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What Was God Thinking, Sending Jesus to Earth as a Helpless Baby?

Stom Holy Family

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Canonry of St. Leopold - published on 12/27/14

Perhaps we needed to relearn what it means to be family

When the Word of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, decided to come into the world, He chose to be born into a family, to arrive as a helpless baby. How beautiful is that!

How strange is that?

Had He asked me for my suggestions (and we can all be very thankful that He did not!) on how to make the most important entrance in the history of the whole universe, I would have suggested quite a different strategy, something people couldn’t ignore, something they would never forget, something majestic, even a bit flashy, something really big! After all, one of the perks of being omnipotent is that you can do whatever you want.

How about arriving in a fiery chariot (pretty impressive, no? – and Biblical as well!), surrounded by all the heavenly hosts? How about an approach with lots of thunder and lightning, maybe an earthquake (not a serious one), you know, a splashy entrance, sure to catch everyone’s attention? Flying in from heaven onto the stage of human history seems to fit the bill; it certainly worked for Liberace in Las Vegas.

But, if celestial pyrotechnics were deemed to showy, then why not simply (well, at least with a few heavenly trumpets, please) emerge from the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Jerusalem?  Or, if we’re going for an even  subtler approach, just hide out inside the Holy of Holies (it was, after all, His home!) until the one day of the year when the High Priest was permitted to enter? What a surprise – “Look who I’ve found!”

And if He still insisted on actually being born – which seems kind of inconvenient and inefficient – then why not be born to the Emperor in Rome? The Palace of the Caesars, even if it didn’t have indoor plumbing, would still be a lot more comfortable than being born in the trough out of which animals eat their slop! And, if the idea of this coming into the world is that people get to know you, well, being the Emperor’s kid would have lots of advantages.

Clearly, the Lord had other plans, and His turned out to be fairly memorable, now that we think about it. Far grander than the vain, melodramatic approach the wisdom of this world might have proposed, the drama of His birth, of actually being born, that is, of choosing to be helpless and small proclaims in a truly unforgettable way the depth of His love, not only in become one of us (as if that weren’t enough!) but also of giving us the great dignity of being able to hold Him and take care of Him. This we recall at Christmas and hopefully every day. But His being born into a family – the far-reaching significance of this graceful gesture we often overlook. Why inside a family? There are other ways of being born and, as we’ve seen, of making an entrance into the world.

He chose to be born into a family, because that is what He was already used to.

He came from a family. We usually speak of the relationship, the inner life of the Persons of the Holy Trinity in terms of a communion of persons, and not as a family. And some of the great theological expressions, inadequate as all human expression will be, do manage to touch on the beauty of this most mysterious inner life – for example, perichoresis (the Greek is nicer than the Latinate term, circumincession, which might be a bit confusing), which refers to the intimacy, the in-dwelling of the Divine Persons in each other, Their interpenetration and co-inherence, and has, delightfully, the light echo of the Greek word “to dance”, so that one might imagine the great, eternal dance of joy of the Divine Persons. Nevertheless, the idea of family, as the life-giving and -sustaining unity that is the basis of everything, is not a bad expression for the communion of love which the Trinity is.

And so, belonging to this, the peerless family of the Trinity – the Father loving the Son, the Son loving the Father, and the Spirit, that very love so real it is a Person –  it does not surprise us that the Word, now made flesh, desired to live in a human family. And thereby He transformed the natural dignity of the human family to a greater one: strengthening, ennobling, elevating the human family to share even in the inner life of The Family, which is the Trinity, to which we are all invited.

Of course, the Holy Family, with the matchless examples of humility and gentleness, which Mary and Joseph show forth in a preeminent way, becomes a real and much-needed guide to how we can live in our own families; their example together with this Feast, which holds them and their life of sacrifice and faithfulness up for our edification, become the guiding light of our life in our families. But there’s more.

The Feast of the Holy Family points not only to the beginning of our understanding of what a family is and our sharing in this grace (that is, our own particular families); not only does it life our gaze to the ultimate end, to the grand invitation and most sublime honor (that is, sharing in the Family of the Trinity), but it gives us the means to perfect the former and arrive at the latter by showing us the deep nature of the Church, which is the Family of the Children of God.

How sad that, so often, the Church is seen as an institution (which, of course, is necessary to exist in this world and carry out its mission) and not primarily (or perhaps even at all) as a Family. We call each other (hopefully) brothers and sisters, we have nuns as sisters, friars as brothers, priests as “Fathers” (a magnificent joy for priests!), Mary as our Mother and God as our Father – yet, sometimes, those terms become so familiar that we forget the reality which they express – that we are one family: big, fractious at times, suffering, rejoicing, but, in the end, a family.

So, I have to admit, the Lord’s cleverness in choosing to be born and to be born into a family is far more dramatic, more profound, than any plan we might have imagined. With this Feast of the Holy Family, just a few days after the Birth of Christ, we see not only what our own families can become by following the example of the Holy Family, not only to that Great Family of the Church we already belong, but also to what inexpressible intimacy and glory we are called in being invited into the Divine Dance of the Greatest Family, the Trinity.

Prepared for Aleteia by the Canonry of Saint Leopold. Click here to learn more about the Canons Regular of St. Augustine.

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