I know, it may sound a little weird to say that today, December 31st, but contrary to our culture, Christmas continues! A full season, in fact. So, you'll notice the crib is still up and the poinsettas and the lights. And over at the rectory, too. So, while the radio stations have turned off Christmas, we're still celebrating. So, merry Christmas!
One of the gifts we receive this Christmas-- in fact, The Gift we receive-- is Jesus. And we all know that, of course. But what is interesting to me is that He came to us in this way. *pointing to the manger scene* I mean, God is GOD, so He could have just beamed Himself down here or come to us as a 30 year-old man. He didn't have to go through all the trouble of growing up and living under a roof. In other words, He didn't have to enter into a family. But, of all the ways that God could have come to us, here He has come: right through the family!
Why does He come this way? One of the reasons is that the experience of family is universal. Whether we came from an integral family or a broken family, we came into this world not by our lonesome, but by another. Jesus entered into this universal experience. But not just to say, "Hey, I know what it's like," but to give the family a new and elevated dignity. The family is no longer "just" a family. The family has been raised to Holiness.
This is one of the greatest gifts of Christmas: Jesus enters the family and shows us what family can be. Indeed, He shows us that family IS a gift. It is a gift to be part of a family.
This is a major point of our readings today. In the first reading, Abraham and Sarah are lamenting that they cannot have a family. They think they are infertile and too old. Many people in our world feel this pain: they want children but are unable to have them. They know quite keenly how great a blessing it is to have children, to have a family. God promises Abraham and Sarah that a family is coming.
In the Gospel, we see Simeon and Anna. Both are childless. Anna is a widow. There is a longing in their heart-- and this longing is fulfilled when Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to them. "At last!" cries Simeon!
But wait. Jesus isn't Simeon's child. So, why is Simeon so happy? Because, in the words of the prophet Isaiah (9:6), "Today a child is born to us. A son is given to us."
In other words, Jesus doesn't simply enter into a human family. He draws every single person into His family. A child is born to us, a son is given to us-- and that's because Jesus draws us into His family where God is our Father.
This Family *pointing to the manger* shows us not only what our families are to be like. But this Family also shows us what we as a Church are to be like. Jesus is our center-- and notice the prayer of Mary and Joseph and the love that they share between them.
It is a blessing to have a family. And not only the biological ones, but especially the spiritual ones.
I say that because there's a lot of loneliness out there, isn't there? So many people feel alone and isolated. The winter is cold, not only because of the temperatures, but also because they are looking for the warmth of love-- but where is it to be found?
On the one hand, we can say that this isolation and loneliness exists in our communities-- and it does-- and that we, our parish family, the Catholic Church, we must reach out and go in search, like our Good Shepherd did, for those who are lost and alone, still walking in the darkness and the cold. We are called to bring others to the warmth of this family.
But on the other hand, the isolation and loneliness exists in areas that we may not expect it: under our own very roofs. (It is very easy to think that priests are lonely-- some are-- but I find that I'm not lonely at all. I know that I have a wonderful family: you, this parish; my own family; and especially this one (the Holy Family). I know that I'm never alone.) What surprises many people is that married people can be alone. But you who are married know this quite well. A fight happens and you're angry or they're angry and then you have to go to bed-- and no one ever said that you could be sleeping next to someone and feel alone, but here you are.
Today, we are given the gift of a healing God who enters into our family. If we are married, we need to ask the Holy Family to enter under our family roof and to bring us healing and reconciliation. We need this, because how we go, how our families go, is how the world goes. If there is not peace and forgiveness in our homes, how will there be peace and forgiveness in the world? I mean, we love each other-- sometimes, though, we let ourselves get in the way. Too much stuff, trying to do too much-- and the anxiety builds, and the stress, and we get snippy and impatient. And maybe this has been building for a while and the resentment.... Let us kneel before Jesus and Mary and Joseph and ask their holiness for this marriage.
Sometimes we wonder whether we are good parents. As a father, myself, I wonder whether I am a good spiritual parent sometimes. And here's the thing: we're not going to be great parents all the time. We mess up. And our kids feel lonely and so on. What we as parents-- what we need to do is to give our families (our children, and for me my parish) to This Family. To show our children that, even when families struggle, even when families are broken apart by sickness, death, and distance, that they are never alone-- we still have This Family and it is a Holy Family, a good family, a family that will always be there and never fail.
A mom going through a divorce once came before such a Nativity Scene as this and knelt and said, "Mary, you be the mother that I cannot be for my children!" And then the mom turned to St. Joseph and said, "And you, Joseph, you be the father that my husband can't be for my children." And that mom gave her family over to the care of The Family-- the Holy Family. In that moment, her family became part of a better family, a holier family, a family that was going to take care of her own. And it's true. If you are struggling to be a good parent, a good grandparent-- bring your family here and give them to Jesus.
Now, I know, some of you are thinking: "Father, I'm a widow" or "Father, I'm a single person" -- "This doesn't apply to me." It does!
When I visit with the homeboud, I remind them to pray for our parish and to pray especially for vocations-- I ask them to offer their pain and suffering to God, so that God can turn it into grace for the birth of holy Christians. This is what Jesus did on the Cross, right?
When they do that, they become spiritual mothers and spiritual fathers. Their prayers and sufferings literally give birth to Christians and to vocations like priests and religious sisters and marriages.
If you are single or widowed, you can be a father or mother of spiritual children-- and this can be the best kind! You are giving birth to saints-- all without having to change the diapers!
And you who are married-- not only are you biological parents, but spiritual ones as well. What if you knew that, somewhere down the line, there was a priest or religious sister that God was going to call forth from your lineage? Or a saint? Would we not expend greater spiritual time and energy to give our descendants a greater chance for holiness? Could Abraham have ever thunk that he would be the father of so many saints?
You see: all of us-- we are never alone. You are not alone! You are part of a great family!
This is our Church. This is our family-- no matter how broken our families have been, no matter how alone we may feel. Jesus comes to us in the family-- whatever state it may be in, whatever state we may be in-- and He says, "Let me bring you healing. Let me help your marriage. Let me help your children. Let me help you as you are a widow, to be a parent again. Let me help you as you are single, to show you your place in the world and the great treasure that you are!"
To conclude, I know that there are some in our pews who were with us at Christmas and have joined with us again. Or maybe it's your first time here. And you're looking for a family and a place to call home. Maybe you're feeling alone.
Well, I want to welcome you to our family. Welcome home. I pray that you will find our brothers and sisters here to be like Mary and Joseph: in love with Jesus and each other. May that love come to you!
To all of us, before you leave Holy Mass today, bring your family to this Nativity Scene. Whether your children are with you in the pew this morning or with you in your heart, bring them to the Nativity Scene and give them and your family to the care of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Give you marriage to them. Give this parish to them.
I am convinced this is one of the greatest gifts of Christmas. Jesus our God came to us by way of the family, to bless it, to raise it, and to heal it in his love and peace.
May God bless you and your family this Christmas, this New Year, and every day of your lives.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.