Holy Family B – 28 December 2014 – All in the Family
Scriptures for the day.
If the birth of Jesus Christ is such a pivotal event why isn’t the story recorded in all four gospels? Only Matthew and Luke write about it and they do not agree on the details. For example Matthew used astronomers (magi) who were Gentiles to proclaim the birth of Jesus. Luke employed angels and Jewish shepherds and the prophets in today’s gospel.
Matthew writes about the flight into Egypt to avoid Herod’s massacre of infant boys. Luke does not. Matthew also believed Mary and Joseph lived in Bethlehem. Luke thought Nazareth was their home town so he had to figure out a way to get them to Bethlehem where Jesus was born. To do so he created the census story which is not historically accurate.
To get the holy family from Bethlehem to Jerusalem Luke inserts the story we heard this morning. Based on the law, the presentation and circumcision of Jesus had to happen within eight days of his birth.
Although we cannot be sure of the routes, if you add up all the miles the holy family traveled in these nativity stories alone (Nazareth to Bethlehem, to somewhere in Egypt, back to Nazareth and then to Jerusalem) it would be like walking from Albany, NY to Raleigh, NC and back!
But let’s not worry about the details of these stories. Rather, what lessons might we learn from them? After all, today’s celebration is about the holy family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Neither Matthew and Luke attempt to define the word family. In the Mediterranean culture at that time there would have been many interpretations.
Both evangelists drew upon the prophecies found in the Hebrew bible in writing their stories. They taught that Jesus was the son of God, the promised savior; that the birth was witnessed and proclaimed by diverse groups (wealthy and poor) and that this incarnation, this revelation of God, was intended not just for the benefit of the Roman Empire or only the Jews but all of humanity everywhere. 
Early this past fall we heard about the Synod of Bishops that focussed on the family and evangelization. In his homily at the end of the Synod Pope Francis said word “synod” actually means “journeying together.” He called the Synod an experience in which the participants “felt the power of the Holy Spirit who constantly guides and renews the Church. For the Church is called to waste no time in seeking to bind up open wounds and to rekindle hope in so many people who have lost hope.” 
In the Synod’s final report (Relatio Synodi) — we read “It is a matter of re-thinking with renewed freshness and enthusiasm, what revelation, transmitted in the Church’s faith, tells us about the beauty, the role and the dignity of the family.” 
That synod was a prelude to the worldwide meeting on the vocation and mission of the family in the Church and the modern world scheduled for next October 2015. To prepare for the meeting the Vatican just issued forty-six questions. The goal is to encourage bishops, when addressing diverse issues regarding family life, to focus on pastoral sensitivity rather than solely on the application of doctrine. 
The second reading today (from Paul to the Colossians) serves as a good foundation for “pastoral sensitivity.” Show heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience toward one another.
Here is one of the questions listed by the Vatican. “How can people be helped to understand that no one is beyond the mercy of God and how can this truth be expressed in the Church’s pastoral activity towards families, especially those which are wounded and fragile?” (No. 20)
While stressing the beauty of successful marriages and solid family life the synod also seeks new directions regarding other pressing issues about human relationships. These would include family units with gay and lesbian members, divorced and remarried couples as well as how to create a culture in favor of life just to name a few.
The birth of Jesus began a new chapter in the history of humanity and it occurred within a family. On this feast of the holy family let us celebrate the wonderful relationships in our lives ever seeking new ways to sustain others who are searching for uncompromising support.
1. Brown, R. An Adult Christ at Christmas. (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press) 1978, 25 ff.
2. Francis. Homily at the closing of the Synod on the Family. 19 October 2014
3. “Relatio Synodi” The Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops: “Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization” (5-19 October 2014) No. 4