Our Domestic Deity

The Feast of the Holy Family

Each Friday I post a reflection on the scripture readings for that coming Sunday. I try (sometimes unsuccessfully) to keep it brief, yet meaningful. But this Friday is Christmas Eve. Saturday, of course, is Christmas Day, and Sunday is the Feast of the Holy Family. I want to focus on the Sunday readings, as is our custom, but Christmas is one of the highest feast days of the year, second only to Easter, and cannot be ignored. So I’ll try to reflect on both celebrations, which of course are intimately related. Here goes.

God has entered into the world (Christmas), and He did so as a child with a mother and father (the Holy Family). And that’s significant to each one of us.

The fact that God entered into his own creation as a human being is so unthinkable that most failed to recognize the Son of God when he came. They were looking for a human Messiah to save them from earthly problems. They never expected that God would actually be that human Messiah; that He would be born a little baby, grow up, be persecuted, and even suffer death in order to save us from death itself. Yet that is exactly what God did.

Why? To truly appreciate the meaning of Christmas, we have to appreciate what came before. God made us for eternal communion with Him, and we lost that when we fell into sin, the consequence of which is death. In medieval Europe, it was common to celebrate Christmas with “Paradise Plays” reenacting God’s creation of Adam and Eve and our first parents’ fall from grace. This is the origin of the Christmas tree. It’s the tree from the Garden of Eden.

The Fall separated us from God, but it didn’t change God’s heart for us. His plan was still for us to be one with Him. So He became one of us so that He might not only forgive our sins, but suffer the consequence of sin (death) with us, so that our death would no longer separate us from Him. Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday are all part of the same story. It is a love story told to us by God, written on the pages of human history with His own Blood.

We follow Christmas with the Feast of the Holy Family to celebrate the fact that when the Maker of the Universe entered into His own creation, He didn’t descend from the clouds in a golden chariot, but was born of a woman (Mary), who was betrothed to a man (Joseph). He had parents. He was obedient to them (Lk 2:51). The Word Incarnate had a human childhood. He had friends to play with. He had chores to do. Most of the details of the first thirty years of his life aren’t written down because they were so ordinary. And that’s extraordinary.

The psalmist says to God, “Blessed are they who dwell in your house” (Ps 84:5), but now God has come to dwell in our house. We call the family the Domestic Church because it is here that we first learn what it is to love and be loved, to be unselfish, and to make sacrifices for others. These are all lessons about God, if we are open to them. The significance of this is that to dwell in God’s house, it isn’t necessary to fly to the stars, ascend the highest peaks or plumb the depths of the sea. We can dwell with God in our homes, with our families, because Jesus is Emmanuel (God-with-us).

He is God-with-us at church on Sunday. But He’s also God-with-us around the dinner table, doing homework, or playing games on a Saturday afternoon. By being born into a family, God has become for us a domestic deity. By that I don’t mean “domesticated” (He is not a tame lion, as Mr. Tumnus tells Lucy in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), but that He wants to be Lord of our everyday life.

We might tell ourselves that we’re too busy for religion. Our schedule is just too full right now to make time for God. And since God is forgiving, we tell ourselves that He’ll understand. We’ll make time for God later, when things slow down. But things never slow down. Our schedules just get filled up with other things. But we don’t have to escape our ordinary life to find holiness, because God has made the ordinary holy. The feast of the Holy Family reminds us that the ordinary events of our lives — working, playing, studying, cleaning, shopping, cooking, laughing, crying, being born and dying — are all things worthy of divine participation. They are all things that can bring us closer to God, if we let them.

May you find God in your ordinary life this year, and may God bless you and your family during this Christmas season.