They took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord… in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord. ~Lk 2:22, 24
The collection of liturgical celebrations that liter the Christmas season are a prolonged unpacking of the numerous consequences of God making his dwelling among us. Among these consequences is that God has entered the world by means of a human family. He does not descend from the heavens like an Olympian god or E.T., he lovingly submits himself to the normal human process of: conception, gestation, birth, and development. In doing so, he sanctifies all of these moments and brings them into relation with the divine.
One angle of approach to today’s feast is to focus on the fact that the Holy Family serves as the paradigm of successful family life. The family that keeps Christ at its center will be happy and blessed indeed. However, what should give us pause in this analysis is the fact that while the Holy Family is undeniably paradigmatic, it provides this model despite not only being an atypical family (the child is God, afterall), but even deviating from the idyllic model of family life we would normally expect to find. Joseph was a foster father who would presumably die early in the life of our Lord. Christ was an only child. The Holy Family was poor and as a consequence of both the time period of history in which they lived as well as their socioeconomic status they would have lacked even the most basic of comforts that we take for granted. The Holy Family experienced the sorrows of: flight from religious and political persecution, family misunderstandings, the disappearance of loved ones, and the ordinary struggles of daily life. For the pious Jew, a large family with material wealth and freedom from troubles was certainly the ideal. The Holy Family did not possess any of these characteristics. However, this should be an encouragement for each of us as bewildered we examine the dysfunctionality of our own families at times and wonder why God has inhibited me from having the perfect family. The response is before us today: the Holy Family is perfect, not because it would have been featured on The Hallmark Channel, but because they obediently placed God first. That is the true portrait of perfection.
Fr. Richard Hinkley