Christ the King Catholic Church
Each year on the Sunday immediately following Christmas we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. And there is a reason why the Church places this feast within our celebration of Christmas. We continue to reflect on the mystery of the incarnation. The ‘incarnation’ is the word that theologians use for Christmas. ‘Merry Incarnation’ has never quite caught on with us ordinary folks and so we say, ‘Merry Christmas’! Incarnation is from the Latin word that means ‘to take on flesh’. At Christmas the invisible God, God who is pure spirit, took on flesh in Jesus and became one like us. As human beings we are incarnated spirits. Our spirits live in a body. Jesus became one like us and the invisible God becomes visible to us. In the mystery of the incarnation God has made his home with us in our humanity. He entered into the human experience completely with its peaks and valleys, with its joys and sorrows.
But there is more to it than that, God didn’t enter into the human experience to leave us as he found us. God became one like us so that we, in turn, could become one like him. In Jesus, God redeems humanity, restores to us what was lost through sin and at the top of that list is eternal life with God – no small gift!
The Book of Genesis, the very first book of the Bible, tells us that God created all that is and all that God created was good. Humankind, you and I, were created in God’s own image and likeness. And as part of that being created in God’s own image and likeness we were given the gift of free will. This gift was given so that we could choose the good, so that we could choose to love. God has free will and in that free will he chose to create us in love, pure love. God has no need of us. God is complete and completely happy in himself. But yet, using his free will, God called each of us into being. He called us into being in love – pure love.
Unfortunately, human beings don’t always use the gift of our free will well. The story of Adam and Eve and the story of original sin is a perfect example. Through the misuse of free will Adam and Eve, and all of us, have turned away from God and God’s offer of love. Adam and Eve were tempted to believe that they knew better than God and chose to walk out of the Garden of Eden and the happiness that God intended for them. In every one of my sins there is an echo of original sin: “I know better than God.”
But in spite of our sin, God chooses to continue to love us and to repair the damage of sin. And for that reason, in the fullness of time, God sent Jesus to restore all that had been lost.
Jesus could have come among us in many ways. He could have mysteriously appeared in the Temple one day. He could have ridden into Jerusalem with a host of angels or descended from heaven in a cloud of glory. But God chose differently. Jesus entered into the human experience by being born as a baby, born of a woman, and born into a family that God had constituted.
Think of it – the Son of God comes into the world and for thirty of his thirty-three years of life here lives the human experience in a family. And through his living in a family, he sanctifies family life. Family is not only important. Family is not only naturally good. Family is not only the most basic building block of society. Family is holy. By Jesus’ birth into a family and his life within a family, God has sanctified family life. God is present in family life. It is the place where we grow in holiness and goodness. It is the place where we learn to love.
The creator of the universe spent most of his human life working at a trade with his foster father. He eventually took over the family business. Mary, the one who was hailed as ‘full of grace’ spent her days changing diapers, picking up after Jesus and Joseph, cooking and cleaning. I’ve yet to see a Christmas card depicting that! And yet, that is the reality of the incarnation. God enters into everyday life and sanctifies that life.
The Church today, with the Feast of the Holy Family, reminds us that our families are holy. The family is the place where we experience our greatest joys and our greatest challenges. The family is the place where we learn to love.
Today’s feast is the Feast of the Holy Family, not the Feast of the Perfect Family. Jesus, Mary and Joseph didn’t know a perfect existence any more than any of our families. We are not the Cleavers! Unfortunately, just as we romanticize Jesus’ birth in a smelly stable, we also tend to romanticize the life of the Holy Family.
As Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape the insanity of King Herod, don’t you think Mary, at least once, asked Joseph if he was sure of where he was going? Don’t you think she suggested at some point along the way that he stop and ask for directions?
Later in life Jesus would be lost in the Temple for three long days. When his parents found him, Mary asked him why he had done this. Didn’t he know that they were worried sick? Jesus, the teen, responds, not by apologizing for the worry he had caused Mary and Joseph, but by telling them that he had to be in his Father’s house. Don’t you think Joseph must have been thinking, “Just wait till I get that boy home!”
Or when Jesus began his public ministry and would drop by the house in Nazareth to visit Mary with laundry to be done and twelve hungry friends to be fed, don’t you think that Mary’s patience must have been tested?
My point is that Jesus was born into a family. And by his birth in that family he has sanctified all of family life. He has made our families holy, not perfect, but holy. Our families are laboratories of love. We don’t always get it right. But we keep learning – learning to say that we are sorry, learning to be bear with one another, learning that our families, as dysfunctional as they might be, are an amazing gift from God.
In my experience as a priest I have witnessed great love in families that experience far from ideal circumstances.
I have witnessed that love in families who, like the Holy Family, are refugees and parents who at great sacrifice build a new and better life for their children in a frightening and very foreign world.
I have met families who struggle with addictions and who have the strength to not give up on one another.
I have known families whose lives have been touched by suicide and have an empathy that teaches us great compassion in the face of suffering.
I have met families that have suffered divorce and still struggle, in love, to put the interests of children before all else.
In our families, where we experience our greatest joys and our greatest challenges, we learn to love and, in learning to love, we become holy. Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we mess up royally. But we keep on learning; we keep on forgiving; we keep on growing and through it all, by God’s grace, we become holy not in spite of our family, but in and through our family.
As we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family, let us ask God to bless all of our families and may we never forget that God has chosen to make his home with us in our human family. He is near –very near!
Fr. Todd M. Riebe
Christ the King