Holy Family in Christmas Time (Cycle B) – December 31, 2017

This Sunday’s Theme: Family Life

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family which honors the Old Covenant family of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac plus the New Covenant Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
In Reading 1, Abraham is called to trust in God.  In Reading 2, the author praises Abraham and Sarah for their faith in God.  The Gospel also focuses on the obedience on Mary and Joseph to God.

“The word of God is the source of life and spirituality of the family.”
(Synod on the Family)
“The first thing that a person finds in life and the last to which they hold out their hand,
and the most precious thing that they possess,
even if they do not realize it, is family life.”
(Blessed Adolph Kolping)

Reading 1 Genesis 15:1-6; 21:1-3     God fulfills His promise to Abraham, and Sarah gives birth to a son.
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 105:1-6,8-9     A prayer of thanksgiving to God for His faithfulness to His covenant.
Reading 2 Hebrews 11:8,11-12,17-19      Paul examines Abraham’s example of faith.
Gospel –  Luke 2:22-40      Mary and Joseph present Jesus at the Temple in accordance with the Law of Moses.

Reading 1     Genesis 15:1-6; 21:1-3             (Abraham’s Faith)

Context – The Book of Genesis (Greek for “origin”) records the creation of the world and our first parents, and the origin of sin; the history of mankind from the time of Noah; the Flood; the tower of Babel; the confusion of languages, and the division of the human race. The author then turns to the descendants of Shem, the eldest (firstborn) son of Noah, and deals with the greatest of these descendants, Abraham, the father of the chosen people. Then follows the history of Abraham’s son Isaac, of Esau’s forfeiture of his birthright blessing, and the succession of Jacob. Jacob’s fortunes are next related in detail. Lastly, the personal history of Joseph is told, and the migration of his father Jacob (Israel) and his brethren into the land of Egypt.
Today’s Reading – When God calls Abraham, he promises that he will be the father of a great nation (Gen. 12:1-4). In today’s reading, Abraham is wondering when God is going to fulfill this promise.  In the midst of his doubt, God comes and reassures Abraham that He will be faithful to His promise. Then the reading jumps forward six chapters (Ch.21) where we read about God fulfilling His promise to Abraham and Sarah.

The Word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision (Visions were one of the three primary methods of divine revelation in the Old Testament along with dreams (like with Jacob’s ladder between Heaven and earth) and direct communications (like with Moses and the Ten Commandments).), saying: “Fear not, Abram! (The same words that the angle Gabriel said to Mary – “Do not be afraid, Mary”.) I am your shield (Divine protector); I will make your reward (numerous descendants) very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what good will Your gifts be, if I keep on being childless and have as my heir the steward of my house, Eliezer?” Abram continued, “See, You have given me no offspring, and so one of my servants will be my heir.” Then the Word of the LORD came to him: “No, that one shall not be your heir; your own issue shall be your heir.” (At this time Abram is about 85 years old and Sari, his wife, is no spring chicken either.) The Lord took Abram outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so,” He added, “shall your descendants be.” Abram put his faith in the LORD, Who credited it to him as an act of righteousness. (See PAUSE, below.) 

The LORD took note of Sarah as He had said He would; He did for her as He had promised. (At this point Abraham is now 100 years old.) Sarah became pregnant and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time that God had stated. Abraham gave the name Isaac to this son of his whom Sarah bore him. (The name Isaac means “laughter.” When Abraham had been told by God a year earlier that he and Sarah would be parents of a son, Sarah laughed.)

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.           Abram put his faith in the LORD, Who (the Lord) credited it to him (Abram) as an act of righteousness.” – This is an example of how we should use our faith (obedient belief) in all of life’s situations because it allows us to be able to demonstrate to the Lord that we believe, trust, and have our hope in Him. And He will be pleased since we are actively showing Him respect and goodness, i.e. righteousness, on our part.
How deep is your faith in God’s promises to you? Abraham’s actions certainly demonstrated his most profound obedient belief (faith). How would you answer this question? What promises you ask? How about: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life”– John 3:16”?

Responsorial Psalm.     Psalm 105:1-6,8-9              (God’s Covenant)

Today’s Psalm – In this psalm, the author is full of gratitude to God for His faithfulness to His covenant with the descendants of Abraham.

R. – The Lord remembers His covenant forever.
Give thanks to the LORD, invoke His name; make known among the nations His deeds. Sing to Him, sing His praise, proclaim all His wondrous deeds.
R. – The Lord remembers His covenant forever.
Glory in His holy name; rejoice, O hearts that seek the LORD! Look to the LORD in His strength; constantly seek His face.
R. – The Lord remembers His covenant forever.
You descendants of Abraham, His servants, sons of Jacob, His chosen ones! He, the LORD, is our God; throughout the earth His judgments prevail.
R. The Lord remembers His covenant forever.
He remembers forever His covenant which He made binding for a thousand generations
which He entered into with Abraham and by His oath to Isaac.
(The Lord’s pledge of ancestry to Abraham is passed on by the Lord in making the same pledge to his son Isaac, revealing Isaac as the “new” Abraham. Genesis 26:3-4)
R. The Lord remembers His covenant forever.

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.          Covenant: A covenant refers to two or more parties bound together. It is a solemn agreement between human beings or between God and a human being involving mutual commitments or guarantees.  It is an elected, as opposed to natural, relationship of obligation under oath. A covenant is elected because it is always entered into by choice rather than necessity.  A covenant is relational because it always involves two parties. It is specifically a relationship of obligation, because it always binds one or both of the parties to certain specified duties. Finally, a covenant is always solemnified by an oath or oath-sign (e.g. rainbow, circumcision, Eucharist).

Reading 2.     Hebrews 11:8,11-12,17-19                  (Trust God) 

Context – Hebrews was addressed to Jewish Christians who were undergoing persecution for their new beliefs. The overall theme is the all-sufficient greatness of Christ. Of all the NT Writings, none reflects more deeply on the Priesthood of Jesus Christ – the high priest of Heaven, and none gives more attention or puts more emphasis on covenant theology – the superior excellence of the New Covenant – the saving mission of Jesus Christ, over the Old Covenant – the Ten Commandments.
Today’s Reading – Abraham is held up as a man of outstanding faith.  God’s call to Abraham means he has to leave family, home and business—and he does.  It means he has to let go of the known and face the unknown—and he does.  The faith of Abraham’s wife, Sarah, is also praised.  Both she and her husband believe in what is humanly impossible:  that they will conceive a child in their old age. Verses 17-19 speak of Abraham’s biggest test— when God calls him to sacrifice his son. The story exhorts us to be ready to sacrifice what is dearest to us out of loyalty to God.  It has been said that when Abraham was going up the hill, Isaac belonged to him. But after he showed his willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac belonged to God.

Brothers and sisters: By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place
that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he received power to generate, even though he was past the normal age —and Sarah herself was sterile— for he thought that the One who had made the promise was trustworthy. So it was that there came forth from one man, himself as good as dead,
descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sands on the seashore.

By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac descendants shall bear your name.” He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead, and he received Isaac back as a symbol. (Since Isaac didn’t actually die, it is likely that the sacred author sees Isaac’s deliverance from death as a symbol or type of the resurrection of Christ.)

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.          Abraham’s faith accepted God’s promises and acted on them even though there was nothing to indicate that they would be fulfilled.  Faith should be the way the believer looks at all of life and history. Continuance in faith is the only logical and consistent attitude for a believer.

Gospel            Luke 2:22-40              (God’s Anointed One)    

Context – Luke was a physician and a follower of Paul. His Gospel was written in 59-61 AD. He was probably the only Gentile writer in the Bible. Luke’s gospel includes Jesus words and works in Galilee, His journey to Jerusalem (which includes more episodes of Jesus’ life than do the other Evangelists), and His last week in Jerusalem. For later chapters of Luke: Jesus is now in Jerusalem for His passion. He has made His triumphal entry which we celebrate on Passion (Palm) Sunday, He has upset the establishment by cleansing the temple. The Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees are all now interested in getting rid of Him.
Today’s Reading – Luke seeks to portray Jesus and His family as very faithful Jews, fulfilling two requirements of the law: purification of the mother after childbirth (Lev.12:1-8) and dedication of the first son to God (Ex.13:2, 12-16). The purification rite calls for a sacrifice. Mary and Joseph bring two pigeons, an offering of the poor. Within this Presentation Story, we encounter two older and very faithful Jews, Simeon and Anna, who testify to the true nature of the Child. The aged saints represent the faithful remnant of Israel (faithful remaining Jews) at their best: devout, obedient, constant in prayer and led by the Spirit at home and in the Temple, longing and hoping for the fulfillment of God’s promises. They are the portrait of the Israel who accepted Jesus, in contrast to the Pharisees and Scribes who symbolize the Israel who rejected Jesus.
Also, for Luke, this story enables him to speak of the “continuation theme” between Judaism and Christianity.  Simeon and Anna, two faithful Jews, recognize and welcome the new Messiah, the One who will be a revealing light to the Gentiles and the glory of their people, Israel.  Simeon poetically speaks of the painful part of Jesus’ arrival on the scene.  Jesus and His life will be a ‘sword of sorrow’ for Mary and a sign that many will reject. Thus, as Simeon and Anna recognize the good news of Jesus’ arrival, they also make the reader aware of the cost of accepting the Messiah. Simeon’s prophetic words about Jesus is confirmed by the elderly Anna. She gives thanks to God and witnesses about the Child to all who have kept alive hope “for the deliverance of Israel.”

When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, They took Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, and to offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel (awaiting the Messiah that will return Israel to greatness), and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the Child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to Him, He took Him into his arms and blessed God, saying: “Now, Master, You may let your servant go in peace, according to Your word, for my eyes have seen Your Salvation, which You prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for Your people Israel.”
The Child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about Him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted —and you yourself a sword will pierce— so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Simeon was a godly individual who testified to Jesus’ significance under divine inspiration. This was part of Luke’s purpose of assuring his readers that Jesus was indeed the Lord. He used the testimony of credible people to do this.)
There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the Child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem. (God gave Anna insight into Jesus’ identity. The godly in Jerusalem undoubtedly learned about the Messiah’s birth from Simeon and Anna.)

When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. (Before their return to Nazareth, Saint Matthew tells us that the Holy Family fled to Egypt where they stayed for some time – Matthew 2:13-23.) The Child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon Him.

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.           The birth of Jesus the Christ was revealed by three kinds of witness in three different ways:  1. by the shepherds, after the angel’s announcement; 2. by the magi, who were guided by the star; and 3. by Simeon and Anna who were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Catechism 2205 – The Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. In the procreation and education of children it reflects the Father’s work of creation. It is called to partake of the prayer and sacrifice of Christ. Daily prayer and the reading of the Word of God strengthen it in charity. The Christian family has an evangelizing and missionary task.
Catechism 529 – The presentation of Jesus in the temple shows Him to be the firstborn Son who belongs to the Lord. With Simeon and Anna, all Israel awaits its encounter with the Savior-the name given to this event in the Byzantine tradition. Jesus is recognized as the long-expected Messiah, the “light to the nations” and the “glory of Israel”, but also “a sign that is spoken against”. The sword of sorrow predicted for Mary announces Christ’s perfect and unique oblation (gift/offering/sacrifice for God) on the cross that will impart the salvation God had “prepared in the presence of all peoples”.