In the Old Testament Abram is an old man. He and his wife Sarah have lived with the stigma of being childless all their lives. They are devoted to each other but they want to have a family. Abram speaks to God in very down-to-earth human terms. He is told not to fear because he will be rewarded for all his goodness. “O Lord God, what good will your gifts be if I keep on being childless and have as my heir the steward of my house, Eliezer?” He is told that his wife will bear a child even though she is elderly. Abram put his faith in the Lord. He trusted God. He becomes Abraham, the father of many nations.

Continuously during the Advent and Christmas season we are told not to be afraid. Abraham is told to fear not because the Lord will protect him. Zechariah is told: “Do not be afraid; your prayer has been answered.” Mary is told: “Do not be afraid; you have found favor with God.” In each instance a child is born who will be part of God’s dream for His people (Isaac and John the Baptist) or will be the fulfillment of the dream (Jesus).

On the Sunday after Christmas we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. It is easy for us to romanticize the Holy Family as an idyllic life lived by Jesus, Mary and Joseph. We might identify with them if we examine the facts. The trip to Bethlehem to register for the census was an arduous trip for Joseph and Mary who was with child traveling over dirt roads on a donkey, hardly idyllic. The birth of their child takes place in a cold stable surrounded by smelly animals, hardly idyllic. Then they become immigrants fleeing into Egypt because Herod wants to destroy their child, hardly idyllic.

In Sunday’s Gospel they present Jesus in the temple as prescribed by the law. On this joyous occasion Mary is given reason to fear, a fear unique to any mother who is told that a sword would pierce her soul. Simeon, a man wise in years and faith, says: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted – and you yourself a sword will pierce – so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” Mary does not know what this means and she does not know when or how it will come true. She will ponder these things in her heart. It is only in the shadow of the cross that she will remember and understand the prophesy of Simeon.

We all want to know the road ahead. We want to protect ourselves against illness and guard against running out of money. That’s only human. But life is full of mystery and of the unknown. So we have reason to fear. Deep down we know we are not in control. This feast of the Holy Family in the midst of the Christmas season calls us to turn to Abraham and learn to trust, as he did. Let us ask Joseph for the grace to live silent love in the background, as he did. Let us imitate Mary and ponder in our hearts what we do not understand or what gives us fear in this human journey.

I hope you had a blessed Christmas.

Father Jim

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