Christmas II – The Feast of the Holy Family
2019 – Cycle ABC
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalm 128; Colossians 3:12-21; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
The angels have gone up into the heavens from whence they came.
The shepherds have returned to their fields.
The magi have departed for their country by another route.
The excitement is over.
Everyone has gone home.
A small young family is left to clean up and embrace the realities of married and family life.
There were suspicions of adultery.
Talk of divorce.
The political leader, Herod, became terribly troubled by the presence of foreigners.
Strangers ask too many uncomfortable questions.
Questions are always perceived as a threat to those in power.
The young, husband and parent, Joseph, has dreams…well no, they are the stuff of nightmares. All the fears of every parent in which their child’s life is threatened.
Herod wants to murder the child.
A frenzy of activity stuffing together whatever they have.
Joseph and Mary walk down the darkened streets.
Their hearts stopping in their throats every time they see a soldier.
Will they ever know about the massacred boys of Bethlehem?
The substitute sacrifice to the god of power offered by every petty political leader.
The child Jesus spends the first years of his life on foreign soil in Egypt.
A strange language, different food and customs.
Stared at with suspicion, as all refugees are stared at.
He has avoided murder by Herod.
But he will not escape death by the state altogether – three decades later –
Pontius Pilate, an official of the Roman Empire, will pronounce Jesus’ death sentence.
Sometimes Christmas is not what it is supposed to be. Neither merry nor white.
We make Christmas into something it is not and wonder why it disappoints.
The Christmas story must be told in the context of suffering and death because it is the only way the story makes sense. People are hurting, and the epicenter of that hurt according to Matthew’s Gospel remains the focus of God’s concern.
Isn’t much of family life cleaning up after everyone has gone home?
What obstacles has your marriage encountered and triumphed over?
How many of you bear the scars from the experience separation and divorce? And like all scars, they may no longer hurt but there is left an indelible reminder on your life.
What has…what is threatening your children’s life? What causes parents, like Joseph, sleepless nights? And it will make no difference how old your sons and daughters are. We are always our parent’s children, are we not?
We live in a world where families are on the run.
We live in a world where families seeking asylum are separated from each other and caged like animals.
We live in a world where the weeping of parents is not enough to win mercy for their children.
We live in a world where girls are attacked for wanting an education.
We live in a world where…what depth of fear does it take for a parent to send their children off by themselves to travel over hundreds of miles to escape drug lords and death …and in the end to encounter a politics that uses them as pawns causing some to die anyway?
The Feasts of Christmas and martyred Holy Innocents in their violence and blood suggest that the truly vital presence of God is happening in refugee camps, detention centers, slums and prisons; in the nightmares and sleepless nights of countless parents; in the tear stained pillows of spouses trying to heal and strengthen their marriages. This is where the presence of the Church needs to be because God is already there ahead of us. For a people with eyes of faith, the Christ of the Gospels was born into our darkness, into the poverty of our hearts and into the vulnerability of our families.
Sometimes Christmas is not what it is supposed to be or what we want it to be. Christmas is when God is present in our midst. Emmanuel is more than a name; it is a promise and a presence.
[Sentences, phases and ideas from “The Bloody Fourth Day of Christmas” by Esau McCaully, New York Times, 27 December 2019 and “When Christmas is neither merry nor white” by Terrance Klein, America Magazine, 23 December 2019.]