Many people experience somewhat rocky starts to their family life. The Holy family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus were no exception in this regard. Long before this episode that we read about in our gospel today, an episode that many a parent can relate to, I’m sure – they had had enough ups and downs in their short life as a family to severely test their relationship with each other, and with God. From the time Mary was found to be with child, and not from Joseph, both he and Mary went through terribly stressful situations, one after another. Just as Mary is coming up to deliver her child, she is forced to endure, with Joseph, a very difficult, laborious journey to Bethlehem, simply to satisfy some crazy whim of the emperor, Caesar Augustus. When the child is born, in a stable, with an animal’s feeding-trough as his crib, it is not very long, before the armies of King Herod are looking for him, to kill him – hence the hurried race to get the family out of Bethlehem, and across the border into Egypt, where they would have suffered all the disadvantages of migrants and refugees today. And then to top it all, they lose Jesus for three days and, as I say, I’m sure many parents can relate to the panic and distress caused by such an incident.
Why did God allow this holy family to undergo such trials? Firstly, to show that Jesus’ family life was a truly human family life. That family endured all the things most families do, and then some more besides. Jesus did not want it any other way. He wanted to show us, especially the poor and downtrodden amongst us, that he knows, by experience, the pain and anxiety we undergo. There are no safe havens for him, no teams of angels coming down to save him and his family, neither in the early days, nor towards the end, when he is about to be betrayed by Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane, and handed over to torture and death. At that time, indeed, Jesus told the disciples: ”Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26: 53). But Jesus didn’t want it that way – no special favors for him or for his family. We, also, cannot ordinarily look for incredible supernatural help when trouble comes upon us and our families, suddenly – though it does, happily, happen on occasion. Jesus wants to know he is one of us, one with us, one like us , says the book of Hebrews, in all ways but sin (Hebrews 4: 15; 2:17). Though, of course, on the cross, he would become our sin so we could become his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5: 21).
Secondly, the holy family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph had to suffer, to teach us that suffering is part and parcel of our human environment. We don’t have to seek it out, in fact, we shouldn’t seek it out, it will come to us inevitably, so long as we live on this planet of ours. The suffering of all creation, including human creation, is the awful fall-out from the first sin of human beings, the rebellion of Adam and Eve. People suffer in this world, as part of being born into a world marked by sin. The good news is that we are now, since Jesus, born into a world marked by redemption as well as sin. And that because Jesus went from the cradle to the cross, to die there for our sins, and to begin the resurrection and healing of all the world, all of creation.
Jesus went from the cradle to the cross, and so must we. Too many of us want to stay here, locked into the Christmas event and the Christmas spirit, forgetting that the Christmas spirit could not sustain itself, of itself, without that it must go on from there, from the crib, to the cross. The wood of the manger becomes the wood of the cross. Surely, when we think how quickly the joy and peace of the Christmas event fades once Christmas day is over, and how families return back to the same conflicts and hurts as they had before then, we have to realize that something more is needed to heal and deliver us from our wounds. That “something more“ is the cross. There we see, in the figure of Jesus in agony, the true catastrophic effect of our sin, how much it cost him to redeem us, and how much love he had for us that he would be willing to go through such atrocious pain for us. As an adult, Jesus knew, long before any of his disciples had a clue, that his journey must end there, at Calvary. He tried to warn them, but they would not , or could not, understand. And sometimes we don’t either. But the Church keeps trying to remind us. The very day after Christmas, today, we usually celebrate the feast of St Stephen, the first martyr for the Christian faith. Two days from now, we will mark the Massacre of the Innocents, when hundreds of babies were slaughtered on the orders of a paranoiad king- just as these days, millions of babies are slaughtered in the womb, because of the paranoia of a world that fails to see and understand that discomfort, suffering, limitation are part and parcel of human living, not to be rejected, but to be embraced and transformed, through the example and spirit of Jesus, who also did not run away from his own suffering. The day after the Massacre of the Saints, we celebrate another martyrdom – that of Thomas a Becket, killed again at the whim of a egomaniacal ruler, who would not accept that the Church, and its leaders, were not there, simply to do what he wanted them to do. Just as we as Church today will, and do, suffer persecution, from political leaders whenever we simply refuse to go along with their ungodly moral standards.
So, we as individuals, as families, must learn from this feast of the Holy Family, not to stay at the manger of Jesus, closing our eyes to the reality of suffering and distress in the world, but to go on from here to the cross, to witness the only true and effective answer to the suffering of the world, and the only true and effective answer to the sin which originates most of the suffering in the world, Jesus’ embracing of that sin and that suffering unto death. But then we also, as individuals, as families, must go on from the cross to the resurrection of Jesus, to know that suffering and death are not the final realities. They give way to new life, transformed life, for those willing to make the same journey as Jesus, as Mary, as Joseph, as those family members of ours who have gone before us and now enjoy that resurrected, eternally joyful life in heaven with Jesus, with Mary, with Joseph.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give you my heart and my soul, and my life.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, assist me in my last agony.
Jesus , Mary and Joseph, may I breathe forth my life in peace with you. Amen.