Summary: The family is a living reality that is called to be a vessel of peace, defender and herald of the Word, temple of the Spirit, and steward of God’s love.
DECEMBER 29, 1999
·First Reading Sirach 3: 2-6, 12-14
·Psalm Ps. 128:1-5
·Second Reading Col. 3:12-21
·Gospel Luke 2:22-40
Once again, do allow me to take this opportunity to greet everyone a Blessed Christmas, and I pray that the LORD had blessed your gatherings with His presence. Our Readings tonight clearly bring out the theme of family. With the grace of the Holy Spirit, I shall expound on each Reading accordingly and conclude with some practical Directions for the Community.
The First Reading speaks of the magnitude of the 4th Commandment, which is the only commandment with a promise. Its truth is beyond reproach that it has become the cornerstone of biblical law and ethics. It teaches that the love and obedience of children towards parents will bring lasting roots and blessings. In contrast, those who disobey will be uprooted from their very foundation. Strikingly, Sirach also points out that honoring parents has the power to atone for sin, which, normally, can only be accomplished by sacrificial offerings. Sirach also emphasizes the care for parents most especially when they have surrendered to the powers of time and age. In summary, this passage conveys the immeasurable blessings of obedience.
Our Psalm Reading, which gives us the Promise for the week, is a blessing given by temple priests to families and pilgrims as they ascend to the Temple to celebrate the New Year. It presents to us the ideal Jewish family, whose very lives revolve around the LORD and are guided by His Word. The outcome of such righteousness and reverence produces abundant fruits of labor, as well as peace and harmony in the family. The last verse suggests that if families live according to the ways of God, they and the community as a whole prosper.
In the Second Reading, which is the source of our Order, St. Paul exhorts his readers to uphold godly obligations and to practice invariably Christian virtues. Meekness, patience, compassion, and kindness all reflect an essential virtue, which is humility. Only a humble person can be forgiving and truly thankful because only he realizes that everything comes from God. As a result, he is able to attain peace and prove the genuineness of his love, which is the fruit of the Spirit that binds everything in perfect harmony and enables him to conquer the empire of the flesh. The Reading concludes, appropriately, with directions for the family, where the virtues are fundamentally applied and tested.
Lastly, St. Luke describes the Holy Family in our Gospel, whose obedience and faithfulness to the Word are quite evident. He presents them as the first stewards of God’s Love and the very model of Christian families and communities. St. Luke also reminds us of two Jewish ceremonies. According to Exodus 13, every firstborn male is considered holy and belonging to God. Hence, the child must be redeemed or bought back, in a manner of speaking, with an offering of 5 shekels, which is equivalent to a man’s 3-week work. This ceremony is called Redemption of the First-born and symbolizes Christ’s eventual return to Jerusalem to offer His life for man’s redemption. The second ceremony is the Purification after Childbirth. Leviticus 12 decrees that a woman is unclean physically and is not permitted to share in any religious ceremonies for forty days, if the child was a boy, or for eighty days, if the child was a girl. At the end of purification, she is to offer a lamb or two turtledoves. Mary offers the latter, which is called the Offering of the Poor.
The subsequent verses acquaint us with two characters. The first is Simeon, a faithful elderly prophet, who, upon seeing the Divine Child, is moved by the Holy Spirit to express his joy in a canticle of thanksgiving called the Nunc Dimittis. The main point of the canticle is that the long-awaited Messiah has now come, as prophesied in the book of Isaiah. Simeon’s ensuing prophecy summarizes the double mission of the LORD Jesus Christ to the Jews and the Gentiles, as well as His tragic fate in fulfilling that mission. The prophecy concludes with a warning that the Blessed Mother’s heart shall be pierced with a sword, which symbolizes sufferings that will culminate at the Cross. The second character is Anna, a devout elderly prophetess, who prayed daily in the Temple and whose words confirm the truth of Simeon’s prophecy. Among the many people in the Temple, God chooses Simeon and Anna to reveal the divine purpose of the LORD’s birth. The spiritual considerations behind this revelation are their virtues of piety and patience, which merit the abundance of God’s grace. The Gospel ends with the Holy Family’s return to Nazareth and under the pastoral care and stewardship of Joseph and Mary, the Divine Child grew in wisdom and in strength, indicating His obedience to His parents; and the favor of the LORD was upon the Child.