The Holy Family by Jacques Stella

God's Word on Sunday: Being a child of God is a journey of faith

  • December 29, 2018

Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Dec. 30 (Year C) 1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28; Psalm 84; 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24; Luke 2:41-52

It must have been very difficult for Hannah to part with Samuel. After all, he was her only child, for she had been barren for many years. 

She prayed fervently before the shrine at Shiloh for a son, although her devotion earned her the scornful accusation of being drunk from Eli the prophet. She promised God that if her request were granted, she would dedicate her son to the Lord — in effect, she would hand him over. Her prayer was heard and she conceived. 

This followed a pattern that we see often in the Old Testament: a barren woman gives birth to an extraordinary child destined for great things in service to God. It was repeated in the opening chapters of the Gospel of Luke, as Elizabeth and Zechariah struggle with the disappointment of childlessness. It is always a sign that God has greater things planned for the individuals involved. 

How was Hannah able to part with her child so soon after his birth? An overwhelming sense of gratitude and the realization that all is gift from God helped her. But beyond that, Hannah must have been one of those rare individuals for whom God was first in everything. 

If only we had the same sense of non-possessiveness and the willingness to play a part in something far more important than our own desires and convenience. The kingdom of God is built with individuals like Hannah, Elizabeth and Mary.

Perhaps we have heard the saying “we are all children of God,” and in one sense we are. But the Scriptures have a rather surprising take on this assertion. We are not born into this world as children of God, but we become God’s children through a rebirth in the Spirit. Even then, our journey is not yet complete. 

John admits that what we will ultimately be is still a mystery, but we do know that we will be like Him and see Him as He actually is. The only way we can become part of this new reality is by faith and love. 

We believe in Jesus as the one sent by God, but belief means loving one another as Jesus did. Obedience to God’s commands for humility, love and service is an essential part of authentic faith. As we begin to walk this path in this life, we will begin to experience being a child of God, for Jesus will come and dwell with us.

We can imagine the terror and anxiety that Mary and Joseph felt when they could not find Jesus among their group of homeward-bound pilgrims. The media today is filled with stories of missing children and most of the stories do not have a happy ending. 

The relief that they felt when they finally found Jesus was mixed with anger at His apparent lack of concern for them. His answer — addressed to both Mary and Joseph — must have been puzzling (and maybe irritating too!): Don’t you know that I must be in My Father’s house? 

Actually, the original Greek text is a bit more ambiguous — it can also mean “concerned with the things of My Father.” But the overall meaning is clear — as he approaches adulthood, Jesus must begin focusing on His mission. 

Mary stored up and remembered all these words in her heart. She must have pondered them many times in the following years. Perhaps she intuited that Jesus was with her only for a time, for God’s mission would take hold of Him. 

When Jesus returned to Nazareth with Joseph and Mary, He was obedient to them, and that is not just a figure of speech. He grew in wisdom and years, meaning that He matured as a human being. He learned from His own experience and that of the many people around Him. 

Those were not idle or wasted years. It was perhaps during those violent and unsettled times, rife with injustice and suffering, that divine compassion stirred within Him. These were the years that prepared Him for baptism in the Jordan and the beginning of His ministry.

In a similar fashion, we can keep our minds and hearts open to our experience and to the Spirit dwelling within us. There can be no finer school for preparing us to make a difference in our world.

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