This year we celebrate Christmas and the feast of the Holy Family on consecutive days. The two are intimately linked. In the manner and unfolding of his birth, Christ embraced the family as the nursery of salvation.
The scriptures describing the birth of Jesus reach from the touching details of shepherds and wise men to the cosmic significance of these events. The birth of the Christ was nothing less than a new creation, an expression of the Father’s love that breathed new life into the heart of fallen man.
The Old Testament foreshadowed the birth of Christ in images that we readily understand. In the words of the Prophet Isaiah, we have all walked in darkness, the darkness of our own sin and disappointed hopes. Like the ancient people addressed by Isaiah, we sometimes experience life as a yoke that bears down, a rod that oppresses. We welcome Christ as the light the shines in our darkness, however that darkness manifests itself in our own particular circumstances. Whatever our burdens, Christ invites us to share them with him. It is in welcoming his birth, in sharing his yoke, that the spirit’s burden begins to fall away.
The narratives of Christ’s birth speak in a special way to those who feel themselves estranged from the love of God. When we feel unworthy, we should remember the place given to those who lived on the border of society at his birth. Many considered shepherds to be little better than nomadic vagrants, and yet it was to them that the glad tidings of Christ’s birth were first announced. The wise men did not begin their quest from religious certainties. They were searchers. With honesty they followed the light of inquiry, a light that brought them into the presence of God. We treasure these stories, but we should never trivialise them. They proclaim, from the very outset, Christ’s attitude to the marginalised and those who are searching with sincere hearts.
St John’s prologue, proclaimed on Christmas Day, reaches through the majesty of creation to the birth of a child. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.” As we are captured in the wonder of John’s words, we should remember that each of us, however unworthy, is called to share in the majesty that he describes. “He was in the world but the world did not know him, but to all who did accept him, he gave the power to become children of God.” In Christ the repentant sinner is placed at the very heart of creation.
The Feast of the Holy Family sanctifies the family relationships that have brought us into being and formed our identity. It is in each family, despite its imperfections, that we best grow into the Gospel virtues. In the words of St Paul, it is in family life that we learn the meaning of compassion, kindness and forgiveness. It is in the love of Christ, clothing us around, that his peace begins to reign in our hearts.
Matthew’s Gospel describes Mary and Joseph as Christ’s refuge from Herod’s persecution of the innocents. “Get up and take the child and his mother with you and escape into Egypt.” Let us strive to make our families refuges of peace, retreats that strengthen us to face all that threatens the love proclaimed at Christ’s birth.