It’s a different kind of Christmas this year, isn’t it? This change in the normal order of things might give us a chance to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family in a bit of a different way.
There were many unanticipated guests at the birth of Jesus. Angels sang, shepherds came by and worshipped and travelers from foreign lands came bearing gifts. When this Holy Family came to Jerusalem for purification, Simeon and Anna also became part of this quickly expanding Holy Family. We even hear later in the life of Jesus that anyone who hears the word of God and keeps it is “mother and sister and brother to me” (Matthew 12:50). The ever expanding family of Jesus opens from age to age to all eternity.
So as we celebrate the feast this year, chances are that the regular groups might not be gathering. This might be a great time for remembering and looking at old snapshots. Who was it that first heard the word of God and kept it in your family? Think of a bigger sense of family. Think of those who might have taught you how to pray. They might be blood relatives but maybe not. Maybe he or she was a Sunday School teacher when you went with your friends. Maybe a pastor of the church of your childhood. It might have been your spouse, who shocked you by wanting to pray with you. Give thanks to God on this feast for that part of your family. What about all those whom you have taught to pray by example or by instruction? They are part of your family as well.
The early days of this Holy Family were similar to lots of families these days. There was no place to give birth to Jesus since no one welcomed them into their home. Shortly after Jesus’ birth, the family had to run for their lives to a foreign country. It is estimated that there are about 79.5 million people who have been forcibly displaced, some within their own country. Where will those families find a place to give birth to their children and find safety from tyrants? Where will those who don’t have money for their rent find a place to live during our current financial crisis? These folks are part of our ever expanding family since Jesus tells us we will see Him but may not recognize Him in the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, imprisoned and dying.
A dear priest friend of mine says “family is messy business.” He is so right, but it’s our family and our mess. In celebration of this feast, even though we might have fewer family members around than ever before, maybe we can make some plans for the future that include the larger scope of our families. Let’s not just fall back into the same patterns, but truly become the Holy Family God is calling us to be.
I pray that you are having a very Blessed Christmas!
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.