Reflection for Sunday – December 27
“Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it—because he is out of place in it, and yet must be in it—his place is with those others who do not belong, who are rejected because they are regarded as weak; and with those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, and are tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst.”
Thomas Merton, Watch for the Light
“Christmas speaks of tenderness and hope. When God meets us he tells us two things. The first thing he says is: have hope. God always opens doors; he never closes them. He is the father who opens doors for us. The second thing he says is: don’t be afraid of tenderness. When Christians forget about hope and tenderness they become a cold Church, that loses its sense of direction and is held back by ideologies and worldly attitudes, whereas God’s simplicity tells you: go forward, I am a Father who caresses you.”
It does not take long. On the day after Christmas, we start to see Christmas trees already placed on the curbs for trash removal. For our culture, Christmas began the day after Halloween when the first Christmas displays appeared in the stores and came to an abrupt end on Christmas Day.
Thankfully, we are now free from the endless television and newspaper Christmas sale advertisements that tell us “Joy” can be purchased. And now that the “great” Christmas 2015, Starbucks-red-coffee-cup-controversy is over we can finally begin to enter into the true meaning of Christmas! For the popular celebration of Christmas, Christmas Day is an ending; however for the Christian, Christmas Day is only the beginning. It is an awakening—a spiritual rebirth—to new opportunities and a universal call to action.
For Catholics, the Christmas season begins on December 25 and continues with a series of wonderful feast days over these next few weeks. Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family; on January 1 the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary; on January 3, the Epiphany of the Lord; and the season of Christmas does not end until January 10 with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. All these feasts invite us into a deeper understating of Christmas and help us discern how we are being called to respond with our lives.
Today is the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. This feast is one of my favorite feasts of our entire liturgical year! I find deep comfort and meaning in this celebration because it is “real.” On Christmas Day we celebrated the Incarnation of God—the mystery of God becoming human. The idea of God choosing to enter into the world as a human being can—putting it simply—be a lot to comprehend! Today’s feast, however, helps us grasp this enormous mystery by relating to the primary human unit—the family.
On Christmas day, a young mother and her husband welcomed a new baby into the world—a new family came to be. Mary and Joseph were not unlike most new parents. They were excited and scared; they had many sleepless nights and faced the challenges any family faces when raising a child. They also had the responsibility as Jesus grew up to teach him how to love and to assist him in discovering his vocation. Today’s feast reminds us that God not only chose to become human, but God chose to enter into this world in the form of a baby. And like any baby, God became a baby that needed a family to love him, care for him, teach him and encourage him to discover who he truly was.
The Nativity scenes placed in our churches and homes are wonderful ways of reflecting on this new family. St. Francis of Assisi introduced the first Nativity scene—yes, he did use live animals. St. Francis wanted people to remember this simple yet profound way God chose to come into the world. The Nativity scene reminds us that God did not choose a family with political power, religious influence or vast wealth. Instead God chose a poor refuge family to raise Jesus. A family that was turned away from the inn, rejected in their greatest time of need. The Holy Family is a reminder that God’s love continues to come into the world through everyday people and in unexpected ways.
The invitation of today’s feast is twofold. First, it invites us to look inward, at ourselves and our own families. It acknowledges that families are complicated and face many obstacles in life. We are invited to reflect on that even amid the greatest of challenges God can be found. Today we are being asked to reflect on how God is present in the challenges and messiness of our own families and how we are being invited to trust in the Christmas promise of God’s constant presence.
Secondly, today’s feast invites us to look beyond ourselves. We are reminded of the obstacles families face every day and that families are diverse and come in many forms and have many needs. We should not let the significance of the fact that God chose and trusted what some would call a “non-traditional family” to raise Jesus go unnoticed. A family that many at the time would have looked down upon and judged as unworthy of such an honor. Today we are also being asked: Who are the families we are excluding and rejecting now? Refugees? LGBTQ married couples? Migrants? Single parents? How are we being called to be more inclusive in our love?
Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Families, which took place this September in Philadelphia, said the following: “The family is a factory of hope.” Let us celebrate Christmas as an ongoing feast of hope! So keep those Christmas trees up! At least to Epiphany. Embrace these wonderful Christmas feasts that provide us great insights into who we truly are as a Christian people. They invite us to remember more fully how we are called to live. They give us guidance and courage as we face the challenges of our own lives and world.”