Every Advent we focus on the wonder of the Incarnation of Jesus. How amazing that God loved us so much that he sent his only begotten Son to become one of his creatures! In obedience to his heavenly Father, Jesus willingly took on our human nature. Though he was the Son of God, he was also fully human, becoming like us in all things except sin.
Our Father could have sent Jesus into the world as a fully mature adult, ready and able to launch his public ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing. But he didn’t. Instead, Jesus came into this world as a helpless newborn. He was born to Mary, a young woman from Nazareth, and like any other infant, he needed his mother’s constant care and protection.
Over the years, Jesus would grow and mature, from a toddler exploring the world around him to an adolescent learning the trade of his earthly father, Joseph. As an adult, he would work at a job and pray at the synagogue every Sabbath like all the other men in Nazareth. And he would do all of this in the context of a family—the Holy Family.
The commonplace, everyday life of a family helped prepare Jesus so that, at the appointed time, he would be ready to carry out his Father’s plan to save the world. This is how important family life is to God! In the Lord’s eyes, your family is important, too. He loves your family as much as he loved the Holy Family! And just as God used the Holy Family as a channel of grace, he can use your own family in the same way, however imperfect it may seem to you.
The Church celebrates the Sunday after Christmas as the feast of the Holy Family. In this Advent issue, we want to focus on family life. In this article, we’ll explore how Jesus’ Incarnation reveals God’s intentions for families and how he gives us the grace to live them out. In the second article, we’ll look at how Mary and Joseph nurtured Jesus and how we can imitate them in raising our own family. And in the final article, we’ll see how God wants husbands and wives to love one another.
God’s Intentions for Marriage and Family. Right at the beginning of creation, God revealed his intentions for marriage and family life. The author of Genesis tells us that after God created the first man, he wanted to find a “helper” for him, but none of the creatures he presented to Adam were suitable (2:18). Then he created the first woman out of Adam’s rib, and Adam embraced her at once, saying, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (2:23). The author of Genesis adds, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body” (2:24). So important was this idea of man and woman as a union of body and soul that Jesus himself quoted this verse when speaking about marriage (Matthew 19:5).
Adam and Eve eventually succumbed to the serpent’s temptation and were banished from the Garden of Eden, but God’s intentions for the union of man and woman in marriage were not destroyed by the fall. As the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wrote, “God himself is the author of matrimony” (Gaudium et Spes, 48). And in fact, throughout Genesis, God worked through families—often dysfunctional ones—to call a people to himself who would worship and obey him. Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel—they and their children were flawed people in many ways, and yet God was able to use them to bring about his plan of salvation.
God has already saved us through Jesus, but he is still inviting families to play a part in the ongoing conversion of the world. That’s because families make Jesus’ love visible—in a sense, they “incarnate” his love. The covenant love of husband and wife reflects the covenant love our Father has for us. The sacrificial love that parents have for their children reflects the love that Jesus had for us when he sacrificed himself on the cross. In this way, children come to know the character and love of God.
The Grace of Jesus Christ. We know from experience that marriage and family life involve numerous—and sometimes overwhelming—challenges. And so we might wonder how well our families are images of God’s love. But through the Sacrament of Marriage, we have access to the grace that constantly flows from the side of our crucified Savior. Just as the Holy Family looked to God to help them through the challenges they faced, so, too, we can turn to our Father and his Son, Jesus, for grace in helping us through our trials.
And not just through our trials! Even the everyday challenges of trying to love and care for our family members help us to become more loving, patient, and merciful. The goal of any vocation, including the vocation of marriage and family, is to grow in holiness. And the more we do, the more we reflect God’s love to the world.
Unfortunately, we know that marriages fail, children stray, and relationships break down. Yet when these things happen, our Savior does not abandon us. Jesus is always there for us in our struggles, always ready to give us his mercy, comfort, and consolation. He has compassion on our own weaknesses as well as the weaknesses of our loved ones. He also knows that we can’t control what other members of our family think or do.
But even when our families are less than perfect, they can become channels of grace to others as well as powerful witness of God’s goodness and faithfulness. As we persevere in faith during times of struggle, we can become living examples of how God is always with us. Our trust in the Lord can also make us a model of how to rely on God’s grace at all times.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph: Powerful Intercessors. When Jesus walked the earth, he was actively involved in the lives of families. He worked his first miracle at a wedding (John 2:1-10). He spent time enjoying the company of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (Luke 10:38-42). Out of compassion for a grieving widow, he raised her son from the dead (7:11-15). And he responded to the plea of a desperate synagogue official for the healing of his daughter (Mark 5:21-43).
This is the one of the blessings of the Incarnation. Not only was Jesus raised in a family, but he also cared for families. And he cares about your family. That’s why he wants you to call on him for his wisdom and strength throughout your day. He especially wants to be with you in those times when you’re not sure how to help a child. Or when you need him to fill you with more of his love for your spouse. Or when you lack the grace that only he can give to forgive again and again.
And because Jesus grew up in a real family, you can also turn to his mother, Mary, and his foster father, Joseph, and ask them to intercede for you and your family. They lived family life, so they understand whatever you are experiencing.
For example, Mary knew what it was like to have a child who was different in many ways than other children. She experienced the panic of losing a child in a big city. She felt the pain involved in letting her son go to do the work God had sent him to do. And she watched at the foot of the cross as he suffered and died.
For his part, Joseph had to trust that God would help him as he cared for his pregnant wife, Mary, and searched for a place for her to give birth. He had to believe that God would protect his family when Herod sought to kill the baby Jesus. And he had to trust that he would be up to the task of raising this special son.
Whether or not you currently live in a family, you are related to some family member who needs your prayers. This Advent, pray to the Holy Family for those needs, and be assured that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are listening.
Thanking God for Your Family. Let’s also use this season to give thanks to our heavenly Father, who loved us so much that he sent his only Son to become human and live among us. Let’s thank him for giving Jesus a loving mother who has become our Mother and a faithful foster father who has become a model for fathers everywhere.
Let’s especially give thanks for our own family members, whether living or deceased. Let’s ask for the grace to forgive their failures and to love them as Christ loves us. May our Lord give our families the grace to live as communions of love—ones that mirror, in some way, the eternal communion of love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.