Advent is here and the gift of the Nativity is in sight. This time of year welcomes us to experience the fullness of the joyful mysteries. When we hear the stories of the Holy Family, it is easy to get caught up in the mysteries and other worldly experiences in the Christmas story. The holiness of the Blessed Mother and her faithful protector Joseph puts us in awe of who they must have been in this life. If we stay at this view of the Holy Family, it may be hard to relate to Mary and Joseph in a human way, but somehow we know that we fit into the Holy Family, too.
In the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary and invites her to be the mother of God. Wow. What an invitation. How wonderful it must have been to receive such a clear instruction from the Lord. Zechariah received a similar message from Gabriel about the coming of John the Baptist. If only angels would come and speak so clearly in our lives today, right?
If we look closely at the announcements of Jesus’ and John’s births, we find clarity only in the reality of the situations. Mary and Elizabeth will carry children with missions set by the Lord. Mary isn’t warned that she will be traveling on a donkey for many miles in the ninth month of pregnancy. Elizabeth isn’t promised that she will be given a special pain-free birth in her old age. When Joseph accepts the responsibility of protecting Mary, he isn’t advised that there will be animals at the birth and some random shepherds paying a visit.
We often accuse God of withholding the future details of our lives. If only God would give more direction and speak more clearly to us. Maybe we are even tempted to look at the Holy Family as being unrelatable because God spoke so much more clearly to them or differently. But we can see that God did not give the Holy Family all the insider information. The Holy Family was not free of suffering, either. After Jesus’ birth, Joseph is warned in a dream in the middle of the night that he needs to make like a racehorse and get out of town because Herod is about to strike. God could have given the Holy Family special protection and saved them from having to flee, but he did not. Rather, he called on Joseph in the middle of the night to act. Who likes a midnight wake up? We see that Elizabeth, too, was asked to suffer. Pregnancy and childbirth are difficult enough for young women. For Elizabeth to do this as an elderly woman must have been indescribable.
Let us take seriously God’s invitation to join the Holy Family in their journey. We are invited to see ourselves in the story of Jesus. We, too, are called by God in this life. Our invitations may not be delivered by Gabriel or in visions, but we nevertheless can look at how we have been called to serve here on earth. And like the examples above, we too receive information that is lacking in details and contains missing information. We are not spared the suffering of this life within our calls to action.
We can also see in the stories here that even though God allowed suffering, he did not leave the Holy Family unaided. In the Visitation, we find Mary rushing off to support her elderly cousin in her pregnancy. Joseph was appointed protector of Mary and Jesus. And at the Nativity, some unnamed shepherds were called to the scene. There wasn’t royalty at the birth. God didn’t kick someone out of the inn so that Mary could have a comfortable room for the birth. All of us, even the Holy Family, were asked to follow the ways of God and deal with unclear instructions and endure suffering. We are also asked to support each other and bear each other’s burdens.
The Holy Family models the reality that life is hard. The Holy Family had to follow the rules of life. God wants all of us, even the unnamed and unimportant, to be a part of his family and to join the Holy Family at the Nativity. We are also invited to see that the Holy Family is not so unrelatable or different from our own human experiences. So, if we find ourselves suffering this season for want of family and love, we need only turn to the Holy Family and know that we are accepted this holiday season. And we can be sure that we are understood by them because they know what it is like to try to follow a map drawn by God. And they are praying for us this Christmas season.