From the Catholic Liturgy for Holy Family sunday, December 31, 2017. Gospel: Luke 2:22-40. Theme: We All Live in Nazareth.
I’ve noticed that as the traditional 12 days of Christmas pass by, things are gradually starting to look and sound and smell rather ordinary again. The glamour and glitz of all the decorations on streets and in homes are being packed away. The holiday music is no longer being piped through the sound systems in the stores or at work. And except for the Epiphany, even our liturgy is starting to slowly wind down from Christmas to Ordinary Time. Today’s Gospel is like that too. It starts out by telling us such awesome things about the Infant Jesus. All the miraculous interventions of that first Bethlehem Christmas seem to continue now in glorious temple of Jerusalem! Then it, too, winds down to the ordinary; to the life of the Holy Family in Nazareth.
And yet it is the simple uneventful conclusion of this Gospel that really strikes me to the heart most powerfully because it is where Jesus, Mary and Joseph begin to really touch my life. No heavenly angels proclaiming God’s praise to shepherds. No mystic magi following a miraculous star and brining precious treasures. No wise prophet or prophetess saying amazing things by divine inspiration. Those things all belong to magical Bethlehem and to glorious Jerusalem.
But me, I am at home in Nazareth. Nazareth stands for the ordinary everyday life. Nazareth means living by faith not by miracles. Nazareth means going to work and earning a living; enjoying meals with family and socializing with friends. That’s where I live. That’s where we all live. And most amazing of all that is where the Son of God lived for 90% of his life as a man. Nazareth is where we truly find Jesus our Savior as Emmanuel: God-with-us. God-among-us. God-as-one-of-us. What does this say about ordinary life if God himself came down from Heaven to live it for 30 of his 33 years? What does it have to say about salvation? About living life so as to reach the Kingdom of Heaven? Because those are precisely the things Christmas is all about. I believe it says a whole lot about how we become holy, how we live the Gospel and become more like Jesus.
Somewhere along the way we have gotten the idea that God is best loved and served by carrying out religious works. When someone decides to live their life for God, they think they have to go off to a convent or monastery, or perhaps travel to a Third World country in service to the destitute. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with those things if that is indeed what God asks of an individual. But for most of us, Nazareth shows us how wrong that way of thinking can be! Nazareth shows us that God is loved and served in the ordinary everyday realities of life, which we offer up to God in a spirit of praise and in union with the ordinary life lived by our beloved Brother and Lord.
I think it is very important for us to remember that by sharing in a life just like ours, Jesus as God-in-the-flesh made our everyday lives among those with whom we live, work and socialize a pathway to holiness. He made it the way in which we grow in faith, deepen our trust in God and show our love for Him in the way we treat others.
Bethlehem & Jerusalem were both awesome and each had its role in the Christmas story. But the angels gave their message to the shepherds and then returned to Heaven. The magi did their homage to the Child and then returned home to the East. And old Simeon together with Anna spoke their prophecies and disappeared from the scene…
But Nazareth…Nazareth has never disappeared, but continues to live on in the ordinary everyday lives of Christians like you and me.