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Fr. Tim’s Homily for December 31, 2017

Feast of the Holy Family-B

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Genesis 15:  1-6; 21:  1-3

Hebrews 11: 8, 11-12, 17-19

Luke 2: 22-40

 

A woman writes about a Christmas pageant that some children performed.  At the end, the angels and the shepherds and the wise men all exited the stage.  Joseph and Mary started to follow them, when suddenly Mary darted back to the manger, picked up the baby Jesus by the foot and then ran off the stage.

The woman said that scene inspired this thought:  that sometimes we can get so busy with Christmas activities that we can leave the Christ Child behind.  So the Church gives us several feast days following Christmas to help us reflect upon the great gift the world received at Bethlehem.

Our secular world was pretty much done celebrating Christmas at midnight on December 25.  But in the Church, the Christmas season just opened with the first Mass on Christmas Eve, and it is still going on.

This weekend we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  Monday is New Year’s Day, which is not a holyday of obligation this year, and we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.  Next weekend we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, with the coming of the Magi – the wise men.  And Monday, January 8, is the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, which closes the Christmas season.

So the Church provides us with lots of opportunities to reflect upon the gift of our Savior.

The Scriptures today offer us two lessons that I would like to highlight.

The first one is that God always keeps His promises.

After Adam and Eve had sinned God promised to send a Savior.  The first reading, from the Book of Genesis, and the second reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews, tell us that as part of His plan, God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations.   And Abraham’s numerous descendants followed – all the way down to the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  God keeps His promises.

In the Gospel today from Luke, we hear about Simeon who was “righteous and devout.”  God had promised Simeon that “he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.”

Now picture this scene.  Here is Simeon, by now an old man, in the temple where he regularly was.  Through the front doors of the temple come Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus, forty days after He was born in Bethlehem.  Being devout Jewish people, they followed the law and brought Jesus to the temple to present Him to the Lord.

Simeon saw them, and he went over to Mary and Joseph and asked, “May I hold your Baby?”  And Simeon knew who it was that he was holding.  This was the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah.

That was a very tender moment:  the old man Simeon holding the Baby Jesus in the presence of Mary and Joseph.  I think of that scene so often when I baptize a baby and then afterwards the parents ask me to hold their child.

Simeon knew that God had been faithful to him.

God keeps His promises.

The second lesson follows:  God does not always promise us a rose garden.

Simeon then said to Mary, “This child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel.”  In other words, “Dear Mother, a sword of sorrow will pierce your heart.”

Imagine a priest or a deacon saying that to you on the day of your child’s Baptism.

The very same Jesus who was born in Bethlehem is the very same Jesus who died upon the cross for us.

Still, God keeps His promises, but His promises do not always lead to a rose garden.

Jesus did not receive a rose garden either.  Instead He was given the Garden of Gethsemane:  the garden of blood, sweat and tears.  But it would lead to His resurrection.  There is a manger in our faith, and there is a cross in our faith.  Still, God keeps His promises.

Isaac Watts was born in 1674.  He was afflicted with a fever later on in life that left him as an invalid.  With deteriorating health and no hope of recovery, Isaac Watts penned the text for a Christmas carol that George Frideric Handel set to music:  “Joy to the World.”

Isaac Wattts still believed that God was faithful to him even when the pathway was not through a garden of roses.  But God was there with him.  And so, even in the midst of his illness, Isaac Watts could still write, “Joy to the world – the Lord is come!  Let earth receive her king.”

On this Feast of the Holy Family, we look at Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  And we want to be sure that we don’t leave the Christ Child behind in all of our holiday celebrating.

God keeps His promises, even though they do not always lead to a rose garden.  Still, God promises to be with us always, in the person of His divine Son, Jesus.

And that guarantee, brothers and sisters, should bring joy to us and “joy to the world.”