HOLY FAMILY SUNDAY
(The first Sunday after Christmas)
Appreciating and Accepting Jesus as:
“Emmanuel – God-with-us” who interacts with us in human ways
Whom do you know best in your family? How did that happen? Did you spend more time together? Talk more deeply to each other? What is it you do with your friends that makes you friends? How many of these things can you do with Jesus?
The Entrance Antiphon tells us Jesus was first seen by shepherds, who “found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.” The first people to find Jesus found him in the context of a family. And this is where most people find him. Most of us meet Jesus at home.
But many don’t. In many families the presence of Jesus is not felt or visible. This is true also in the family of the human race. In all of us, to some degree, God’s image is distorted. Other people can draw us to Jesus or drive us away from him. Or just leave us ignorant of the Savior of the world.
That is why, in the Opening Prayer, we ask that we might “live as the holy family, united in respect and love” — not just with our blood relatives, but with every member of the human race on earth. It is not ordinary human togetherness we are asking for. We are asking to be deeply united in the “communion of the Holy Spirit,” with an awesome respect for each other as made divine by “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We ask to experience the love between us as “the love of God” poured out in our hearts, expressed by us to one another.
This is possible because in Jesus God came and “made his home” with us (John 1:14). That is why his name is “Emmanuel: God-with-us.” In Jesus God is present to us as a human among humans. We can deal with him in the same human ways we deal with each other. And Jesus acts in and through each one of us to reveal his truth and express his love to everyone we deal with — beginning in the home.
We ask that our homes might be previews of heaven, homes in which we experience the “joy and peace of our eternal home” with God. This is the sign that we are living by the Spirit of God: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5: 22-23). Where these are the Spirit is, and we are united in Christ. If these are in our home, we will reveal and find Christ there.
“Blessed are those…”
The Responsorial Psalm pinpoints the difference between a merely human family and a graced family in which we experience the presence of God: “Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways” (Psalm 128).
“Fear of the Lord” is not fright, but respect based on awareness of who God is. Anyone who sees in perspective the power, the goodness and the wisdom of God would be insane not to “walk in his ways.” Those who do walk in his ways will make God known to one another. This is the key to family life and all Christian community.
Sirach 3: 2-14 promises that those who honor and obey God’s authority in parents will be preserved from sin, be heard when they pray, and “live a long life” — which in Scriptural language means a “full life.” They will be a comfort to their parents, find fulfillment in life and be made glad by their own children.
When children obey their human parents they express and experience their response to God who is “made flesh” for them in their parents. God’s love is made flesh in parents’ care for their children. The physical interaction between all people who are aware that in their actions they are responding to God and letting God work through them is an experience of real, physical, down-to-earth relationship with God. By acting recognizably by grace, we become for each other “Emmanuel: God-with-us.”
Jesus came to save the world by being in it. Every human society is saved or corrupted by the people in it: by the effect their words and actions have on others: instilling true or false attitudes and values, making sin appear normal or abnormal, inciting to violence or to peace, enticing to healthy or harmful gratifications, inhibiting or encouraging the expression of higher ideals and faith. It takes millions of human choices, both for good and for evil, expressed in action, to create a culture. As the culture develops, for better or worse, it influences everyone in it. Jesus came to start a reversing trend against what is false and destructive in human society.
He began by preaching and teaching — through word and example — in the body he received from Mary. He continues by speaking through the words of all who are his body on earth today, and by modeling, in them, a better way to live. This is one way he continues to be “Emmanuel: God-with-us” still. “Blessed are those” who let him act in them and “walk in his ways.”
“With us” in trust
Matthew 2: 13-23 is a shocking story. An angel tells Joseph in the middle of the night to “flee to Egypt” because Herod is searching for Jesus to destroy him.
Joseph must have wondered. He knew that Jesus was the Messiah, and God’s own Son. Why did Joseph have to save the Savior? Why didn’t the angel just wipe out Herod’s patrol the way a single angel once wiped out one hundred and eighty-five thousand warriors who threatened Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:35)?
The answer to this comes later in the Gospel. What we see now is that even those whom God loves best need to trust him — and sometimes that isn’t easy. In accepting Jesus as Savior we have to accept what he came — and did not come — to save us from. Even John the Baptizer had to learn this (see the Third Sunday of Advent). God wants us to trust that he is “with us” no matter what happens. We experience his presence in our steadfast faith, hope and love, if only we “fear the Lord and walk in his ways.”
Words made flesh:
Colossians 3: 12-21 shows us how people can affect each other most deeply in family life and in the Christian community. Paul urges all the members to embody the virtues of Jesus in action: “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience….” Above all he urges us to express love in everything we do, since love shows appreciation for all that is good.
If we live by the values of Christ, the fruit of this will be evident, experienced peace — in our hearts, in our homes, in our communities. Peace is the fruit and proof of love. Christ calls us to peace.
But for this to happen, we have to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14) and “let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). In the Scriptures that record Jesus’ life and explain his teaching, we find the pure Light of the world, untainted by darkness. In his actions we see the divine Word of God expressing himself without distortion in our world. We have to go to this well and drink from it, the source of life-giving water.
We can do this because Jesus is “Emmanuel: God-with-us” in another way, in addition to his presence in others. He is with us still in the Scriptures, in which the Church recognizes a “real presence” of the living God: “The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God’s word and of Christ’s body…. For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets his children with great love and speaks with them” (Vatican II on Divine Revelation, no. 21).
So, to make Christ present among us, St. Paul urges, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.” For Jesus to be “Emmanuel,” recognizable in us, in our words and actions, we have to fill our minds with his words and nourish our hearts with his example.
If we read Scripture and worship together in our homes, we will say from lived experience, “Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways.”
In how many human ways do I interact with Jesus? What ways are open to me? Can I interact with him in all the ways I interact with my family and friends?
Seek to experience Jesus dealing with you in every human way — through his words, sacraments, and members of his body — so that when you feel the trial of his absence you will be able to find him in pure faith,
pure hope, pure love.