The first Sunday after Christmas Day is reserved for the Feast of the Holy Family. By Church standards this a relatively modern celebration, established in 1921, first celebrated the first Sunday after Epiphany, but later moved to first Sunday after Christmas in 1969. Coming as it does at this time of year, it crystallizes for us the importance of family life in our creation and formation. Jesus, as the Incarnation, was born into a family and raised by that family. Mary and Joseph may have had a sacred trust in parenting the Son of God, but it is also growing up in that ordinary family structure that brings Jesus closer to us. Our readings this week offer a number of alternatives, but all focus on the importance of family life. As it is most likely you will be hearing the first of all our selections, I will focus on these...
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14 or Genesis 15:1-6, 21:1-3
Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5 or Psalm 105:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
Colossians 3:12-21 or Colossians 3:12-17 or Hebrews 11:8, 11-12, 17-19
Luke 2:22-40 or Luke 2:22, 39-40
Our first reading is from the book of Sirach... one of the wisdom books which is also sometimes referred to as Ecclesiasticus. It comes to us from the 2nd century BCE, and like many of the wisdom books, serves as a practical catechism of day, and very likely well known to Jesus and the other Jews of his time. This Sunday's passage, most scholars believe, was a commentary on the 4th Commandment (You shall honor your father and your mother). It even reminds us that our obligations as children go beyond the age of childhood... that just as our parents cared for us as infants and children, we too have an obligation to care for our parents in their time of need.
Where our first reading would seem to focus on the ideal model of family life, St. Paul in our second reading seems to recognize that family life isn't always perfect. In his letter to the Colossians he provides us with some guidance on how to live within a less than ideal family setting. Many of us today think that life, including family life, was easier in times past, but as this passage shows us, there is nothing new to the struggles of living with one's family members. While our day-to-day living situations may be different, our problems are still the same. It's one of the reasons that the Bible still speaks to us, even in an age when we might think we've grown beyond it's experience.
Our Gospel from Luke gives us the story of the presentation of the Lord at the Temple. This was done in accordance to traditional Jewish custom for their day, much the same as we Catholics bring our infant children to the Church for Baptism. During their visit to the Temple, they encounter two other important people. First, Simeon, who confirms for us that this child is indeed the Christ. Second we encounter Anna the Prophetess, who also recognizes Jesus to be the Messiah, but also foretells of the pain this calling will have on this family. As with so much of the Gospel, this story shows us both the ordinary and the extraordinary. A humble young family presenting their child at Temple, like any traditional Jewish family would in that day, but in that ordinary moment recognizing the extraordinary nature of this child as the promise fulfilled for the people of God (Jews and Gentiles alike).