The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary & Joseph [A]
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14 [or Colossians 3:12-21 or Colossians 3:12-17] + Matthew 2:13-15,19-23
He rose, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.
Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Family. Throughout all of Christmastide, God calls Christians to reflect upon the Gift of the Child Jesus. Yet today’s feast has a specific focus. This focus helps us by considering how Mary and Joseph responded to the child Jesus.
When we reflect upon God the Father’s Gift of His only-begotten Son, we realize that it is not an “unrestricted gift”, as a charitable organization might put it. When God the Father gave the Gift of His Son to mankind, He did so with a special intention. If we don’t honor God the Father’s intention when we accept the Gift of Jesus, we are rejecting the Gift as given, and being dishonest with God the Father.
Mary and Joseph had certainly not accepted God the Father’s Gift dishonestly. Nonetheless, it did take time for God the Father’s intention to dawn fully upon them. From the beginning, they understood that this child was a gift conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. This child was to be called “Son of the Most High”. But why had God the Father sent Him to earth?
Every parent wonders and worries about the future of each of their children. But every child, as a gift from God, comes with an intention that God has for each child. God has an intention in mind, not just from the moment a child is conceived, but from all eternity. God’s ultimate intention is for each child to reach Heaven. Yet that’s much less likely to happen without the cooperation of parents.
Yet parents face a daunting challenge: in all things to align their human wills with the providential will of God the Father. In this Sunday’s Gospel Reading, God the Father calls Mary and Joseph to great self-sacrifice. They leave behind family and homeland, not knowing how long they might dwell in a foreign land. Only after a second dream may they return to their homeland of Israel, settling in Nazareth.
In this regard, St. Matthew the Evangelist quotes one of the Old Testament prophets. He quotes only the second half of Hosea 11:1 in order to give context to the Holy Family’s return from Egypt. But the entire verse offers even more context: “When Israel was a child I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son.”
This verse is a clear allusion to Israel’s Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. Yet two persons in the Gospel Reading play roles connected to this allusion. The first is the foster-father of Jesus, whose actions in the Gospel Reading mirror the Old Testament patriarch Joseph, whose journey to Egypt under compulsion led many years later to the Exodus.
The second is Jesus Himself. In the light of Hosea 11:1, Jesus is a mirror of the Old Testament patriarch Israel, and so also of the people who bore Israel’s name. It was for Israel that the land that was the goal of the Exodus was named. But Jesus’ earthly vocation was to involve an Exodus that transcends earth.
Jesus’ words when His mother and foster-father found Him in the Temple echoed in the hearts of Mary and Joseph. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s House?” They echoed because their meaning wasn’t limited to that one occasion when Jesus was twelve years old. Those words of Jesus echoed in Mary’s heart, mind and soul throughout His public ministry, and especially as she followed her Son up the hill of Calvary.
When Jesus was twelve years old, the words “my Father’s House” specifically meant the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, where Mary and Joseph found Him. But Mary and Joseph began to see that those words also had a second, deeper meaning. “My Father’s House” is the Promised Land of Heaven. That’s why Jesus was born, and that’s what this Christmas Season is about. Jesus was born in Bethlehem in order to die on Calvary, so to open the gates of Heaven. The gifts of the human family and the Holy Family help us make our way there.