We hear a phrase regularly this time of year – Jesus is the reason for the season. It’s a phrase that invites us to remember that Christmas is not just about presents and parties and food, desserts and time with family and friends – but that there is a faith dimension to all of this. Jesus is the reason for the season. But, today’s feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – so close to the Feast of Christmas – asks us to take that a step further. If Jesus is the reason for the season, what is the reason for Jesus? And, that is a really interesting question.
We sing the carols, we marvel at the sights of the lights and the trees and the decorations – especially the Christmas mangers – but how often do we go deeper and ask what are those leading us to, what are they drawing us to? Lights aren’t meant to be mere colorful decoration, for example, they are meant to remind us of the symbolism that Jesus is THE LIGHT that has conquered the darkness of our world, the darkness of sin and death. Similarly the trees, the EVER-greens that we bring into our houses in the midst of winter are symbols of life.
And, how about those Christmas mangers. They are so beautiful and probably the most treasured of decorations in most households. In fact, in many families, Christmas mangers are even handed down from generation to generation. And, we are so blessed here at St. Anthony’s with our beautiful Christmas manger outside on West Houston Street – certainly one of the most famous and visited in New York City. Camera crews come to film here, countless people come and take their pictures here. Many come just to be silent and say a little prayer.
And, if you know the history of the Christmas manger, you know that it was our own St. Francis of Assisi, who originated this custom back in 1223. St. Francis did this because he wanted to truly understand the impact of the reason that Jesus, God Himself, became one of us. He wanted to imagine what that moment was like. And it is powerful for us to likewise take a moment do the same.
This feast of the Holy Family in particular reminds us that when God decided that the time had come for Him to enter into our human reality; to come to earth and take on our human flesh, that we need only to look at the manger to see how He chose to do it. God chose to enter humanity not in a grandiose way, not in flurry and splendor, not with trumpet blast and glory, but in the simple way that you and I entered humanity - within a family. And, not only that, He chose to enter humanity as someone who was homeless – they could not find a place to lay their head. He chose to enter humanity as a migrant as they were on their way to another land for the census. And, He chose to enter our world as a little baby, as someone who was helpless and had to rely upon the aid and assistance of others if He were to survive to an age where He could complete His mission among us of spreading the good news and bringing His promised salvation.
God chose to enter our world precisely in the places and in the people and in the ways that we, today, so often struggle or even fail to see God. When we look at the immigrant, the refugee, the homeless, the helpless, what do we see? Do we realize that they are icons of the very image of God as He was on that first Christmas morning? We have our spectacular Christmas manger outside, which is an image of a homeless, migrant family who had no place to lay their heads that night. And a block away in virtually any direction from this Church you can find a homeless woman or man huddled under a blanket or a cardboard box. As we pass them by, do we recognize that their image and the image of the Holy Family are the same? Do we see God present there when we see them? This is where He is present today.
In a few days or weeks, our Christmas mangers will be carefully packed and put away for another year, but these urban mangers that surround us on our streets will remain in the men and women who live there. I think this is exactly why Jesus came to us, God Himself came to us, in a family, and one that was homeless and migrant and in need of the help of others. Because He wanted us then and now, to look at our own family, to look at the homeless and helpless around us, and to see that God is present there; they are not the “other”; they are our brother, our sister, our family; and to reach out to them in need.
My friends, Jesus is the reason for the season; and this is the reason for Jesus. He came among us so that we might see God’s presence in our midst; that we might see God’s presence in one another; that we might see God’s presence in the most unlikely of places. If we want to become a Holy Family, this is how we do it. We say yes to that presence, that invitation before our eyes, just as Joseph and Mary did so long ago. And it will make all the difference in our lives, in our world and in our families. May we become one, united and holy family under our loving and compassionate God this Christmas and always.
Merry Christmas and may the Lord give you peace.