Sunday, December 29, 2019

Merry Christmas 2019- Change and the Holy Family

Merry Christmas! I've just returned from a week long trip visiting family and so it is fitting that today's feast- the first Sunday after Christmas- we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family.

I want to get into today's gospel in a bit, but first, I want to back up and focus a little on the feast of Christmas itself. This year's Christmas was a little different for myself and my family. Despite my best efforts to launch into Advent, I'm not sure that I did. I did, however, spend a lot more time discussing Christmas and Advent with my students this year than I have in the past. I chalk that up to Thanksgiving and Christmas break being a little later this year and therefore needing to add in a few extra lesson plans before the break. But I am glad that I spent some time discussing the readings and symbols of Advent and Christmas as usually we are all so rushed into these seasons.

This year, I was struck by the gift of the Baby Jesus more so than I have been in years past. I believe that is due to the fact that I had a powerful experience in Bethlehem this year. I had not expected to be so taken by the cave and the Church in the place of Jesus' birth- Bethlehem- but I did have a moment of experiencing God's presence while there and so I believe that is a little bit of what has changed in me this season.

We also had some changes in the family as we lost my Babci this year. Christmas already had to change last year since she couldn't leave the nursing home, so it wasn't too different this year, but of course, we all couldn't help but notice and feel her absence. It is obviously hard when we lose loved ones, but I also believe some of us have a hard time with change. We love our traditions of Christmas. They are developed over time with love and family, and so when we have deaths or births or marriages or moves of any kind in regards to the various life changes, change can make Christmas hard.

So we have to be careful not to put more trust in the traditions than we do in the gift of Christ. I think the reason everyone loves Christmas so much are the traditions and traditions are human and ritualistic and good. But we can't put our trust in the tradition or ritual itself. Rituals and traditions can change. The thing that makes them powerful or special is Christ's presence in them. And so we need to focus on His Presence no matter what the tradition or ritual.

That brings me to today's gospel and the feast of the Holy Family.

In today's Gospel, we get the story of the Flight into Egypt. Jesus has been born and Mary and Joseph are still in Bethlehem. Herod, however, is on the lookout  for this deliverer that has been prophesied about. Joseph has a dream to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod's killing of any newborn Hebrew male children. After Herod dies, Joseph receives another dream to go back to Israel with his family, but to go to Nazareth.

Having been to Israel this year, not only can I now picture some of these places and landscapes, I have a better sense of the distances. As you can see, Bethlehem and Nazareth aren't exactly next to each other. Nazareth is much further north. But as it says in the Gospel today and the prophet Isaiah, the "deliverer" or "savior" was to come from the region of Galilee. Nazareth is up by the Sea of Galilee- a place I was also blessed to have visited and where Jesus spent much of his childhood and ministry.

I am also struck by the parallels with the Old Testament. Old Testament Joseph ( of Technicolor Coat fame) also communicates with God in dreams. It's his dreams that send his brothers into jealousy and ultimately lands him in Egypt, interestingly enough, kind of similar to Jesus and Joseph of the New Testament. Moses is another "type" of Christ in the Old Testament. In his timeline, the pharaoh of Egypt is also killing newborn male Hebrew children because of a star and a prophecy of a deliverer. In Moses' case, however, his mother and the pharaoh's daughter save him from harm.

The thing in common with all that I am sharing today is trust in God's presence. The Holy Family ( as the priest at Mass today pointed out) suffered and struggled just like we do. Moving is not easy, nor is change, and I imagine having to move quickly as Joseph and his family did in the Gospel was additionally stressful. This story always makes me think of the refugees we have around the world- fleeing their homes in order to escape danger and protect their families. Many of us have not had to suffer like that, but The Holy Family did. Yet they trusted completely in God's Will and His Presence. So did Old Testament figures like Joseph and Moses and their families.

As I mentioned earlier, it's not the traditions that make Christmas, it is God's Presence. For without it, what would we have to celebrate? We celebrate this Christmas season God making His Presence known in human form. We have much to contemplate regarding that gift. So no matter your traditions or your struggles or the ups and downs of family, we have God's Presence to contemplate and give us peace.

I pray that we all experience that Joy and Peace of Christ's Presence among us this Christmas Season. Merry Christmas!

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