by Genevieve Especkerman
My dear brothers and sisters, the season of Advent is here! And what an exciting and joyful time it is. Unlike Lent, this season of Advent is not a season of penance, but of wholehearted and joyful preparation for the coming of Jesus at Christmas! In John 3:16-17, it says for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. The gift of God the Father’s only son, Jesus, is the gift that we celebrate at Christmas, that through Jesus we might be saved and have eternal life with and in Him. Christmas is the mystery of the “marvelous exchange” of how Man’s Creator became man and we have been made sharers in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share our humanity (CCC526).
However, for some of us, this season can also be a difficult one. Being the end of the year, there are overseas trips to be gone on, many presents to buy, and many family gatherings to be a part of. Perhaps we may browse our social media feeds and see all our friends holidaying all around the world and wonder when our turn is to go on those vacations too. We may see all of the seemingly ‘perfect’ families at their Christmas gatherings, and wish that we had that kind of family too. We may begin to fall into the habit of comparison, and the green monster of envy can begin to creep up on us without us even realizing it.
The Green Monster of Envy
For myself, an area which I often fall into the sin of envy is in family. Seeing my friends at happy and joyful family gatherings on my social media especially during this holiday season can cause me to desire for that for myself too; that ache and longing in my heart for my family to be like theirs. However, this conjured image of my friend’s family as the “perfect family” does not exist and expecting my family to live up to an impossible reality will always leave me disappointed. While the desire for a loving and caring family is good, and is written into my heart by God, the expectations that I place upon my family members to fulfil my image of a “perfect” family is not. Something that the Lord reminded me as I prayed about this was also how as opposed to expecting my family members to change, I can instead try to change myself. To become a loving and caring daughter the way that the Lord had made to be.
This venture of mine of learning how to become a better daughter to the family that the Lord has gifted to me has required me to stretch the pegs of the tent of my heart, to learn how to love just as the Lord loves. And on this journey, I have found myself drawn to a devotion to the Holy Family. To Mary, the most beautiful handmaid of the Lord, to Joseph, the just man and protector of the family, and Jesus, the loving Son.
During this Advent season, I invite you to take a closer look at the lives of Mary and Joseph as they prepared for the birth of Jesus, their firstborn son, into their lives, and how we can draw strength and courage from their example to choose to be the sons and daughters to our families that the Lord invites us to be.
Mary and Joseph, Parents of the Word Incarnate
We first hear about the Holy Family during the Annunciation, where the angel Gabriel said to Mary that she was to conceive in her womb and bear a son, the son of God (Luke 1:26-35). Hearing this news, we know that Mary felt afraid, as the angel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary” (Luke 1:30). However, the beautiful thing is that Mary then chose to stay with the Lord in prayer, to continue conversing with Him even in the discomfort and the unknown. The deep trust that she had allowed her to then say “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). We also know that she was able to have this trust in the Lord because she had been close to Him even before this moment; Mary’s ongoing living relationship with God helped her to say her ‘yes’ to Him.
In the case of Joseph, less is said about him in the Bible, but we know that he was a man of the ordinary, a man of quiet faith. God called Joseph to “take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit”, so that Jesus, “who is called Christ”, should be born of Joseph’s spouse into the messianic lineage of David (CCC437). Grappling with how “That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (CCC497) and his role as foster father to the Son of God must have been close to impossible without the help of the grace of God given to him.
Joseph, we know, was a carpenter. A humble, honest trade. And it was this family the Lord had chosen for Jesus to be born into, not a noble rich family that we might think more “fitting” for the Son of God to be a part of. Through Joseph’s example, we learn about bringing God into the everyday aspect of our lives; God is not there only at mass, or only when we go for retreats, or even only when we pray. God is everywhere, all the time. Living this life of total consecration and trust in the Lord at all times is what Joseph teaches me.
In CCC533, it says “the hidden life at Nazareth allows everyone to enter into fellowship with Jesus by the most ordinary events of daily life”. This could only happen through Mary and Joseph’s faithfulness and ‘yes’es every day as they prepared for the coming of Jesus into the world, and even as they raised him during Jesus’ hidden life–His growing-up years as he matured under their love and care before the days of His public ministry. Thus, we are also called to live out our love for God in a rather ordinary, seemingly not-very-spectacular manner.
Answering the Call to Discomfort
However, for many of us, the tendency that we have is to run away whenever we feel the Lord calling us to do something new or different or uncomfortable; when He calls us out of our comfort and out of compartmentalizing Him into certain areas of our lives. God desires for us to grow, to say our ‘yes’es to Him and invite Him into every area of our lives, but somehow our first instinct is to run.
In my own life, when I first heard the prompting from the Lord to re-examine the area of family, I felt very apprehensive and unsure of how any change could come about. After all, it had been the same for as long as I can remember. Was change really possible?
As much as I had no idea how this would all come about, I decided to give my tentative “yes” to Him, to give it a try.
This prompting to re-examine this area of family came during the time where I was attending the School of Witness (SOW), an 8-week live-in discipleship school at OYP in January-March this year. Every week, we would be given some time to go home and spend with our families during the weekend. I knew that the Lord was calling me to choose to make an effort to love my family and spend time with them more every week as I went back home from the School, instead of spending it in my room as I usually would do. Though I felt very challenged as I headed home every week, the Lord gave me the courage that I needed every week to make the seemingly tiny changes in the way that I spent my time at home. An example would be choosing to walk into my mom’s room to chat with her for a few minutes when I reached home every Saturday instead of going straight to my room.
This intentional change that I tried to make of spending more time with my family began at the start of the year, and has been the area in which the Lord has been calling me to work on throughout the year. Despite the many challenging moments, calling upon the Lord as I continue to say my “yes”es to Him in this area of my life has brought me much comfort and courage. The prayer of my heart has been for my own heart to be changed, to come to love them in the same way that the Lord loves them. Or sometimes, to just pray for the desire to pray for them sincerely when I feel like I cannot.
But I know that change is happening in my family even when I cannot see it; I know that I can choose to trust in Him that my trying to change the way that I interact with my family is good enough for Him. I know that He is bringing healing to my family.
Our families are no accident. We were each put in our own particular families for a reason.
We are all called to be a witness to the love of Christ to the people we love the most, and the good news is that there are many who we can look to for help! Just as Mary and Joseph were role models for Jesus and teaching Him as he was growing up, we can look to Mary and Joseph, especially in this Advent season, to teach us how to be witnesses to the Gospel in our own families.
Bless Your Family Today
This Advent, I invite you to take active steps in blessing your family. As you draw on the love and grace from the Lord, allow your heart to be changed to be transformed to become more like His!
- Pray intentionally for your family members, especially those who have left the church (the St. Monica prayer is one that I hold close to my heart)
- Ask your family members out for a simple meal to spend time and share life.
- Invite your family to pray and reflect on the advent booklet together (can be found at http://www.one.org.sg/resources/advent-to-christmas-reflection-booklet-2019/)
- Do random little acts of service for your family members e.g. writing a sticky note telling them to have a good day and pasting it on their doors in the morning, volunteering to make a meal for them etc.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, O Most Holy Family, pray for us as we take these courageous steps this Advent!
About me: Hi! I’m Genevieve, and a part of the OYP community, The Lord’s Vineyard. I recently entered the world of adulting and it has been a real adventure with the Lord learning how to navigate this new stage of life together with Him. Golden retrievers make me very happy!