First Reading Sirach 3:2–6, 12–14
Psalm Psalm 128:1–5
Second Reading Colossians 3:12–21
Gospel Luke 2:22–40
Gospel – Luke 2:22–40
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
“Master, now you are dismissing your servant 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 for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
Hearing the Word
The feast of the Holy Family, celebrated within the Christmas season, is more than just a sentimental glance at baby Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in the first days of their life together. This feast conveys a profound lesson on harmony as the foundation for family life, and, in fact, the Christian life itself.
The Book of Sirach was written by a Jewish sage, Jesus the son of Sirach, commonly called “Sirach”, as is his book. This Jerusalem sage wrote his work in Hebrew. At a later stage, Sirach’s grandson translated the text into Greek, so that the Jews outside their homeland could read it. One might say that the book of Sirach is a family enterprise. The book contains an extensive collection of reflections, proverbs, and advice on wise living. According to the author, wisdom consist in conducting oneself in accordance with God’s laws and instructions; this guarantees prosperity and well-being. A wise, good, and happy life results from obedience to God’s law.
Today’s passage contains instructions on family life. Sirach teaches that sound family life is founded on the fourth commandment of the Decalogue, “honour your father and your mother”, rephrased by the sage as, “those who honor their mother obey the Lord”.
Honouring ones’ parents goes beyond simple obedience to their commands and demands. The commandment finds its fullest expression in the attitude of reverent respect. The author states that such reverence for the parents will bring a twofold blessing. First, it will be the blessing of a happy and long life – “those who honor their father will have joy, … those who respect their father will have long life”. Second, respect for parents will bring the spiritual blessing in the form of remission of sins and answered prayers: “those who honor their father atone for sins …and when they pray they will be heard”, and, “kindness to a father will not be forgotten, and will be credited to you against your sins”.
Furthermore, in commanding the children to “help your father in his old age… even if his mind fails, be patient with him”, the author explicitly states that reverence and respect for parents is unreserved, and cannot be conditioned by the parents’ age, health, or mental state.
Honouring and respecting parents instils harmony in the family. This harmony rests in a certain order of authority, which must be sustained. For this reason, the author begins his exhortations by emphasizing that God established this family order by placing “father above his children” and confirming “a mother’s right over her children”. Sirach perceives such order as a guarantee of lasting blessing for both the parents and the children. For this Jewish sage, wise and happy living entails cultivating intergenerational harmony at home.
The second reading from Colossians contains a series of exhortations regarding life in the Christian community and in the Christian family. Just as in the first reading, the focus rests on harmony. The author begins by defining believers as “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved”. The author draws directly from Deuteronomy 7:6-8, where the people of Israel, God’s people, are described in that very manner. The new community of God’s people which was established by Christ also welcomes the non-Jews (the Gentiles) into its fold. Its members have been “raised with Christ” (Col 3:1) because they believe in the Risen Lord. Thus included among God’s people, they live a changed life because they stripped off “the old self with its practices” (Col 3:9). Their new identity and status express itself in and through harmonious living. In this community, harmony results from the practice of virtues with which the members “clothe” themselves: “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience”.
Above all, harmony results from love – the greatest of virtues (see 1 Cor 13:13). This harmony is further enhanced through common worship and prayer, which binds the members to one another and to Christ. The practice of virtues and prayer life transforms individual believers into “the one body” – a living organism existing in harmony.
The second part of the second reading places Christian family in the spotlight. This passage, known as a “household code”, defines mutual duties and obligations of the members of the Christian household. It must be acknowledged, that this code reflects the social realities of the day which were thoroughly patriarchal. In that world, the husband and father had absolute authority over each member of the household. His authority was unchallenged and absolute. While the father was not accountable to anyone, wives, children, and slaves owed him complete obedience and reverence.
The household code in Colossians is revolutionary for its time, in that it places obligations on the husbands and fathers. Thus, while the wives were to accept the authority of the husband, the husbands were charged with loving their wives and never abusing them. Such a demand was not a part of the patriarchal culture, and would be seen as placing significant constraints on the man’s otherwise unrestrained authority and dominion over the wife. Similarly, children were to obey the parents, but the fathers were charged with exercising moderation when disciplining the children. This would be a rather surprising demand in a culture where the father could decide whether a newly born child would live or be left to die. The instructions contained in this household code here are, therefore, quite radical for their time. Their aim was to form a household where life could be lived in harmony and mutual respect between its members, regardless of their unequal social status. It was a place where subjection and fear would be replaced by respect, consideration, and responsibility for one another.
The rich Gospel text narrates the early episode of Jesus’ life known as the “presentation of the Lord”. The Jewish Law required women to undergo ritual purification after childbirth because of their exposure to blood (see Lev 12:2-8). The newly born firstborn children were to be offered to God as the “first fruits” (see Exod 13:12.15). Jesus’ pious Jewish parents fulfil these requirements – his family maintains harmony with God through faithful obedience to his laws. Yet, Jesus’ arrival in the Temple has a significance far beyond the fulfilment of the Law. Seeing the child, Simeon and Anna act as prophets publicly disclosing the true identity of this new-born. Simeon declares Jesus is God’s savior (God’s salvation) for the Gentiles and the Jews alike, while Anna proclaims him as the redeemer of Jerusalem. Salvation and redemption are God’s acts resulting in the restoration of peace and harmony in the human world, and, indeed, in the entire creation. Jesus came to restore that harmony which was dramatically disrupted by the events described in Genesis ch. 3. However, before embarking on his salvific and redemptive mission, Jesus would grow and thrive in the atmosphere of harmony which his parents maintained at home, allowing him to become “strong, filled with wisdom”.
Today’s feast points to harmony as the very foundation for the Christian life, and the purpose of Jesus’ coming into the world. Sirach and the author of Colossians point to harmony in the family as the necessary condition for the wellbeing of all its members. Harmony in the Christian community and in their homes reflects the believers’ unique identity, which is attained through the practice of the virtues, love being the chief of them. Indeed, the restoration of harmony in the human family and in the entire creation was the very purpose of Jesus’ mission as the redeemer and savior. The process of this restoration has already begun. Believers are a part of it, and bring it ever closer to completion when living in harmony with God, through faith and adherence to Jesus’ ways. This is the path the Psalmist described in the words, “Happy is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways.”
Listening to the Word of God
Today’s feast calls our attention to the importance of the family as the cradle of life and, often, faith. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus, began his earthly life in an ordinary human family. Like us today, he was nurtured and raised in a family, surrounded by other family members. Like us today, his family gave him his identity, at least in part. One must wonder about how much his parents, pious Jews, influenced him in those early days, and how much that human formation bore on his future mission as God’s Messiah.
The three readings of this feast identify the sound foundations for all families, namely harmony and mutual respect. The first reading bears a message to youth by evoking the fourth commandment: honour your father and mother to ensure harmony in the family. Nowadays, a principle of children’s unrestricted independence has often been proposed as a new way of raising children. However, this seemingly “better way” has resulted in a great number of young people becoming rapidly disconnected from the authority of their parents, with an unintended effect of becoming lost in life. In pride, and rejection of parental authority and guidance, youthful rebellion often leads to all kinds of harmful and destructive behaviours.
The second reading calls on the parents to create an atmosphere of love and respect in which the children can grow, following their parents as positive models. Children need to see the mother and father seated together on this feast, to witness their love and harmony. Sadly, that noble ideal of Christian and, indeed, human celebration, often turns into drunken feasts of quarrels and fights in the presence of the children. Such behaviour inevitably alienates parents from children, leading to a complete loss of moral authority in the long run. Regrettably, all too often at Christmas the family dies, what is left is simply a house. As Christian parents, children, or neighbours, we are called to make Christmas a feast of harmony. A true celebration of the Saviors’ presence brings and leads to that peace, that the angels proclaimed at his birth.
Even if we are not directly parents or children, we are always a part of a larger family, be it a Church, a community, or a society. Today’s feast calls us to be grateful for that community; we are all a part of one or another and we need this mutual support. It also calls us to examine the manner of our presence in that larger human family. Is our presence harmony-instilling or divisive? It is our Christian duty to be the disciples of a peace-bringing Messiah; we are his agents of peace to in the world. Let us examine ourselves from this point of view. Common wisdom accurately holds that “what goes around, comes around.” We may be sure that if we sow the seeds of harmony, we will experience it; if we sow the seeds of discourse, we will reap conflict and stressful tension.
While making our choices and decisions, let us be guided by the spirit that led Mary and Joseph to the Temple – the concern for living in unity and harmony according to God’s ways. A good way to begin or continue in this spirit is by prayer. Let our families and communities be united in gratitude to God for the gift we are to one another. “A family that prays together stays together.”
Do I feel myself in harmony with God at this stage of my life? If not, what causes the tension, shame, or regret?
What do I need to change in my responses and thinking about my parents / children / neighbours / associates to enhance harmony and tranquillity?
Response to God
In daily prayer, I will pay special attention to others, praying for them with gratitude, especially those towards whom I feel unease, or even hostility.
Response to your World
Conflicts and tensions are inevitable in the human family. This week I will take just a single step towards the restoration of harmony where it is needed.
We will reflect on our group’s contribution to the harmony and growth of our lager community. Is it meaningful? What should we change and modify to make a greater impact in this area?
Lord Jesus Christ your birth brought joy to your Mother, Father and the world. We commend our families into your hands; purify us from all the behaviours that bring chaos with them. Pour forth your blessings on us all and keep us always united in prayer. We ask this through Christ our Lord who live and reigns with you, one God forever and ever. Amen.