As we prepare for the joys of Christmas, we should keep in mind the levels of joy wrapped in that holiday, in that holy day.
The joys of the holiday come in colorful wrappings lying under the Christmas tree, while the joys of the holy day come wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger [Lk 2:12]. The joys of the holiday come to us in the warmth of the greetings of family and friends, while the joys of the holy day reverberate around the world in the song of the Angels, “Glory to God in the highest and Peace to men of good will.” The question is: on what level will we be experiencing joy: that of the holiday only which needs to be repeated annually, or also that of the holy day, whose joy remains and is augmented annually.
Christmas is uniquely a family celebration. One of the joys of the holy day that may be overlooked is the family of Jesus, his mother Mary and his father Joseph. Coming from the insignificant village of Nazareth [Jn 1:46], there was nothing socially prominent about them. Joseph was not a member of the leisure class but of the laboring class, although his family tree is that of the royal House of David.
Scripture emphasizes their great faith. Mary’s relative, Elizabeth, would exclaim under the influence of the Holy Spirit, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb … Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me … Blessed is she who believed.” In her response, Mary reveals the quality of her faith, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed” [Lk 1:42-48].
Her trustful faith in her son brought about his first miracle which initiated the faith of his disciples [Jn 2:1] . The strength of her faith was tested as she stood at the foot of his cross on Calvary [Jn 19:45]. She is mentioned by name at the event of Pentecost [Acts 1:14]. Thus, her biblical image is framed off by the coming of the Holy Spirit at the annunciation by the Angel Gabriel and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the new born Church. Her spiritual characteristic is given by Luke [2:19]: “she treasured and pondered these things in her heart”, as befits a disciple of Christ.
Joseph’s faith is admirable in that it is expressed in action. Concerned about Mary’s mysterious pregnancy, the Angel tells him not to fear to take Mary as his wife because she has conceived a son by the Holy Spirit. He was instructed to name him Jesus, which indicated his paternal relationship and responsibility to Jesus, experienced on a daily basis as he taught Jesus his trade [Mt 13:55].
They were a family of faith observing the Mosaic Law indicated by their annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem at Passover. His disappearance from the pilgrimage caravan when he was 12 indicates that there were occasional sorrows intermingled with their joys.
As Mary’s exceptional faith was called forth for the conception of the Son of God, so Joseph’s strong faith was demonstrated at the time of the coming of the Magi. They asked Herod where they could find the infant King of the Jews. To understand that episode it is necessary to keep in mind the identity of Jesus. St. Matthew states that they entered the house (not the stable) and found the “toddler” with Mary his mother [Mt 2:1-12].
So, what is so unusual about that? Recall the identity of that child. The Magi found the Infant King of the Jews with his mother, Mary. That is the key to understanding the implicit and making it explicit.
Since the time of Solomon, the queen of the kingdom was not the wife of the king as he had many. That would cause chaos in the harem — jealousies, etc. So, the problem was solved by having the mother of the king as queen [1 Kings 2:19]. Every time a king is listed, the name of his mother is given. Following that custom, which the original Jewish Christians understood, Mary is mentioned by name. Thus, Matthew’s account means in its explicit form that the Magi found the infant King with the Queen.
As we continue the Epiphany story, Herod planned to kill all boys in Bethlehem aged 2 years and younger. Because of Joseph’s obedient faith, when told by an Angel to take the infant King and the Queen mother to Egypt for safety, Christ would be able to establish his eternal kingdom. Luke [2:52] states further that Jesus was obedient to his parents and “grew in wisdom, stature and grace with God and men”. That indicates the influence Joseph had on the human nature of Christ — serving as an example for loving fathers so urgently needed in our culture today.
What gratitude must be in the heart of Jesus toward his parents! Parenting the Messiah must have been of great concern to them. Let us recall the parents of Samson, who asked the prophetic angel how their special boy was to be raised [Judges 13]. Joseph and Mary’s wholehearted service to Jesus in his formative years prepared him definitely for his mission as Savior of mankind. As we owe gratitude to all who inspire our faith, so there should be similar gratitude to the mother and father of Jesus for their obedient faith that has proven them to be important “co-workers with God” [1 Corinthians 3:9].
So, among the annual gifts of our Christmas holidays are those personal presents and loving presence of our families. But the presence of the holy family of Jesus is given as a present to those who remember the holy day as well.
By Father Stanley Smolenski: Father Smolenski is the director of the Diocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Joyful Hope – Our Lady of South Carolina at 330 E. Main St., Kingstree, S.C.
Published earlier in “The Kingstree News”.
Image, Wikimedia Commons: “The Holy Family” by Sisto Badalocchio, 1610.