A Great Mystery: Marriage and the Family
“Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.” -Matthew 1:24-25
“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery.” –Paul in Ephesians 5:31-32
Christmas season comes with countless displays of the beautiful crèche showing the Nativity scene with the Holy Family: Joseph, Mary, and Baby Jesus. Advent statuary will adorn church lawns and fill lighted windows. Artistic renderings of the Holy Family will adorn millions of Christmas cards. This serves to remind us that Christmas is primarily about family.
In fact, the great Redemption theme of the Bible is centered in the union of a man and a woman. Christ is born of the seed of Abraham. Jesus is the authentic Son of David, although conceived by the Holy Spirit.
The opening recitative of Handel’s “Messiah” quotes Isaiah’s prophecy, “Behold a virgin shall conceive…” A wedding in Cana of Galilee is the site where Jesus’ ministry of miracles begins. The marriage theme runs like a thread from the Garden of Genesis to Revelation’s Wedding Supper of the Lamb.
Marriage was in its origins founded upon covenant. In Jewish law, betrothal involved a formal, binding contract, oaths given before a company of witnesses. However, the betrothed abstained from sexual relations (and the woman remained in her father’s house) until the actual wedding ceremony. Legitimate, intimate love was reserved for marriage alone.
From the beginning, it was God’s divine plan to bring forth the Messiah through the human family. (See Genesis 3:15) God seeks a holy offspring. (Malachi 2:15) That is why marriage is important. According to Paul, not everyone needs to be married to find fulfillment in life. But he held marriage in high esteem as a great mystery in God’s plan for the church.
In our time the sacred wedding ritual has degenerated into an event. A dramatic production. A photo op moment. You name it. If you can imagine it, then do it. Whatever happened to that happy but serious moment of a man and a woman standing at the church altar exchanging vows in the company of witnesses? That is no longer “cool.” This too is indicative of what has happened to the simplicity of Christmas. Today it is a commercial, plastic Santa Claus season, politically correct, void of all that is sacred and divine. Drained of all true meaning.
Still, I have hope at Christmas because I see a new generation coming which longs for values—values they have not known. They grew up in split, dysfunctional, and blended families. But now they want something more. We can offer them the everlasting Good News of Christ.
Let us be like the Wise Men and seek Him. He will be found of us. Beyond the temporal tinsel, Christ is there.
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