The word family has many meanings and connotations. There is the traditional nuclear family understanding. There are those whose definition of family has been changed by tragedy and sickness. The word is used as a metaphor for other groups of people. We speak of a “parish family”, or the “family of nations,” or in my own Dominican community the “Dominican family.” Regardless of how we understand it, the Holy Family provides a model for what it means to be family.
It can be hard to see. I can be difficult to see in the eyes of a mother whose child is ripped from her arms at the border. It can be hard to see in the inmate on death row. It can be hard to see in the homeless man who in spite of having a job cannot afford a place to live. But this Christmas we celebrate God-with-us. And that is indeed Good News.
There is so much darkness in our world. There is the pandemic, economic uncertainty, illness, disease and more. But this Christmas, as always we are reminded that Christ is the light that has overcome the darkness. And we too are called to witness to this light to be signs of faith to others.
God with us. Emmanuel. This last “O Antiphon reminds us very powerfully that God is with us, in the God-man Jesus. While it can appear at times (maybe even long periods of time) that God is absent from us, the truth is God is always with us. As the fully human and fully divine Son of God, Jesus reminds us that God takes on our mortal flesh to lead us to recognize our whole selves, body and soul. The truth is that God could have left us in our sinfulness, which would be an act of justice. But God’s justice is tempered by God’s mercy. And for all of us, this is good news indeed.
One significant challenge for the early Church was how to treat Gentile, non-Jewish converts to Christianity. It required the original apostles and early disciples to radically re-think the mission of Jesus and the Kingdom of God. The Messiah was to be a king not just for the Jewish people, but for all people. God wills salvation for everyone, not just a select few.
Today’s “O Antiphon” recalls for us the prophecy of Zechariah that gets recited each day at Morning Prayer. In Luke 1:78, Zechariah says that “daybreak from on high” will visit us. In the Greek translation of the New Testament, the word used for “daybreak” is used three times in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (called the Septuagint for the seventy translators) uses this same word to denote a descendent or a branch, terms used to denote the Messiah. And so the implication is clear. This “daybreak from on high” is the Messiah, the one that Zechariah’s son John the Baptist will foreshadow.
Keys hold power. They allow us to enter a house, to start a car, to keep things safe. Keys can also be symbols of authority. The one who has a key can open and can shut. And this is precisely what the bible understands what is meant by a key. In the book of the prophet Isaiah, chapter 22, it is God who will place the key of David as a sign of authority. In the third chapter of the Book of Revelation the key of David is the sign of authority of the Christ as he speaks to the Churches of Philadelphia. And Peter is given the keys to the kingdom by Jesus as the sign that he holds authority in this world.
Promises, Promises. We fully understand the power of a promise. It has the power to fulfill, and it has the power to destroy. Promises kept fill us with faith. Promises broken can fill us with despair. Today’s readings remind us that God makes promises, and God keeps promises. And the key figure in the promise, Mary, does not DO anything. She allows God to do something to her. Too often in the spiritual life we think we need to do a lot. But, like Mary, the Blessed Mother, we simply need to allow God to do what he will to make us the person he has created us to be.
In the second book of Samuel, King David expresses to the prophet Nathan his desire to build a house for the Ark of the Covenant. In other words, David wants to build a house for God. But as is so often true of human endeavors in the presence of God, it is God who turns this desire of David on its head. It is not David who will build a house for God, but God who will build a house for David. While David is a king in an earthly sense, it is important to remember that God is the ultimate king for his people.
Walk through any bookstore or search online for a book by typing in “leadership” and there will be no shortage of materials, books, and more. In so many ways, societies around the world cry out for leadership. In an age of unprecedented crisis, and a growing inability to discuss disagreements without being disagreeable, it is harder and harder to find leadership, or to find the types of leaders people are able to follow. Of course, if we seek solutions in political discourse or in arguments about politics, we will fall short. There is an important place for civil leadership and politics. But if we are seeking to be rescued from our sinfulness, then we need more. Today’s “O antiphon” provides the something more. To be rescued requires the perfect leader, and in Jesus we have such a perfect leader. Of course, he sometimes leads us where we might not wish to go, but he always leads us to good. During these uncertain times, pray that Jesus, as God, might rescue us and save us.