Though this particular article must be submitted by 6:00 this evening and it is already past noon, I find myself reluctant to begin. Christmas 2010 lives only in my memory and in the photos and video that chronicled the day for me. In spite of the decorations, Christmas Cards and gifts received, our home feels empty. Our Christmas Tree’s branches droop a bit lower, exposing the bare spots that I so carefully filled with ornaments and bows a few weeks ago. The angel costumes that my granddaughters wore for Christmas Eve Mass are stored for another year. The gifts that filled the study where I write have been given, and the last of the wrapping and boxes wait in the dumpster for pick-up. Even the Christmas trays that boasted dozens of cookies lie empty. I shiver in spite of the humming furnace this chilly afternoon, and I wonder… What were Mary and Joseph doing two millennia ago after the excitement of Jesus’ birth faded into the trials and tribulations of raising the baby boy destined to be the Messiah?
Our Christmas stories and hymns offer every possible scenario regarding the Nativity. On that silent and holy night, angels sang. Shepherds responded. A drummer boy drummed. The Night Wind asked Little Lamb, “Do you see what I see?” A more recent composition inquires, “Mary, did you know?” Yet, in spite of the beauty and reverence of our songs and carols, the First Christmas was an emotional and trying time for the Holy Family, and the events that followed tested Mary and Joseph even more harshly.
Astrologers, who traveled a terribly long distance to find them, surprised and amazed Mary and Joseph with their reverence for Jesus. This visit began Jesus’ ministry to the entire world, far beyond the borders of the Jewish community. While this milestone in Jesus’ life offered relationships with the God of Israel to all people of good will, the Magi’s unprecedented kindness came at a great price. When the Magi stopped at Herod’s palace to find out what he knew about the newborn king, they inadvertently alerted the tyrant to a possible threat to his throne. Fortunately, the Magi were indeed wise men as they took an angel’s warning to avoid Herod when they returned to their homeland. Joseph, a wise man as well, also listened to an angelic voice who directed him to Egypt with Mary and Jesus. As the Magi likely responded to their encounter with Jesus by sharing the good news in their own country, the scriptures tell us that Herod ordered the slaughter of all Jewish boys under the age of two, thus ridding himself of the potential king.
Joseph, Mary and Jesus remained in Egypt, far from their home, until an angel brought news of Herod’s death. Though Joseph hoped to return to Judea, he found that Herod’s son now occupied the throne. To avoid this possible threat to Jesus, Joseph took his family to Galilee and settled in Nazareth. There Joseph and Mary raised Jesus to be a devout Jew and a good carpenter. The next mention of Jesus in the scriptures is a trip to Jerusalem during Passover when Jesus stayed behind to study in the temple while his parents journeyed home. It was a day into their walk before Mary and Joseph realized that Jesus wasn’t with them. Mary thought her twelve year old had joined the men for the trek home because Jesus was old enough. Joseph thought Jesus joined the women because he was so young. When they found him, Jesus responded to his parents’ worry by insisting that he had to be about his Father’s business. Still, Jesus obediently followed them home. Again, the gospels lapse until Jesus’ public life begins at age thirty. A shiver takes hold of me as I consider all Mary and Joseph must have done to help Jesus prepare for that day…
Mike and I truly enjoy preparing our home for Christmas. Every light strung and ornament hung speaks what our hearts cannot put into words. The God-made-man who changed everything with his arrival didn’t miss us in the process. Though life has pushed us and pulled us from the wonder of Christmas through the trials of this life, we wouldn’t have it any other way. As I admit to myself that I’m pensive and a bit tentative as I begin this New Year 2011, a welcome bit of warmth nudges away the chill and fills me up with hope. Our home isn’t empty after all. Just as our worries and concerns remain, the realities of God’s love and our own potential to grow in that love remain as well. Dear God, bless us this New Year with all we need, the best of what we want, and the courage to use well what we are given. Amen!
©2011 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved