One does not need to be clairvoyant to realize that this season is intimately entwined with our families. Later today, I will enjoy a Zoom meeting with my family. During that conversation, we will undoubtedly talk about my sister, Mary, who would have turned 62 today. We may also remember my mother who died on January third in 2016. These tinges of sorrow will, however, not hamper our ability to celebrate the Christmas Season even though we are doing it differently this year.
Today’s feast marks the last day of the Octave of Christmas. In terms of the Church’s liturgy, there are two significant octaves within the Church year, the Octave of Christmas and the Octave of Easter. These two pivotal feast days are considered so important that we actually celebrate them for eight days. The liturgy of the hours treats each day as if it were the feast itself. The liturgy of the Eucharist also echoes the feast by considering these weekdays as if they were the feast itself.
Many different names have been given to this last day of the Octave of Christmas. Actually, the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God, is as old as Christmas itself. It was during the fifth century that the date for Christmas as established. The Council of Ephesus in 431 pronounced Mary as “Mater Dei.” The solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, was joined to December 25th shortly thereafter. So from the very beginning, the Church has recognized how important this Season is for the family, both our natural family and our Christian family.
The readings for this feast also bear the imprint of family. In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul explores the notion of adoption and how we have become children of God through the gift of the Holy Spirit for all who place their faith in Jesus. His text bears the cultural influence of the day in using the term “son” of God because at that time in history, only male children could inherit their father’s estate. However, this does not negate that all Christians, male and female, are able to become children of God. We also have been given Mary as our mother.
The Gospel for today speaks of the first to proclaim the Good News, the shepherds of Bethlehem. They recognized in the baby and his parents that the angel had revealed that they were the ones who would benefit from this birth. The angel had proclaimed “peace to people of good will.” The very word peace means “fullness of life.” Through the birth of Jesus and our adoption, we have been graced with the very life of God. Nothing could be fuller than that life.
The Gospel also speaks of the circumcision of Jesus. I mentioned earlier in the week that this ritual was a statement made by the father of the child, in this case, Joseph of Nazareth, that this was truly his child. Once a father takes his child to be circumcised, he was stating that this child was his heir. Through St. Paul, we have come to believe that our baptism has replaced this mark in the flesh as the statement that we are God’s children and heirs of God’s kingdom.
Knowing this gives us great confidence in the strength of our relationship with God. As the hymn “Though the Mountains May Fall” remind us, no matter what happens, God will not abandon us. So rejoice in our adoption! It is holy and beautiful. Our family relationship with God is real. Just as civil courts can create families through the process of adoption, God has created a new family. Instead of a certificate of adoption, we have a certificate of baptism in which we receive the Holy Spirit as proof that we are God’s children.
Happy New Year!
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator