“The obedience of Christ in the daily routine of his hidden life was already inaugurating his work of restoring what the disobedience of Adam had destroyed.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #531)
This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. This feast always occurs on the Sunday within the Octave (eight days of celebration) of Christmas. It is an integral part of our Christmas celebration of the Incarnation. The Feast of the Holy Family shows that holiness does not have to be something dramatic. Most often, holiness is hidden. It is hidden in the day to day acts of obedience and love that make up family life.
Family life is one key place where God takes on flesh… where Incarnation happens. We just celebrated Jesus’ birth into the world. This was dramatic as all births are. It changed things. It made a visible difference in the world. Angels singing, shepherds running, the glory of the Lord appearing. “Glory to God in the highest.!”
Today’s feast has a different tone. Instead of “Glory to God in the highest,” it’s more like “Hey, stop hitting your brother.” It is not about drama, but about simplicity. It is not about the once in a lifetime birth experience, but the day to day grind of life. It is not about the intense attachments and emotions between a mother and her newborn baby, but about the ongoing growth of listening and obeying.
It is not only the dramatic events that make for holiness. God is as present in the day to day routines of life as he is at the times of radical awakening and conversion.
Today’s feast reminds us of the importance of living each day seeing God made manifest in every opportunity for love and obedience.
In the Gospel, to be oneself means searching deeply until the irreplaceable gift given to each one of us is revealed. Through that special gift, unlike anyone else’s, each person is brought to fulfillment in God.
Br. Roger of Taize
“Ask for a sing from the Lord, your God; let it be deep as the netherworld, or high as the sky! But Ahaz answered, “I will not ask! I will not tempt the Lord!” (Is.7:10-11)
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home…. When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.” (Mt. 1:18)
The scripture readings this weekend put a stark contrast before us. Ahaz, the King of Israel, is told by God to ask for a sign. “Just ask,” God says, “and I will answer.” But Ahaz, due to false humility, refuses to answer. Ahaz has the choice of relying on the Assyrians or on God. Ahaz has more trust in the Assyrian armies than in the God who promises a sign. He refuses to even ask God for help because he has his own plans already. Trusting God is not a part of those plans.
In spite of this, God promises the sign of the Messiah who shall be called “Emmanuel.”
Joseph responds very differently. Joseph is given a remarkable dream that informs him that the child in Mary’s womb has been conceived “through the Holy Spirit.” Like Ahaz, Joseph is choos to trust in God or in his own plan “to divorce her quietly.” However, Joseph chooses to rely on the incredible message of the dream. Because of Joseph’s faith, he comes to know Jesus. He allows the child who is God to be born into his family, despite his plans and that makes all the difference in his life.
We face the same choice that Ahaz and Joseph faced. Will we trust in God or in our own plans?
Last weekend we heard of John’s dramatic preaching and call to repentance. He was the striking figure crying out in the desert, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” John was an expert at pointing out what stood in the way of the coming of the Kingdom. He could uncover sin with clarity and precision. His preaching exposed anything that stood in the way of the coming Kingdom and demanded that it be acknowledged and repented. The whole region was going out to hear his call to conversion.
Now we come to this weekend’s Gospel. Things have changed. Time has passed. The story has moved on. John is no longer in the desert. He is in jail precisely for pointing out the sin of Herod, the ruler. The crowds are gone. John is alone and in prison. Doubt starts to come to his mind. We can imagine him thinking to himself, “What if I was wrong? What if Jesus is not the one to usher in God’s Kingdom? What if I am suffering in prison for nothing?”
So John sends some of his disciples to Jesus to ask him who he is. Is Jesus really the one?
Jesus answers by pointing out what is happening in his ministry. “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” The Kingdom is indeed coming. In fact, it is already here in Jesus’ ministry. Others are already living a taste of the Kingdom.
Whether we are experiencing the joy of the Kingdom, or the prison of doubt, we need one another this Advent season. Even John the Baptizer needed others to help him wake up to the Kingdom.
“Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.”
It is easy to get trapped in the roles we play. We often identify ourselves with our jobs, families, relationships, religion, income, state in life, etc… This Advent Gospel reminds us that we are much more than any role we have. We are not our jobs or our families. We are much more.
John the Baptist points out that the roles we play mean nothing to God. In fact, these roles can get in the way. God does not love me because of what I do or because of any of the roles I’ve taken on. “God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” These roles are simply the stones that we are called to leave behind when we discover who God is calling us to be. They often become stumbling blocks that need to be cleared out as we prepare the way of the Lord.
Advent is a time for listening to the call of God inviting us beyond the stones that have accumulated over the year. It is a time to reexamine our priorities and see what we have allowed to define us as less that the beloved child of God that we are. Advent repentance is an invitation to prepare the way of the Lord and let go of all that stands in the way of God’s kingdom. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”