Do you see what I see?
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE HOLY FAMILY OF JESUS, MARY, AND JOSEPH, December 27, 2020:
In my homily for Christmas, I mentioned that the birth of Jesus invites us to remember a simple, but essential, truth – that the God we worship is real. That He became one of us; and when He came, He didn’t just appear magically out of thin air. No, when God decided to come to earth as one of us, He appeared in the world the same way we do – as part of a family – a family that begins with Abraham and Sarah, a family that includes King David and King Solomon, one includes Joseph and Mary – and one that includes us. A real family with real people just like you and me.
Today’s feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – so close to the Feast of Christmas – asks us to take a moment to reflect a bit more deeply on that same reality. Christmas, as we know, is not done in a day. Maybe it is in our secular world, which is already turning its attention to New Year’s, and soon after Valentine’s Day and then whatever other opportunity to sell more things comes along. But, here in the Church, this reality of Christmas, the truth that the Word Became Flesh and dwelt among us; this reality takes time for us to properly pray with. In fact, we will continue to celebrate Christmas for a few more weeks as we consider the Holy Family, then the Epiphany, and finally the Baptism of Jesus.
All of our songs, our symbols and our prayers are inviting us to draw more deeply into the experience of the incarnation of the Lord. One of those profound ways we enter into this moment more deeply is through our beautiful Christmas mangers. They are so beautiful and probably the most treasured of decorations in most households. In fact, in many families, Christmas mangers are even handed down from generation to generation. We have large beautiful ones here in our church, and we have them in many forms large and small in our homes. One of my most treasured ones is in my room in the rectory. It is very simple. A few pieces of wood hammered together, a ziplock full of hay that has been with the manger at least as long as I’ve been alive, and some very inexpensive figurines. But, it is special because it has been in my family for a long time and is the manger that I remember most profoundly from my own youth. It reminds me not only of the scene it represents – the birth of Jesus, but it also call to mind countless meaningful Christmases as a child; and since my Mom’s passing a few years ago, it reminds me deeply of her.
If you know the history of the Christmas manger, you know that it was St. Francis of Assisi who originated this custom in 1223. St. Francis did this because he wanted to literally enter the scene of Jesus birth to understand the impact of that momnt. He wanted to imagine what it was like. This was obviously a popular gesture as we know it is now shared all over the world.
Today’s feast in particular invites us to reflect on the fact that when God chose to come to us; He chose to enter humanity not in a grandiose way, not with trumpet blast and glory, but very simply He entered the world within a family. And, reflecting on our Christmas Nativity, it also tells us that He chose to enter humanity in some unexpected ways – as someone who was homeless – they could not find a place to lay their head; as a migrant as they were on their way to another land for the census. He chose to enter our world as a refugee, as they had to flee to Egypt to avoid Herod’s wrath. And, He chose to enter our world completely and utterly defenseless - as a little baby, someone helpless and relying upon the assistance of others if He were to survive to an age where He could complete His mission of spreading the good news and bringing His promised salvation.
God chose to enter our world precisely in the places and in the people and in the ways that we, today, so often struggle to see God. When we look at the immigrant, the refugee, the homeless, the helpless, what do we see? Do we realize that they are icons of the very same image of God as He was on that first Christmas morning?
Our Christmas mangers are an image of a homeless, migrant family who had no place to lay their head. And every day there are thousands of people around us right here in our own community who are also homeless, or hungry, or unable to meet their most basic needs. As we encounter these people, do we see the similarity between their image and the image of the Holy Family? “When did we see you Lord? What you did for the least of these, you did for me.” God is as present in these people and these places today as He was in that manger 2,000 years ago.
In a few days or weeks, our Christmas mangers will be carefully packed and put away for another year, but these urban mangers that surround us on our streets remain in the men and women in need all around us. I think this is exactly why Jesus came to us, God Himself came to us, in a family, and one that was homeless and migrant and in need of the help of others. Because He wanted us then and now, to look at our own family, to look at the homeless and helpless around us, and to see that God is present there too; they are not the “other”; instead, they are our brother, our sister, our holy family – and He wants us to reach out to them in their need.
My friends, Jesus came among us to bring God’s presence into our midst, into our lives so that we might see that same presence in one another; that we might see God’s presence in the most unlikely of places. If we want to become a Holy Family, this is how we do it. We say yes to that Godly presence, yes to that invitation before our eyes, just as Joseph and Mary did so long ago. And it will make all the difference in our lives, in our world and in our families. May we become one, united and holy family under our loving and compassionate God this Christmas and always.
Merry Christmas and may the Lord give you peace.
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