The celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ is fundamentally a message of life. Jesus is alive, he brings and gives life. God entered human history through the family. Most of Jesus’ life on earth was a hidden life, with Mary and Joseph. The Holy Family identify many families in difficult circumstances. With God as Father and Mary as mother, Jesus did not have an ordinary, but an extraordinary family.
The Family is a small expanding enterprise and the mother is the Chairwoman. Winston Churchill said that there is no doubt that it is around the family and the home that all the greatest virtues, the most dominating virtues of human society, are created, strengthened and maintained.
The visitation of Mary to Elizabeth recalls how John the Baptist lept in the womb upon meeting Jesus. Luke uses the greek word Brephos which means an infant. This is one of the first signs that the message of Jesus is a message of life. John is an unborn baby, like Jesus, alive in the womb.
The Holy Family can relate and identify with many marginal groups through their own story. The Holy Family can identify with refugees, as Mary, Jesus and Joseph fled to Egypt, they also identify with those persecuted and inhabitants of countries that are occupied.
Mary can relate to those with difficult pregnancies. The circumstances in which Jesus was born means that the Holy Family can closely relate to those with unwanted pregnancies. Jesus was not unwanted himself, but born in a precarious situation. Joseph and Mary were not married when Jesus was conceived and initially Joseph was sceptical of Mary’s fidelity. Jesus had no earthly father, so he can also relate to single parent families, single mothers and those adopted who have foster fathers.
The Holy Family was clearly poor, Christ chose to become poor for our sake, so he can be united to those on the borders of society, those who have no homes and little security. God ensures us in Isaiah 49:15 that even if a mother forgot her nursing child, he will not forget us.
Jesus can relate to problem teenagers as he went off himself without parental consent to discuss matters in the temple. Although he did not sin in this circumstance, he can identify with the difficulties of turbulent teenage years.
Mary and Joseph can also relate to those with problems of fertility. They lived both the married life and celibate vocation simultaneously, and they did not have any children resulting from their marriage vows. They can also relate to those in difficult marriages as Joseph resolved to separate from Mary quietly when he discovered she was pregnant. But after a dream he changed his mind.
Jesus was born amidst a time of terrible infanticide, according to Matthew’s Gospel. The massacre of the innocents by Herod to avoid the loss of his throne fulfils the ancient prophecy of Jeremiah who recalls Rachel’s voice mourning for her children in Ramah.
In 2013, two bioethicists caused international outrage by writing an article advocating infanticide. Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva argued that foetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons and that ‘after birth abortion should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.’ The spirit of Herod is still alive today.
The life of Jesus Christ tells us that he came that we “may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10). He called for the “little children to come to me” (Matthew 19:14). It was clear that his life was to break many taboos of his age. Rahab the prostitute is mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew (1:5) as one of the ancestors of Jesus. This is a sign that God extends his mercy to all those who trust and demonstrate strong faith in him.
Even Solomon chose life when asked to judge between the claims of two women, each of whom claimed possession of a newborn baby (1 Kings 4). The first claimed the other stole her newborn during the night, the other said the live baby was hers. Soloman called for the baby to be cut in two. He saw the response from the true mother, and commanded the baby be given to her.
The Old Testament contains many passages calling for help towards orphans and widows. The book of James calls such work pure and undefiled religion. Widows and orphans are the most defenceless members of society. Neither can support themselves nor have anyone to support them. Their condition placed them outside the normal protections of society. They are the helpless poor.
The work of helping the unborn today is helping both orphans and widows. Unborn babies scheduled to be aborted have been orphaned by parents and are in need of help. Many women are widows after losing children through abortion. Helping the unborn is helping both orphans and widows simultaneously.
Jesus was born also as a helpless child. Let us see his face in all the children that we can help, born and unborn. Rather than knowing about Jesus, we can know him personally, and know he is real.