family. For most Christians, or even people in general in western culture, Christmas is a time to get together with family.
At an even deeper level, this feast reminds us that God comes to us as part of a family. Jesus Christ is the Eternal Son begotten of God the Father, “God from God, begotten, not made” who, nevertheless, is conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and born, just like we were. Mary, of course, is married to Joseph, the foster-father of Christ.
Over the centuries, people have wondered why the Divine Word would be born of a human woman. Could not God have simply descended from heaven on a cloud and explained things to us?
God chose to enter into human existence as part of a family because family life is part of the image of God we all carry within us (Genesis 1:27). God, in His inner life, is a family – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Family is our first and most basic human experience.
Family life isn’t easy, community life isn’t easy. Hear the Gospel for today (Matthew 2:13 – 15, 19 – 23). The community where Joseph and Mary live want to kill their child. They must flee to Egypt, and they couldn’t just hop on a flight – that trip was over 500 miles on foot! Our experience of family life is often difficult, but we have the example of Mary and Joseph trusting God. In fact, because the Divine Word chose to be part of a family, we become part of the family of God by our baptism (CCC 1267ff).
Like I said above, the image of God in which we are created is the need to live self-giving love. That drives us to need to be part of something greater than ourselves. That is why family is so important. No matter what our experience of family is, hopefully loving and supportive, but sometimes painful, we all have the concept of what family is supposed to be.
Christmas, when Christ comes into our lives, means that, by our baptism, we become part of the family of God. This is a family whose leader is all-powerful, all-knowing, and cares for us. Being part of the family of God has great benefits, but also great responsibilities. Just like a human family, we are called to spend time with Christ’s family, the Church.
A healthy family life requires spending time together and communicating. That is what praying together and going to Mass is all about. We go to Mass because Christ is there in the Eucharist. The Mass is a privileged encounter with God. Family life requires reconciliation. Within our human families, we must be ready to ask for and grant forgiveness.
Christ came into the world to bring us into His heavenly family by making the sacrifice by which our sins are forgiven. That is what we celebrate at Mass. However, we must acknowledge where we went wrong. Christ left us the wonderful sacrament of Confession, where, by His blood, shed on the Cross, our sins are forgiven, and we are brought back to the family.
If we all reflect honestly on our lives, we have to admit we don’t always live our relationships the way God wants, or even the way we really want to. That is especially true of our families. The beauty of our religion, the miracle of Christmas, is that God has entered our world to show us the way and give us the strength to live authentic love.