Friday Focus: A Tale of Two Families
1 Christmas/Feast of the Holy Family - Matthew 2: 13-15, 19-23
The Herod family was dysfunctional to say the least. Even before the slaughter of the innocents, their vices had the makings of a grisly A&E mini-series. Regicide, patricide, fratricide, uxorcide, filiacide and now infanticide… they did ‘em all. Killing rivals, fathers, brothers, wives, children: it was all in a day’s work. And in between they were into double-barreled incest with Herodias and Salome covering up the crime by beheading John the Baptist. But all of this was merely par for the course in the days of Caligula and Tiberius.
What sets the Herodian clan apart was their serial betrayal of God and his chosen people. The self-proclaimed “King of the Jews” was, in fact, Rome’s lapdog. And worse, Herod was an eager and willing instrument of oppression and sacrilege. And to mask his powerless, puppet status, he went on a building binge of tombs and temples, fortresses and palaces… all supported by outrageous taxes that ground God’s people into the dust. That was the Herod family paradigm… power and pleasure at any cost. The chosen people of God were there to be used, abused, betrayed… whatever it took to get the next bauble, to feel the next thrill, to curry Rome’s favor.
And then there was The Holy Family: Jesus, Mary and Joseph. And the contrast could not be greater… giving rather than taking, loving rather than lusting. The Blessed Mother Mary, whose soul magnified the Lord, gave herself to God as an instrument of our salvation. The righteous, faithful Joseph lived to serve. He gave God his unquestioning obedience in the face of danger and hardship. And finally, what greater contrast than Jesus Christ, God and man; he had it all and gave it all in loving obedience to the Father.
And so we have the example of two entirely different families in this week’s gospel. The family of Herod wants all of life’s goodies and they will do anything to get them and keep them. Which family do we follow? For most of us I suspect the answer is a hybrid. We profess the Holy Family as our ideal. But as a matter of expediency, at times there is more than a little Herod in our homes than we care to admit. That doesn’t mean patricide and all the rest, but it does come down to a question of priorities. Do we live to serve or be served? Are we givers or takers? Do we live to glorify God or satisfy the almighty me?
These are questions for which God will hold each one of us individually responsible. But the answers do not spring up spontaneously from the void. They are shaped in the context of loving, Christian (and that means actively Christ-centered) families. They are a sacred legacy of family values held in trust to be passed down lovingly to successive generations. They are fostered in energized, evangelical parish families who live consciously and constantly in the love of Christ.
And so we pray on this feast of the Holy Family that we will stand with Jesus, Mary and Joseph and that we will answer with Joshua: Choose you this day whom you will serve…As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
Festival Focus: The Miracle of Christmas
John 1: 1-14
You’ve got to be kidding. Do you really mean to tell me that the author of the Big Bang, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Messiah, the Promised One is that helpless new born crying out there in the stable? Give me a break. Well, as it turns out, that’s exactly why he’s here… to give us the biggest break of all time. It’s Yaweh, Almighty God, in a pint-sized package come to change the whole trajectory of human experience. That little bundle, a few minutes old, is here to teach and to preach, to sanctify and ultimately to save us all. He is our ticket to eternal life.
God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have life everlasting.(John 3:16) That’s the miracle of Christmas. That’s what all the carols and the crèches are about. It’s a stunning concept, but one that we have heard so often that we are in danger of becoming oblivious to the awesome reality that is Christmas. Let’s take another look at the miracle of Christmas and what it means in our lives today.
First let’s get a few theological concepts straight. Christians worship Jesus as God, the Second Person of the Trinity. He is the Son of the Father. But being Second and being the Son does not imply that Jesus is a junior varsity version of God. We are made in God’s image. He is not made in ours. God uses human concepts expressed in human language to give us a basic comprehension of his infinitely incomprehensible divine nature. In God’s good time, each of us will stand before him possessing greater knowledge than the wisest theologian and the most inspired evangelist ever had while on earth. We will see the face of God. Short of that, we rely on John’s brilliant summation: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.
That kid in the manger was, is, and always will be the Word of God. The Word is a manifestation of God’s love: made flesh and dwelt among us. And as much divine inspiration went into that step as went into placing our solar system at just the right spot in the Milky Way. Jesus came to us in just the right spot, at just the right time and in just the right way. His Nativity is his very first sermon to us. And it is perfectly in tune with every other sermon he preached… Blessed are the poor in spirit… Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… Store up for yourself treasures in heaven…The first shall be last and the last shall be first.
What an infinitely perfect platform the Nativity makes to bring God’s love into our lives on a scale and in a form that Christians have embraced down through the ages. God, who made it all, who has it all, gave his all to us in total loving humility. The power that placed every star in the heavens, placed his love in the manger in the form of Jesus Christ. Suddenly, God is not a distant being. He is Emmanuel… God with us… beside us and in us. On Christmas and every day of the year, Jesus brings God down to us and us up to God. That’s the miracle of Christmas. Gloria in excelsis Deo!