Matthew’s gospel gives us a glimpse into the tumultuous early life of the holy family. He begins by introducing us to Jesus through his genealogy which is meant to place Jesus in the kingly line of David. But by enumerating Jesus’ ancestors, Matthew is also stressing the humanity of Jesus whose family tree contains saints, sinners, kings, prostitutes and even murderers.
The story of the birth of Jesus then begins with Joseph’s discovery that Mary was pregnant. He was about to break the engagement when, in a dream, an angel told him not to be afraid to marry her. The Holy Spirit has been guiding this relationship, and it
was through the power of the Holy Spirit that she had conceived. The angel then shared with Joseph the child’s destiny. “She will have a son, and you will name him Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” Quite a revelation for a young man about to embark on married life! But the story didn’t stop there.
Sometime after the child was born, exotic figures, Magi from the East, came to Jerusalem looking for the “newborn king of the Jews.” Their appearance fanned the flames of king Herod’s paranoia. So, the angel returned to Joseph, once again in a dream, to warn him that Herod wanted to destroy the child. He told Joseph that he must flee the country and take refuge in Egypt. They packed up what little they had and fled to Egypt in the middle of the night.
After a period of time, the angel again appeared in Joseph’s dream. He informed him that Herod had died, and that it was safe to return to Judah. But learning that Herod’s son, the highly unpopular Archelaus, had succeeded his father, Joseph brought his wife and son to the northern region of Galilee. They settled in a town called Nazareth which was outside the jurisdiction of Archelaus.
This story of the holy family certainly touches all of us in one way or another. We all have relatives we’re proud of, and we all have relatives who embarrass us. We live in a similarly turbulent world where many millions are fleeing violence and death threats. Others are fleeing from the hunger belts throughout the world.
Matthew’s account of the holy family’s early life is, perhaps, an attempt to offer hope to all of us, even the millions of families suffering what seem like hopeless situations. He’s reassuring us that God, in some mysterious way, stands in solidarity with us. Whatever our family or political situations may be, let’s acknowledge, and lean on, God’s presence in our lives. That’s the most perfect prayer we can lift up today. May God bless each one of us as we maneuver our way through the storms of life. May the Holy Spirit be with us to strengthen us with wisdom, and gift us with hope and peace.
THE FEAST OF MARY, THE MOTHER OF GOD December 31-January 1, 2019 Numbers 6:22-27 Galatians 4:4-7 Luke 2:16-21 Gather #898
This Feast Day used to be called the Feast of the Circumcision. With the renewal of the Liturgy after Vatican Council II the accent was moved from Jesus to Mary. However, I would like to look briefly at both of these themes today because they’re so closely connected. Let’s first look at the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God.
The gospel passage begins by finishing the account of the shepherds. The angel had told them about the child who was born. “Today, in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.” This is a clear announcement. Not only is this child the long-awaited Messiah, he is Lord. Remember, also, Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary, “Blest are you among women.” She also greeted Mary as, “the mother of my Lord.” It’s from reflecting on passages like these that the Church came to give Mary the title, Theotokos, Mother of God (Godbearer).
This title, though focusing on Mary, clarifies our understanding of Jesus. He is both human and divine. The prologue of John’s gospel that we read at the Christmas Mass put it this way. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”
The Word, the Son of God, became a human being, a son of man. In Jesus, we see the fullness of humanity. We see his humanity in his anger when he cleanses the temple. We see his humanity when he sweats blood in Gethsemane and screams out from the cross, “My God, why have you abandoned me?!” We see his humanity when he blesses the children. We see the face of God and man in the love he extends as he forgives sins and heals those who are suffering. We see him glorified as the Christ in his resurrection and ascension.
This brings us to the last part of the passage we’re reading today, the mention of the circumcision of Jesus. “When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb”
This was the day he was stamped with his name, Jesus, which means savior. This is the day he entered our human family, the son of Mary, a man, a Jew. “The Word was made flesh…made his dwelling among us…and we have seen his glory.”
This feast weds heaven to earth in the person of Jesus, God and man. In Jesus we see the face of God.