One of my favourite Christmas images is of the Holy Family huddled together. Looming large in the forefront is a Christmas card bearing images of gifts, bells, candles, etc. The painting is by an Argentinian artist and I am not sure where I found it. The images on Christmas cards can confuse us for they paint a picture of such joy and peace and serenity that we forget the traumatic context in which the little Holy family began. Christmas cards don’t tell the whole story. And that story doesn’t make for a very good Hallmark movie.

From the moment of Mary’s “yes,” there were obstacles upon obstacles. Though we have no written record, we can be sure that Mary and Joseph were judged – perhaps even mocked and scorned for their “extraordinary” pregnancy. (No one knew then what we know now about the miracle child to be born.) We know that the call to travel to Bethlehem for the census was poorly timed and that the discomfort must have been unbearable for Mary. And then to have no place to stay, no proper place to give birth! Only God-given resilience and strength could have sustained them. Could they then return to their home in peace with the newborn babe? No! A vicious and jealous ruler ordered a massacre. Jesus began his life as a refugee. After a few years in exile, they returned to Nazareth to what we assume is a typical family life. Except for the story of Jesus being lost in the temple at about twelve years of age, we know nothing about this time. We can surmise it was a place of love and nurture from the fruits it produced. Jesus, while truly God, was also truly human. And to become that fully integrated, mature human that he became, the love of his family would have been vital.

So, our world is not so different from that of the Holy Family of Nazareth. We may also face scorn or persecution. We may fear for our lives. We may even have had people we loved taken from us by violence. Perhaps we are struggling with poverty or illness. Perhaps bereaved or lonely. Or maybe, we are fortunate to be surrounded by people we love and grateful for blessings that we cannot begin to count. Most likely our life is a mixture of these things. What makes us holy as families, is not what we look like on the Christmas card (or on our Facebook post). Though this joy or serenity or blessedness is real, it is not the whole story. What makes us holy as families is the way we pray for strength to bear our crosses with endurance, fight for justice for wrongs perpetrated, persevere (sometimes silently sometimes not), love one another in our weakness and woundedness and have faith, that doing our best in our broken world is all that the God who makes us holy asks of us.

Christine Way Skinner has been a pastoral minister for thirty years and has recently begun a doctoral program in theology at St. Michael’s College. Together with her husband, Michael, she has parented six wonderful children. She has written a number of books for Novalis on living the Catholic faith for both adults and children.

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