The Sunday between Christmas and New Year is the feast of the Holy Family—Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, so it seems natural to celebrate the Holy Family today.
Christmas is a family affair. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is a popular Christmas melody that expresses the connection between family and Christmas found in our Christian social culture. We link childhood memories to how Christmas was celebrated in our homes when we were kids.
The scripture readings today challenge us. The first reading recalls how Abram had doubts about God’s promise to make him the father of many descendants. He was getting older and still had no offspring. “O Lord God, what good will your gifts be, if I keep on being childless and have as my heir Eliezar, the master of my house?” Abram questioned the Lord (Gen 15:2).
The Lord took Abram outside and showed him the stars, telling him to count the stars and assuring him that his descendants would be as countless as the stars. So Abram reaffirmed his faith in the Lord (Gen 15:5-6). Later Sarah became pregnant and bore a son, Isaac. His name plays on the fact that Sarah had something to laugh about when she gave birth to a son in her old age (Gen 21:1-3). Today’s second reading from Hebrews praises Abram’s faith-filled obedience to God and his trust that he would become Abraham—a father of many nations.
These readings set the stage for Joseph and Mary taking the child Jesus to Jerusalem to fulfill the Law of Moses. In the Temple Simeon and Anna recognized something special about this child Jesus.
Both gave thanks to God that their prayers were answered. Simeon spoke of how the child was destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel and that he would be a sign that would be contradicted. Blessing the family, Simeon told Mary, “You yourself a sword will pierce—so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Anna spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
Luke summarizes the Temple visit and mentions how the family returned to Nazareth (Lk 2:40) saying that “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.”
Reading about these two couples—Abram and Sarah, Joseph and Mary—let me reflect on how faith came to me in the context of my family where I grew, became strong and found God’s grace. What a blessing family life is and how important it is in the development of every child! Unfortunately, many children today lack the blessing of a stable family.
The coming Synod on the Family will be a key moment in the life of the church. Families today are stressed by poverty, political repression, war and secular culture. Many marriages end in divorce that fractures families.
Today’s feast affords us the opportunity to reflect upon family life and the role families play in passing the faith to the next generation. Through the bonds of human affection Abram and Sarah passed faith to future generations. Mary and Joseph raised Jesus teaching him to live in the faith of their people, Israel.