When I started to think about this reflection, my dear husband was making one of his bi-weekly trips to the grocery store. Though I should have been writing, I fretted over our last undelivered online gift purchase and our as yet undelivered Christmas cards. I found little consolation in acknowledging that, by the time this reflection would be published, that gift and our Christmas cards would have arrived. By the time I sat at my keyboard to put my thoughts into words, welcoming New Year 2021 demanded my attention. The best and worst of 2020 have added much to our collective history. I redirected my thoughts to the last days of the year with the hope that we’ll all embrace what lies ahead with a measure of peace. Though I’d like to think that we all found joy and hope and love in the midst of our minimal Christmas festivities, I know this may not have been the case for many of us. So it is that I turn to the peace found in God’s company to sustain me.
I think inner peace is key to embracing this life and all that it holds for us. Be it next year, next month, tomorrow or the moment at hand, it’s far easier to face what lies ahead when we’re in good company. As I consider the plight of the Holy Family whom we celebrate today, I think that their sense of God’s presence is the fuel which empowered them to carry on. Dealing with Mary’s unexpected pregnancy was challenge enough. Managing Jesus’ birth far from home where an overly-crowded city had no semblance of privacy to offer added to Mary’s and Joseph’s complicated circumstances. Not long afterward, they fulfilled Jewish Law by walking six miles from Nazareth to the temple in Jerusalem to consecrate their firstborn son to God. In today’s gospel (Luke 2:22-40), Luke tells us that the holy man Simeon was in the temple when Joseph and Mary arrived. Simeon had spent his life waiting for the Messiah and he begged God not to take him until he’d seen the promised one. When Jesus’ parents carried him in, Simeon immediately sensed that he was in the company of the one for whom he waited. He embraced Jesus with un-containable gratitude and exclaimed, “Now, you may let your servant go… for my eyes have seen…” Simeon told Mary that Jesus would bring both wonder and sorrow into her life and that he would bring salvation to the people.
Simeon’s welcome evidenced the peace God’s presence had brought into his life. Still, trustful as they were in God’s plans for them, Mary and Joseph didn’t expect the reception Simeon offered them. What a frightening sense of responsibility they must have felt! Even in his infancy, others recognized Jesus as the one who would literally change their world. How would they raise a child destined to do this? Without revealing Mary’s and Joseph’s intentions, Luke closes this passage by sharing that “…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.” It occurs to me that Luke’s observations fail to acknowledge the difficulties Mary and Joseph faced when they left the temple that day. Were there whispers in the community regarding the timing of Jesus’ birth? Did Mary question her response to the angel nine months earlier? Did fear tug at Joseph’s heart? Yet, though another couple may have run for the hills, Mary and Joseph stayed the course. Nothing mattered to them more than caring for Jesus. In spite of their fear, Mary and Joseph loved Jesus and they knew that God was with them. So it was that they proceeded accordingly.
If you love someone, you understand how Mary and Joseph were able to allow Jesus to turn their lives upside-down. You’ve encountered God within yourself and within the ones you love and so it is that your affection compels you to stay the course. Parents work long hours to provide for their children and caregivers gently bathe their ailing loved ones. Grandparents lift up a little grandchild and stack blocks with that toddler in spite of their aching backs. We dig into our pockets for our last ten-dollar bill and drop it into a bell-ringer’s bucket. Yes, we work at caring for those we’ve been given to love because God has worked at caring for us. On this Feast of the Holy Family, we celebrate the persistence of Mary and Joseph in raising Jesus and Jesus’ persistence in convincing us that God loves us all no matter what.
Today and always, we do our best to retrace the footsteps of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph who illustrated the power of God’s presence in our lives. Every step they took guides us to the wonder we can accomplish when we acknowledge that God is also with us in everything. Though our only certainty is the unexpected, God invites us to use every opportunity which lies ahead to respond generously to those we’ve been given to love. This week, when you begin to organize your 2021 Calendar, remember that the three hundred sixty-five days ahead promise possibilities and challenges which we’ll never face alone. God’s company among us and within us will sustain us just as it sustained Mary and Joseph and their amazing son.
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