Preached at Holy Sepulcher Parish on December 28 and 29, 2013 for the Feast of the Holy Family in Ordinary Time Cycle A at the 4:00PM (Vigil), 8:00AM and 10:30AM Masses
I hope that everyone had a blessed Christmas. My Facebook friends had special Christmases as well. I saw pictures of happy and smiling families, some even in matching outfits; delicious meals and refreshing drinks; homes that were all clean and festively decorated, with beautiful Christmas trees with lovely packages under them. But Facebook is probably not an accurate portrayal of our family Christmas, because we post only the pictures we want others to see, not all the times when “real life” is happening, when things aren’t going according to our expectations.
Although it would be much more interesting, Facebook does not often show us our Chevy Chase Christmas Vacation moments: the problems encountered selecting and decorating the perfect tree, or what the cat did to it after we were finished; the effort involved to get all the decorations and lights working, only to have a power outage or blown fuse mess it all up; the perfect dinner ruined by food that maybe doesn’t quite live up to the recipe, the drinks that might have been consumed in excess, and those “friendly” discussions we have about politics, religion, or those tiring what-it-was-like-on-Christmas-when-I-was-a-kid talks. Not to mention the disappointments when gifts are lost, broken, or not even received because they were shipped UPS or FedEx.
Now the Facebook pictures of the Holy Family Christmas would have been amazing, wouldn’t they? How many likes and comments would their posts have received? The first Christmas would have been very special to see: not just family and friends, but many visitors from all over the country; no Christmas carols, but a multitude of the heavenly hosts praising God in glory; no Christmas trees or other decorations, but a one of a kind bright star shining in the sky; no presents from Santa Claus, but three magi bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
It is often the Christmas images of the Holy Family that can give us the mistaken impression that just about everything was perfect for the Holy Family. Mary and Joseph are called by God through messages received from angels to be parents of the Son of God, both of them say “yes,” and then they live happily ever after. But today’s gospel reminds us that the Holy Family lived lives very much like our own: with challenges, difficulties, and struggles, moments that Mary and Joseph would probably not have posted to their Facebook accounts for their friends and relatives to see. Today we are reminded that even for the Holy Family everything is far from perfect, that even for Mary and Joseph there is an end to the joy of Christmas and a return to “real life.” Today we see that in many ways the Holy Family is just like our own families that we can relate to them, and as a result we can see that their virtue and holiness is within our reach.
In today’s gospel we hear how God tells Joseph through an angel to “take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you.” What faith and trust to quietly follow the will of God, to make a journey from Bethlehem to Egypt, not a two-hour journey by plane or nine-hour journey by car, but a three- to four-week journey by caravan – not a Dodge Caravan either, no heat or air conditioning, no music, no DVDs, no GPS or roads, not even lights to guide the way! – riding a donkey across the desert without restaurants, stores, drinking fountains, or restrooms along the way; going to an unfamiliar country, leaving everything behind; Joseph without his carpenter tools, and so no way to make a living. But Mary and Joseph recognized God’s presence in their lives and obediently did His will with faith and trust, realizing God would provide and care for their family.
Today’s gospel helps us to understand that The Holy Family was not holy because their lives were perfect, without challenges, difficulties, or struggles. The Holy Family was holy because they responded to everything that happened in their lives, both the positive and the negative, with complete faith and trust in God. Our families can become holy by following their example, recognizing God as a real presence in our lives, obediently following God’s will and plan for us with faith and trust. Holiness is not exactly a matter of living perfect lives, but living lives that involve God in all the moments that “real life” is happening for us.
I imagine that Mary and Joseph had some idea in their head of what their perfect family would be, but I am certain that it did not include raising the Son of God, with Joseph an adoptive father, and Mary a virgin pregnant several months before their marriage. Everyone in town was probably talking how imperfect and unholy it all was and asking, “Why does Joseph not have Mary stoned?”, as was his right under the law. Yet these two ordinary people, descended from a royal, but sinful family of imperfect and unholy people, put everything aside to graciously accept the call from God to form the non-traditional household we call the Holy Family.
Everyone has ideas about what they believe the perfect family should be. I always hoped for a large family big enough for my own hockey or baseball team, but God decided that with my ordination, my wife and I could better serve Him and His Church with no children. I know that my mom did not expect that her family would start while she was still in high school, but I am eternally grateful that she and my grandmother determined that my seemingly untimely arrival was a part of God’s plan for their lives and not a problem that was too inconvenient or too difficult to deal with. I often think that they might not make that same choice today. The Holy Family shows us that “real life” moments like these happen in our families, yet our families can still be holy by building them with love, patience, forgiveness, and all the other virtues from today’s second reading from Colossians.
The Holy Family shows us that it is not going to be easy. They were not spared from challenges, difficulties, and struggles. They had their funny Christmas Vacation moments, including the story found later in the gospels when Mary and Joseph unknowingly leave Jesus behind in the temple as they return home from Jerusalem. They had very serious moments as well, including today’s story of the flight into Egypt, which actually did not prevent their son’s death at the hand of a Roman leader, but simply delayed it for about thirty-three years, which Mary witnessed firsthand at the foot of the Cross. But in those thirty-three years of faith and trust in God, this ordinary, yet Holy Family, secured the salvation of each and every one of us by living out God’s plan for their lives.
Each of our families are unique and have their own sets of problems. So as we come forward to the Lord’s Table as extended members of this Holy Family by our baptism, let us bring our challenges, difficulties, and struggles forward to share them with our Lord, all the problems that test our faith and make things difficult for our families. Let us share our “real lives” with the Lord, giving everything over to Him, including all those things that we would never post on Facebook. Let us ask the Lord to help us to follow the example of the Holy Family, to become holy families doing the will of God for our lives, making a difference in the world and those around us. Rejoice and be glad we have the Holy Family’s example!