Why did Jesus choose to become a baby born of a mother and father and to spend all but His last years living in an ordinary human family? It is a great mystery why God became human. But the good news; the great news is that He did. And it is how “God drew close to us, so that we could see him, touch him and come to know him.” God, through Jesus, “one of us,” who fully entered our world and “dwells with us, rejoices with us, cries with us, bleeds with us, and triumphs with us.”
The gospel today shows a devout Jewish family, Mary and Joseph bringing Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to present to the Lord as their first-born. The parents were observant Jews, who introduced Jesus to their religious tradition soon after his birth. Jesus was shaped by that tradition from his earliest days. It was in and through his family that he came to know the God of Israel, that he learned to pray, the psalms, that he first heard the stories of the Jewish Scriptures. He was immersed in the Jewish tradition by his parents. Yet, as he grew older he made that tradition his own and took it in a direction that, at times, his parents and family found very difficult to understand. Simeon hints at that in his words to Mary in today’s gospel, “a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Mary and Joseph made obedience and faithfulness to God and his commands their priority. Because of the culture they created in their home, Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.”
In the Holy Family, we see humility in the birth of Jesus and the quiet attendance of Joseph. We see justice in the presentation at the temple when Mary and Joseph offer to God the honour due to Him in response to the birth of their son. We see fortitude in the trek to Bethlehem despite the crowds. We see patience as Mary holds in her heart all the mysterious encounters that will eventually lead her to the foot of the cross. We see mercy in Joseph’s decision to quietly divorce her, and then in his decision to stay by her side. We see, of course, obedience, faith, hope, and love. And all the ways that we celebrate being family – at the family meal, at the kitchen table doing homework, celebrating the great holy days and holidays, and coming to Mass – remind us that it is the love between parents and children and brothers and sisters that get us through the joys and the crises; the triumphs and the tragedies. Christ is truly present in our families just as certain as he was a part of the Holy Family—and it is that every presence that makes our families holy.
Most of us will have picked up the faith from our parents; they introduced us to the religious tradition that was important to them. As Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple to present him to the Lord, our parents brought us to the church for baptism. It was probably in the home that, like Jesus, we too learnt to pray and heard the stories from the Scriptures for the first time. Yet, there comes a time when, like Jesus, we must make the tradition we received from our parents our own. Like Jesus, we too may go on to shape it and give expression to it in ways that our parents might find unsettling. We receive the faith, but we must make it our own, because what is the faith only a relationship with the Lord, which, while we share it with others, is very personal to each one of us. It is said of Jesus at the end of the gospel that he grew to maturity. We spend our whole lives growing to maturity, and it is in and through our own personal response to the Lord’s call of us by name that we will come to full human maturity.
And today, at this Mass, we bring all the stuff of our family lives; all the fragmented parts of our families, and we place them on the altar before God, along with the gifts of bread and wine. And we express our gratitude for family while we also pray for love that reflects Christ’s love for us who first came to us in a family.