We are old. We are dedicated and faithful…. We are young and full of hope.
The Holy Family—that’s Jesus, Mary, and Joseph—wasn’t just any family. In both Matthew and Luke we learn that Joseph was a descendant of David and in Luke, that Mary and her cousin Elizabeth were descendants of Aaron. These families were not wealthy, but they would have been well respected—and their backgrounds obviously mattered to the gospel writers.
We also learn that the story of the Holy Family doesn’t begin with the announcement of Jesus’ coming. It begins with the news of another pregnancy. Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, are expecting a son, to be named John, after years of having no children.
When the angel Gabriel appears to Mary to explain that she, too, will have a child, Mary is afraid, but comes to rejoice in God’s choosing of her. She goes to Elizabeth, perhaps to celebrate both pregnancies, perhaps to get the older woman’s guidance. When they first meet, Elizabeth knows that Mary is carrying the Lord (Luke 1:43), and Elizabeth’s baby, still in the womb, leaps for joy (Luke 1:44). In the Magnificat (Luke 1:46–55), Mary expresses gratitude to God and her amazement at God’s work in her. She stays with Elizabeth for three months.
Luke goes on to describe the scenes when John and Jesus are taken to the temple a week after each is born. On both occasions, those at the temple are marked by the experience. Those who witness John’s circumcision and naming are astounded when Zechariah, who has been unable to speak for several months, expresses a great prophecy for his son (Luke 1:59–79). Jesus is recognized by two elders as the Messiah and is celebrated for all that he will do (Luke 2:25–38).
We can imagine how Mary and Joseph might have felt—terrified of what might happen to their little child as he comes into the world, fearing threats at every turn. And yet also filled with joy and celebration, open to what God is up to and ready for the challenge of parenthood.
And even though we know that the story ends in sorrow as these two families experience the tragic deaths of their two sons, we are renewed in the promise that new life always brings us—the incredible possibilities that a small child might change the world.
- Why does it matter that Joseph is a descendant of David? Or that Mary and Elizabeth are descendants of Aaron?
- Why do you think Mary visited Elizabeth?
- When you consider Mary’s situation, do you think the Magnificat is a reasonable response?
- What do you think Mary and Elizabeth spoke of during their three-month visit?
- What would it be like to have your child recognized by others for being great and being embraced within your faith community? How does this relate to how we celebrate infant baptism?