Feast of The Holy Family
MT 2:13-15, 19-23
December 29, 2019
Inspired by his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, St. Francis of Assisi returned to Italy and initiated what quickly became a rich and beautiful Advent/Christmas tradition in Christian churches and homes. St. Francis introduced the first “Nativity Scene” in Greccio, Italy in 1223.
Fast-forward almost 800 years to the first day of Advent 2019. Pope Francis visited the little mountain village where the beautiful drama of Luke’s Gospel was originally staged through the “crèche.” The Holy Father chose that very special time and place to sign and proclaim his Apostolic Letter, Admirabile Sigmun (Wonderful Signal). In this document, Pope Francis lays out the history, meaning, and continued importance of the Nativity Scene.
If anyone questions the need for this teaching, they might well consider the legal battles here in the United States over the display of the “manger scene” by municipalities and other public agencies. As the crèche disappeared from town squares and courthouse lawns, it began to fade even from Christian homes.
Pope Francis reminds us that: The nativity scene is like a living Gospel rising up from the pages of sacred Scripture. As such, it carries a message for people of all ages with specific relevance to that time in Salvation history. Whether or not the people of the Claremont United Methodist Church in California were influenced by the Apostolic Letter, they certainly showed an awareness of the truth that The nativity scene is like a living Gospel…broadcasting a message critical to this very day and age.
In their outdoor Nativity Scene, this Christian community separated the figures of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, imprisoning each in a cage. In an interview, the pastor explained: “We thought about the most famous refugee family in the world, the family of Jesus. What if this family sought refuge in our country today?” Many criticized this gesture as sacrilegious. Others applauded the manner in which three plaster figures and mesh fencing were used to proclaim The Word of God.
On this Feast of The Holy Family, the dramatic gesture of the Claremont faith community brings to mind other things besides immigration policies that separate families. Hurt feelings, anger, and resentment are like iron cages that imprison us and distance us from family members. In our Second Reading, St. Paul offers the key to open the cages that confine us…or those in which we attempt to lock others. Heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, each in its own way has the power to unlock the cage.
Greed, materialism, arrogance, and pride can overpower us, driving us into solitary confinement…isolated and distant from our families. Patience and forgiveness will open the gate.
So then, the question becomes, has some dark feeling or emotion captured you and caused you to be separated from your family?
On this Feast of The Holy Family, it is very important to take a moment to gaze at The Nativity Scene…in our churches…or hopefully in our homes. As we place ourselves into this family story…of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph…we come to better understand that THE HOLY FAMILY IS A WONDERFUL SIGNAL of how God wants us to live in this world…united in love…inseparable…mutually dependent.