Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmastide - Family

Holy Family, by Bramantino
In most versions of the Christian calendar the 6th Day of Christmas doesn't have a special observance connected with Christmastide. In the Orthodox Church, for instance, today is the day of "Anysia the Virgin-martyr of Thessaloniki," killed by a soldier in AD 299. The Lutheran and Anglican Churches have nothing scheduled for today, although Anglicanism's daughter, the Episcopal Church, has declared this a time for remembering Frances Joseph-Gaudet, a prison reformer.

The Catholic calendar though has a very appropriate observance today: The Feast of the Holy Family. It pictures the God of the universe, so recently emerged from his mother's womb, doing the most unassuming of things -- living in a house with his family. As we discussed yesterday, Jesus' life was not all miracles and wonders; it was mostly homely, pedestrian events...

We read that by the time the Wise Men arrived Joseph had found a house in Bethlehem for them to live in: "They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother," (Gospel of Matthew, chapter 2 verse 11, Common English Bible).  That is probably what anyone would see if they were to visit the little family. Later on, when he is older, we're told, "Jesus went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them," just like any other good 1st century Jewish child.

"His mother cherished every word in her heart," Luke the Gospel writer sums up. "Jesus matured in wisdom and years, and in favor with God and with people," (Gospel of Luke, chapter 2 verses 51 - 52, CEB).

It is in apocryphal stories, written long after, that you find little Jesus making clay birds, then giving them life by clapping his hands, or killing and resurrecting his playmates at will. That's what legends sound like. But the matter-of-fact Gospels will have none of that. They know that this was a real little boy who lived in a real family and had large swatches of time about which there's not much to tell. Just like us.

And because his childhood wasn't all that different in the essentials from ours, Jesus gives us yet another chance to ask how his life affects us -- even our "private" life. As Joan Chittister says in her book on the Christian year,
This feast causes us to pause and look at our own families, both the ones we grew up in and the ones we're now developing ourselves. It raises questions in us about the  harmony of the home we're in now -- and what part we play in both its peace and its disturbance... We must ask ourselves if... we are becoming more spiritual together as we go. And if not, why not?
(The Liturgical Year, pp. 91 - 92)

Six days after the birth of Christ, he was in a little house with his mother and father, nursing and having his diaper changed -- just like we were after our births. There is more than enough opportunity to consider all the supernatural wonder that attended his life. For today, let's think of the absolute humanness of a new baby and his wonder at the two people who love him so much.

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