“. . . every family, despite its weaknesses, can become a light in the darkness of the world”

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14

God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother's authority he confirms over her sons. Whoever honors his father atones for sins, and preserves himself from them. When he prays, he is heard; he stores up riches who reveres his mother. Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children, and, when he prays, is heard. Whoever reveres his father will live a long life; he who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother. My son, take care of your father when he is old; grieve him not as long as he lives. Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him; revile him not all the days of his life; kindness to a father will not be forgotten, firmly planted against the debt of your sins - a house raised in justice to you.

Colossians 3:12-21

Brothers and sisters: Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, so they may not become discouraged.

Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

When the magi had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him." Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, Out of Egypt I called my son. When Herod had died, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead." He rose, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go back there. And because he had been warned in a dream, he departed for the region of Galilee. He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, He shall be called a Nazorean.

Today’s feast celebrates Christmas in the light of the families, both theologically and socially. It is a theological celebration because when the “Word was made flesh and dwelt among us”, the incarnated Son comes through a family (Jn 1: 14) . God is not just the Father in heaven but has truly become a family member on earth. Christmas is a social celebration because apart from weddings, funerals or other cultural celebrations, it brings families together. It gathers, connects and reunites families.

Biblical scholars see that Jesus’ flight into Egypt as an Old Testament typology in which He embodies the history of the child Moses and the exodus story of Israel (rf Mt 2:13). The story reminds us of Pharaoh’s persecution of God’s Chosen People and the infant Moses’ survival from Pharaoh’s wicked command. Like Moses, Jesus miraculously escapes from the evil plot of Herod. While Moses, a Hebrew boy, grows up in the court of Pharaoh; Jesus too, hides among the idolaters in Egypt during his infancy. Moses would someday lead the people out of Egypt into freedom; Jesus will one day save His people from the slavery of sin. So Moses liberates the people physically, Jesus liberates them spiritually.

This sudden flight paints a sharp contrast to the previous experiences that the Holy Family had when the shepherds came to adore Jesus and the Magi arrived to pay Him homage. Like other families, the Holy Family is not exempted from the ups and downs of family life. They, too, have to face unexpected challenges, hardships and burdens. With the spirit of unity, faith and love, the Holy Family exemplifies in their trust and obedience to God. Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (2016), calls the Holy Family the model and icon of every family – “The covenant of love and fidelity lived by the Holy Family of Nazareth illuminates the principle which gives shape to every family, and enables it better to face the vicissitudes of life and history. On this basis, every family, despite its weaknesses, can become a light in the darkness of the world” (AL 66).

The exilic experience of the Holy Family also calls out special attention to particular groups of families – the families of migrants and refugees. Families who leave their homeland to find jobs and those who are persecuted for cultural, political or religious reasons. Political conflicts, economic instability and social unrest often result in mass movement of people to places which can offer them security and employment. St. Pope John Paul II, in his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio (1981) also includes families of prisoners and outcasts; families with handicapped children or drug addicts; single parent families; the elderly and families that are ideologically divided or encountering violence because of their faith. He points out that these families should be able to find a “homeland” everywhere in the Church (rf FC 77). In his Letter to Families (1994), he writes, “The Church considers serving the family to be one of her essential duties. In this sense both man and the family constitute the way of the Church” (Letter to Families 2).

As the people of God, we are encouraged to go beyond our natural families – to open our eyes and hearts to the conditions of these struggling families, to respect their cultural and social identities, to give them the chance and equal opportunities in finding employment and receiving education and to welcome them into our spiritual family of God.

May the celebration of the Feast of the Holy Family rekindles our own families and the whole human family with faith, love and strength.

Posted: December 29, 2019

May Tam

May Tam, Bachelor of Social Science (University of Hong Kong), Master of Theological Studies (University of Toronto)

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