Jesus, Lord of time,
Jesus, image of God,
travel with us the life of faith.
Jesus, friend of sinners,
heal the brokenness of our world.
Jesus, Lord of tomorrow,
draw us into your future.
The First Foster Family
Over the years, vintage painted images of the Holy Family have only helped to reinforce the fantasy and distance between them and our very own families. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, look immaculate even in a stinky barn – not even flies appear to bother them! They all look happy and comfy.
Mary and Joseph look like they never had an argument, worried about finances or had fears about being sick or being unable to work. From stained windows or from glossy images we may come to think that Jesus never had teething discomforts, and that Mary never had to deal with the fact that Pampers had not been yet invented. Was it because little Jesus went to potty from the very first day?
Professor Debra Dean Murphy remarks that “from the very beginning – even before its beginning – the Holy Family was a family under suspicion.” Our Lord’s paternity was an issue, to say the least, and certainly for Mary and Joseph if not for others! Then, they had to run away from a paranoid ruler leaving behind Joseph old shop that provided for them for so long.
So, the family – like many other families and individuals of yesteryear and today – joined a caravan away from their own home country into another nation offering their child, if not to them, a chance for a better future. In other words, like the Israel of old and many families of our own days, they found themselves being migrants, aliens in a foreign land, looking for a better future.
Father Siciliano O.P., in his blog “Preacher Exchange” writes that, “The struggles of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus remind us that, through baptism, we are adopted into a family not of our own choosing.” A family in whose company sometimes we may find not only support and encouragement, care and love, but also disappointment, disconnects, and even regrets.
Jesus himself, at least in our recorded history, the Gospels, had some family issues. What kind of parents are those who do not miss their child in three days? Was Jesus the original “Home Alone?”
In our reading we learn that upon their return to Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph would have none of little Jesus drawing attention to himself in the Temple. What the authorities would thing about Jesus and his parents? Was Jesus just another smart-alecky child, or someone whom they should be worried about?
One way or the other, Mary and Joseph drag him out of the Temple, but not without Jesus having something to say, “Why were you searching for me?” Jesus asks. “Didn’t you know that I had to be here, dealing with the things of my Father’s?” But – recalls Luke, “They had no idea what he was talking about.” Was there a disconnect?
And the unknowns? What happens with Joseph, who literally appears to be spirited away from the narrative? What about Jesus’ “brothers?” (Matthew 13:55). And what about Jesus attitude when he receives his family’s visit, “My mother and brothers are the ones who hear and do God’s Word. Obedience is thicker than blood.” (Luke 8:20)
Through the sentimental gloss of our sanitized versions of Christmas and the images of a sort of Thomas Kinkaid’s Holy Family, we have lost the reality of a migrant, struggling, blue-collar family. A family who, in their midst, provided a home for Jesus, a true “Alien” in his own world.
But it is exactly in the ordinariness of family life, in the usual way of being good parents, that Jesus, Mary and Joseph lived out their vocation as a family called by God to bear witness to a new way of being family – the first and original foster family.
Today we remember the Holy Family. But such celebration should not encourage us to glorify them. Rather, it is an invitation to look at our Lord’s family and our own families under a new light – the light that Jesus came to bring into the world: the light of love.
And we cannot escape the fact that in considering the Holy Family, the struggles that so many families are going through right at this time cannot be ignored. Here in our homeland, even in your own experience, and way beyond our borders there are many wondering what they are going to put on a plate for a meal, where are they going to spend the night, or whether their children would have a better shot to life somewhere else – even away from their parents.
If anything, Christmas invites us to be as open, welcoming, and understanding as Mary and Joseph were. They did not do it all by themselves. The Spirit was with them, a Spirit that makes the unexpected possible and opens doors that otherwise seem sealed for good.
As we are reaching our last day of the year, and as we look ahead to the new year, I would like to invite you to open the doors of your heart to Jesus – make him the honor guest and the permanent resident of your most inner heart.
Let the familiar words of the old carol be your song today and all through the year ahead,
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
there is room in my heart for thee.