A Normal Family

A Normal Family

Feast of the Holy Family. Fr Leo Edgar wonders whatever happened to a normal family Christmas.

Our preparation for the celebration of Christmas has been extremely strange this year for many people because of  the Covid restrictions on family life in particular; and compared to ‘normal’ Christmases,   as we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we can perhaps reflect on that first Nativity Day and the message of  that family in Bethlehem, and the message that has been given to the world.

Firstly, as we read the account in Luke’s gospel of the birth of Christ, we find that  family life in Judaea at that time was, in some ways at least, not dissimilar to family life today; joyful but stressful, sometimes uncomfortable and in many ways unpredictable. Think of the time immediately preceding Christ’s birth when this young couple travelled to Bethlehem in order to register their existence for the Roman authorities, and discovered there was no room at the inn!

Joseph and his young wife were travelling to Bethlehem, the city of King David, in order to register for the Emperor Augustus’s national census of  occupied Judaea . And as Mary was about to give birth to Jesus, they find there is “no room for them in the inn”. How frustrating must that have been!

Just as many of us are experiencing the frustration caused by current restrictions on our families at a time of the year which, traditionally, is a time for family get-togethers in celebration of Christ’s birth.

With the presence of angels, shepherds and the Three Wise Men, we know how unlikely it was that Christ’s earthly arrival could have gone unnoticed.

The whole of the Christmas story is centred around a family; the “Holy Family”, chosen by God to be the human group into which Jesus was born. We can better understand God’s plan for restoring salvation to the human race, when we see how Mary is chosen to be the mother of His Divine Son, and Joseph as his protector.

For Christ to adopt the form of man, and to be born into a human family, as one of us, is truly an indication of how much God loves His creation.In Pope Francis’s Exhortation “The Joy of Love” (Amoris Laetitia), he devotes much time to an examination of the importance of ‘the family’ as the principal unit of society in today’s world. He wrote: (chapter 194), “…relationship between brothers and sisters deepen with the passing of time, and the bond of fraternity in the family is a great school of freedom and peace. In the family we learn how to live as one.”

In this assessment of the importance of family, we can recognize the important role that the Holy Family should have as the model for every human family. Pope Francis concludes that, “we do not always think about this, but the family itself introduces fraternity into the world”.

The first chapter of Matthew’s gospel  shows forty-two generations of  Joseph and Mary’s relatives from Abraham to Jacob (father of Joseph) and including King David & Solomon – these 42 related families making up the historic “Family Tree” of Joseph, Mary and Jesus. In the context of his life to come, the arrival of Jesus, the expected Messiah, was, to say the least, unusual. No great arrival expectations; no grand military fanfare, no preparations of world Press to welcome the arrival of the Redeemer of the World.

When we hear again the Christmas story, sing the Christmas carols and listen to our own family stories of Christmases past, we can understand the disappointment being felt by so many people as we try our hardest to cope with family restrictions. In particular we recognize that the Covid pandemic has brought many families and friends closer together despite the advice to be isolated, but with the help of modern technology which enables us to keep in contact with each other. It has also reminded us of the need to be constantly aware of the needs of the very young and the very old, many of whom find it hard to understand the current need for caution in meeting and greeting each other. Patience and tolerance are essential in dealing with the present situation, so that the whole world can share the fraternity envisaged in the Pope’s encyclical “Fratelli Tutti”, seeing ourselves as children of God, breaking down barriers of intolerance and, as the liturgy of this feast encourages,  “to imitate constantly the example of the Holy Family, so that, after the trials of this world, we may share in practising the virtues of family life with Jesus, Mary and Joseph for ever.”

Genesis 15:1-6,21:1-3 | Hebrews 11:8,11-12,17-19 | Luke 2:22-40

fr Leo Edgar is an assistant priest at St Dominic's, London.