Christmas and Holy Family, Year A-2010
- Much have they oppressed me from my youth (Ps. 129:1—NAB)
Though “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” as Jn. 1:14 affirms, he really wasn’t made to feel at home. There was no room in the inn for Mary and Joseph, so Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes after being born in either a stable or a cave where animals were sheltered, was laid, according to Lk. 2:7, in a manger. “He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him” (Jn. 1:11). And as if disregard and rejection were not enough, persecution soon followed. Herod sought the life of the child Jesus, and so the family was instructed to flee to Egypt (Mt. 2:13).
What was God thinking that he deigned that his anointed, “destined,” in the words of righteous and devout Simeon (Lk. 2:34), “for the fall and rise of many in Israel,” be “a sign to be opposed” at the outset? Would it not have been more fitting for the Messiah of David’s royal line to emerge and carry out his mission unopposed? But God, who transcends us in every way, thinks and acts differently from us human beings (Is. 55:8-9). As already indicated by the account of Jesus’ genealogy, in Mt. 1:1-16, which includes as many saints as sinners, God writes straight with crooked lines .
God’s plan is not thwarted by anything. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it (cf. Jn. 1:5). Unrighteousness in Jesus’ family line is not an impediment to the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy about the virgin conceiving and bearing a son to be named Emmanuel. Much less a hindrance is righteous observance of the law like St. Joseph’s. Being righteous, yet unwilling to expose Mary to shame, he decides to divorce her quietly, only to be apprised of what is really going on in accord with God’s plan (Mt.1:19-22). The inviolability of God’s plan makes those who would attempt to foil it look even sillier as the divine plan unfolds (in fulfillment of the promise made to King David and in vindication of those feeling forsaken and left desolate—Acts 13:22-23; Is. 62:2-5) and makes clear that such event as the fleeing to Egypt, or the settling down in Nazareth out of some apprehension, is not accidental but fulfills such prophecy as “Out of Egypt I called my son,” or “He shall be called a Nazorean” (Mt. 2:15, 23). Oppressors do not prevail (Ps. 129:2).
And God’s inviolable plan surely surprises . Defying human expectation and imagination, it associates the proclamation of God’s greatness with a lowly handmaiden and the birth of the Messiah with rural anonymity rather than with royal distinction. It also assigns angels to sing God’s praise with shepherds, not king and princes, as audience. A further surprise lies in this: Jesus’ birth elicits joy, excitement and wonder from the lowly and simple, whether shepherds or stargazers, Jew or Gentile, whose curiosity indicates openness to revelation, while it becomes a motive of jealousy and violence for those occupying positions of authority who are completely pleased with themselves and are so very sure of the learning they display and so very secure in the power they wield. And it is the former, not the latter, who go in haste and find “Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in a manger” and prostrate and do the holy child homage, offering him their gifts (Lk. 2:16; Mt. 2:11). The former understand truly, and better than the latter, the sign of an infant wrapped in common swaddling clothes and lying poor in a manger in a rustic stable or cave out there in the open, not in a luxurious bed in a walled royal palace.
Those who truly and deeply understand the sign also know what being part of a family ought to mean. In humility and simplicity, they see the sign to point fundamentally to Jesus’ being devoured like bread so as to consummate his mission of preaching the good news to the poor and saving them (cf. Ps. 14:4; Jn. 19:30). They understand the sign to signify also their being called to do as Jesus did in affective and effective remembrance of him and to put on, in imitation of him in who is the revelation of God’s kindness and generous love (Tit. 3:4), “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another” (Col. 3:12-13). Returning to this original sign of the original spirit makes for genuine adaptation and renewal .
-  Cf. Robert P. Maloney, C.M., “The Genealogy of Jesus,” America (December 17, 2007) at http://americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=10491&comments=1#readcomments (accessed December 25, 2010); see also Ron Rolheiser, O.M.I., “God wrote the story of Jesus’ birth with crooked lines,” Western Catholic Reporter (Week of December 15, 2008) at http://wcr.ab.ca/old-site/columns/rolheiser/2008/rolheiser121508.shtml (accessed December 25, 2010).
-  Cf. http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/Luke/Birth-Jesus (accessed December 25, 2010)
-  Cf. Vatican II’s Perfectae Caritatis, 2.