There is a certain wisdom in placing this feast of the Holy Family immediately after Christmas and before New Year’s Day. Whether around the Thanksgiving Day table, the Christmas tree, or the TV when our favorite football teams were playing, many of us have probably had occasion to spend time during this season with our families.
Unfortunately, however, those gatherings may not always have reflect the image of a traditional “Norman Rockwell” Christmas. Hundreds of families lost their homes to wildfires in California; Christmas gifts and cherished holiday decorations went up in smoke. Perhaps a father or mother, son or daughter, is serving in the military on the other side of the world and can’t get home for Christmas. Or there may be an empty chair where a deceased spouse or child, parent or grandparent always sat in the past. Some may eat alone, or gather with others at a community dinner. Families are made up of people and, unfortunately, sometimes circumstances beyond our control leave us sad, disappointed or even fearful.
Mary and Joseph must have felt a bit of that same fear and helplessness when they realized that their little boy was not with them at the Passover Festival in Jerusalem. Put yourself in their place. Your 12-year-old son wanders off at the mall. It’s the day after Thanksgiving. Massive crowds have been gathering since the night before. You arrive early and arrange to meet back at the car. Mom thinks her son is with Dad, but Dad thinks he’s with Mom, but at the end of the day he’s not with either of you and what started out as a fun family outing becomes a frantic search for your child.
In other words, God understands how human families work even when things don’t work out the way we expect them to. So the next time you gather around the Thanksgiving Day table or the Christmas tree or even the television, picture Jesus there with you. A human child with a human family, Jesus understands and assures us that, even when things are difficult, every family is a holy family.
Van Benthem is a longtime pastoral minister in the diocese.