Homily for Feast of the Holy Family

(B) The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph 

Glenstal, 27.12.2020, 10:00 a.m.

Genesis 15:1-6, 21:1-3 Hebrews 18:11-12, 17-19 Luke 2:22-40

We are told in the Letter to the Hebrews that by faith Abraham and Sarah were given innumerable descendants (cf. Heb 11:11-12), and that equally by faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up his only son Isaac (cf. Heb 11:17). Isaac is to be understood as prefiguring Jesus Christ, and therefore the sacred author goes on to say that, figuratively speaking, Abraham received back his beloved son alive as someone whom God had raised from the dead (cf. Heb 11:19).

This story of the sacrifice of Isaac, narrated in chapter 22 of the Book of Genesis, is also the backdrop to the gospel we have just heard. St Luke tells us: “When the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord” (Lk 2:22). In this passage the key word is “to present”, a translation of the Greek verb paristánai, which also means “to offer”. So in the Temple at Jerusalem Mary and Joseph offered their son as a sacrifice to God with no less faith than their ancestor Abraham had shown when he bound up his only son Isaac to be immolated as a sacrificial lamb. The latter, however, was simply a foreshadowing of the former, for the offering up of Jesus in the Temple was a true cultic act, which anticipated the laying down of his life upon the cross for the salvation of the world. 

And this finds confirmation in the prophetic words uttered by Simeon: Now, Lord, you are letting your servant go in peace according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples; a light of revelation for the gentiles and glory for your people Israel” (Lk 2:29-32). Here Jesus is clearly identified with the mysterious figure of the Suffering Servant whom the Prophet Isaiah calls a light to the nations (Is 42:6; 49:6). Indeed the child that Simeon took into his arms and blessed was the one chosen from all eternity to bring God’s light to the whole world. But in order to fulfil his universal mission and see an offspring, the Servant had to give his life as a sin offering (cf. Is 53:10) – as the prophet Isaiah also points out – and so it was through the cross of his Son Jesus Christ that God fulfilled the promise he made to Abraham: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations (Gen 17:4).

But at this point we might us just take a step back and ask ourselves whether Mary and Joseph were fully aware that their Son was entering the Temple in Jerusalem as the Lord’s Messiah (Lk 2:26) to be greeted by Simeon and Ana as representatives of the faithful Israel. St Luke says that the child’s mother and father were amazed at what was being said about him (Lk 2:33). It is therefore unlikely that as events unfolded they were able to grasp the full significance of all that was being accomplished and foretold concerning the Child Jesus. Be that as it may, however, there is at least one sure fact that transpires from the gospel narrative: both Mary and Joseph were themselves faithful members of the people of God, intent on bringing up their Son according to the Law of Moses, and by their faith and their fidelity to the will of God, as expressed in the Law and the Prophets, they enabled Jesus to fulfil his mission as the Lord’s Messiah. Isn’t this mystery a perfect expression of what a Christian family is called to be? Indeed the true vocation of this community within the Church that we call a family is essentially to listen to the word of God and faithfully act upon it, so that the light of Christ may enlighten the minds and hearts of all, and the Lord’s salvation may reach to the ends of the earth (cf. Is 49:6).

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