Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Miraculously Ordinary Family

THE HOLY FAMILY OF JESUS, MARY & JOSEPH
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Have you ever wondered why Matthew and Luke chose to include information in their gospels about Jesus' birth?  Probably not.  I imagine most take it for granted that we would have this information.  But the gospel writers need not have included it.  Mark and John say nothing about Jesus' birth.  Mark introduces Jesus at the start of His public ministry with His baptism by John.  And John's gospel focuses on Jesus' divine origins: "In the beginning was the Word..." (Jn 1:1).

But Matthew and Luke tell us of Jesus' human origins, and we are fortunate that they do.  They show us that Jesus did not simply appear out of nowhere.  He was born at certain time and in a certain place.  He was born to a mother.  He was born into a family.

We celebrate the birth of our Savior with much fanfare during the Christmas season.  He is Emmanuel, God-with-us.  He is Jesus, God-saves.  He is born of a virgin.  The very stars announce His arrival onto the human scene.  Angels rejoice.  To say His birth is extraordinary would be an understatement.

Yet in very important ways, His birth and childhood are quiet and ordinary.  Jesus had a mother, Mary, and a father, Joseph.  He depended on His parents, just as all children do, for food, warmth, comfort, love and care.  He grew strong nursing at His mother's breast.  As He grew older, He learned a trade.  We are told in our gospel reading that Jesus "advanced in wisdom" (Lk 2:52).  He did all of this within a family.

The human family is an image of the Holy Trinity.  We are made in the image of God, which means we are made to be in relationship.  God has within His being the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  God is love, and love requires both a lover and a beloved.  God, in His perfection, has this within Himself.  But we must look outside of ourselves for relationship.  The first relationships that all of us have -- and often the most impactful --  are with our families.  We are literally born into relationship with others.  Family life is an image of the inner life of God.

This may sound rather esoteric and mystical, but the most amazing thing about it is just how marvelously ordinary it is.  The family is where we learn ordinary lessons of love.  It is where we learn to respect and obey our parents.  It is where we learn to think of others before ourselves.  It is where we learn patience.  It is where we learn to make sacrifices.  The family is where we learn to love -- which is to say the family is where we learn to be like God.  The relationship between parent and child, brother and sister, husband and wife, each mimic in some way the relationship between us and God.

It should therefore come as no surprise that the scriptures have quite a bit to say about family relations.  Immediately after the first three commandments instructing us on how we are to relate to God, the fourth commandment tells us how to live in right relationship with our parents. "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land" (Ex 20:12).

The book of Sirach tells us that how we relate to our families impacts our relationship with God:
God sets a father in honor over his children;a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.  Whoever honors his father atones for sins, and preserves himself from them. When he prays, he is heard; he stores up riches who reveres his mother.  Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children, and, when he prays, is heard.  Whoever reveres his father will live a long life; he who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother (Sir 3:2-6).
We learn to relate to God well by relating well with others, and the first ones we are called to be in relation with are our parents.  They reflect, in a special way, God's divine Fatherhood.  And so even the Incarnate God obeys the fourth commandment and honors His human mother and father, as our gospel reading tells us (Lk 2:51).

We don't know much about Jesus' early years, but we know He spent them in the company of His family.  It is suggested that the gospel writers did not remark upon these years because they were unremarkable.  Yet His time living "ordinary family life" must have been extraordinary because He lived it perfectly.

From antiquity, the family has been called "the domestic church."  It is the primary place in which we are called to grow in holiness.  It is where we first learn how to love.  Of course Jesus did not need to grow in holiness or learn how to love -- He is Love Incarnate.  We celebrate this day that Jesus was born into a family not to learn but to teach.  He teaches us love through His family.  Allow Jesus to be born anew into your heart today, and into your family, that it, too, may become a domestic church, a school of divine love.

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