Christmas Retold
Feast of the Holy Family

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

Christmas is a feast for the senses. Visually, we associate Christmas with lights, glitters, and bright colors. We hear Christmas carols even as early as October. The parties provide us with gustatory and olfactory delights. We feel the cold air against our skin. Christmas evokes vivid memories. For the more creative, this season is an opportunity to exercise the imagination in search of artistic designs. It is the season for painters, musicians, actors, choreographers, architects, and all other purveyors of artistic expression.

The Christmas story provides a rich source of inspiration for writers and story-tellers. But what is it without the glitters, the parties, and the music? I once stayed in a monastery during Christmas, away from the noise and the hustle-bustle of the city. Some carols were sung at the liturgy but it was like any other regular day. I later learned that they observe greater festivities during Easter.

If we take away all the contemporary trappings of Christmas, we might get to the essence of the Christmas-event. Let us look at the background for the original Christmas story. The whole of what we now know as Israel was under the domination of the Roman Empire. There would be companies of Roman soldiers stationed in strategic places. The ferocity of these Roman soldiers would be seen in the way they totally destroyed Jerusalem and the temple seventy years later. The visible symbol of the Roman presence would be the designated governor, among whom, the more well-known was Pontius Pilate.

The Romans appointed local rulers to collaborate with them and among them would be the Herods. The elites of Jewish society would be the landed class who were mostly Sadducees, the priests who took turns serving at the temple, and the scribes and Pharisees who studied and interpreted the Jewish laws. There were bands of rebels who actively took arms against the Romans and were called zealots. There was also a small group of religious devotees called the Essenes who chose to live together in the desert and who spiritually prepared themselves to become the vanguard of the Messiah when he comes. They practiced the ritual of baptism and it is said that John the Baptist may have been a member. The greater mass of people belonged to the poor or the Anawim. They were the shepherds, farmers, carpenters, fishermen, and laborers who survive through manual labor.

From this description of the social classes during that time, we can easily see where Jesus, Mary, and Joseph belonged. They were not of the elite. They were poor. The big mystery of Christmas is that God chose not only to be part of the human family. God chose the most powerless, the less privileged, and the most ordinary to be the agents of His plan of salvation.

God could have chosen His Son to be born in the family of a Roman Cesar or a member of the Jewish ruling class. Instead, Jesus was born of Mary, the unknown girl from Nazareth and raised by Joseph, a carpenter. God’s method is not that of force and might. God’s way is the way of the humble. God’s way is the way of love.

Today,the Caesars are gone. The Roman empire broke apart five hundred years after the birth of Jesus.. The power of the poor child born in a manger remains. His message and His person continue to animate those who receive them in faith. “Yes, God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him may not be lost, but may have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).

Today we honor the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. They looked ordinary but they brought to fulfillment God’s extra-ordinary plan of salvation. And so with each of us. A Blessed Christmas to all.