Sunday, December 31
The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
When the days were completed for their purification
according to the law of Moses,
They took him up to Jerusalem
to present him to the Lord,
just as it is written in the law of the Lord,
Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,
and to offer the sacrifice of
a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,
in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon.
This man was righteous and devout,
awaiting the consolation of Israel,
and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit
that he should not see death
before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.
He came in the Spirit into the temple;
and when the parents brought in the child Jesus
to perform the custom of the law in regard to him,
He took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:
“Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in sight of all the peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him;
and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
“Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
—and you yourself a sword will pierce—
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
There was also a prophetess, Anna,
the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.
She was advanced in years,
having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,
and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.
She never left the temple,
but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.
And coming forward at that very time,
she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child
to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions
of the law of the Lord,
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.
What a bewildering experience this first trip to the Temple was for the Blessed Virgin and St Joseph! First a holy man runs up and exalts over their son. He is so overjoyed to see their newborn son that he exclaims that he is so content, he is ready to die now!
A prophet snatching your newborn up in a prayer of thanksgiving would be enough excitement for one day for any parent. But hard on the heels of the prophet comes a prophetess. This octogenarian anchoress who, we are told, “never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer,” begins to prophesize as well about the child!
But then, this Gospel reading concludes in a fitting way for the Feast of the Holy Family. After all this hubbub, all this extraordinary attention by holy people, Joseph and Mary are finally left alone. And left alone, they do exactly what they came to do: fulfill the Law and consecrate their son to God. Then, left untroubled by any more prophets or prophetesses, they return home to Nazareth.
In Nazareth, they are just Joseph and Mary. In the house at Nazareth, they are back to chores and diapers, carpentry and homemaking. And it was precisely in this environment that the Gospel tells us that Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him.”
The Son of God did not “grow up” as some prodigy in the inner Temple sanctum, carefully trained in Judaism by Levitical priests and educated by the best private tutors. No, it was precisely amid that most extraordinary of ordinary things– a happy, loving family — that Jesus grew in his humanity.
This Feast day reminds us that “the family” is important; so important, that even the Lord chose to live in a family! Our own families, nuclear and extended, may be a long, long way from being described as “holy.” Even words like “happy” or “loving” might feel like an exercise in wishful thinking. But let us never underestimate or understate the importance of “the family” for the world. At the expense of being simplistic, if the family is good enough for Jesus, imagine how good and necessary it is for us!