The Christmas Story which warmed our hearts just three days ago continues with a chill today. Jewish Law required Mary and Joseph to travel to the temple to consecrate their firstborn son to God and to offer a sacrifice of two turtledoves. Mary and Joseph willingly adhered to this tradition as it was part of the rich heritage which they intended to share with Jesus. Luke’s gospel (2:22-40) tells us that the couple’s plans did not unfold as happily as expected. While in the temple, they met Simeon and Anna. Simeon was a holy man who had been promised by the Spirit that he would not die before seeing the messiah. When he met Mary and Joseph, he embraced their child with great love and gratitude. He exclaimed, “Now, Master, you may let your servant go…” Simeon went on to tell Mary of both the wonder and the sorrow which her child would bring to her. If this was not enough to startle these new parents, the elderly Anna approached. She, too, expressed thanks for having seen this amazing child.
Poor Mary and Joseph had no idea of what was in store when they traveled from Nazareth to Jerusalem to present Jesus to the Lord God. Never did they expect to return home with heavy hearts. What a frightening sense of responsibility they must have felt! Even in his infancy, Jesus was recognized as the messiah. Somehow, Mary and Joseph needed to find the strength and the wisdom to raise the Son of God. Without revealing how they did so, the gospel tells us, “…they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.”
Looking back upon Christmas Day, we can all share plans which did not end as happily as expected. From burnt rolls to falling mistletoe, from unappreciated gifts to misunderstood remarks, our holiday efforts sometimes seem nothing more than a series of mishaps which we hope will end as quickly and painlessly as possible. More seriously, some flawlessly prepared meals and artistic decorations, some perfectly selected gifts and much supportive company failed to distract from the heartache which surrounded some Christmas trees. A broken engagement, a recently deceased spouse, the loss of a child, a terminal illness, another adoption setback, a difficult divorce, and an unexpected layoff are but a few of the events which turn our lives topsy-turvy. Like Mary and Joseph, we find ourselves facing the unexpected. And, like Mary and Joseph, we are expected to return to our homes where we must continue to grow and to become strong, to acquire wisdom and to find the favor of God resting upon us.
The gospels tell us very little about the family life which Jesus, Mary and Joseph shared. Nothing is reported of Mary teaching Jesus his prayers or of Joseph teaching Jesus his trade. We are unsure of the timing of Joseph’s death, and we wonder how well Jesus knew the cousin who would be known as John the Baptist. What we do know is that those frightened new parents provided the loving and nurturing home which prepared Jesus for his work. Somehow, this peasant couple armed Jesus of Nazareth as best they could to teach the world about the love of God. Jesus changed the face of humankind with his lessons regarding love and forgiveness, compassion and mercy, patience and humility. Indeed, Jesus taught us to deal with the unexpected with faith, hope and grace through his words and his own example.
Today’s celebration of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is a loving reminder that any failure we experienced in trying to provide the perfect Christmas is simply a celebration of what our lives are truly about. If life on this earth was perfect, this earth would be renamed “heaven.” Indeed, all that we can expect for certain is the unexpected. All that God expects of us is that we do the best we can to cope and to care for those we have been given to love.
This week, as we prepare to hang our 2015 Calendars, we must not expect perfection on any one of the three hundred sixty-five days which lie ahead. We won’t find it. What we will discover is opportunity after opportunity to grow and to become strong, to acquire wisdom and to find the favor of God resting upon us, just as it happened for that little family in Nazareth.
©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved