A reflection for the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas)

Father James Martin, S.J. reflects on the readings for December 25, 2022.
Catholic Voices

Readings (Year A):

Isaiah 62:1 – 5
Psalms 89:4 – 5, 16 – 17, 27, 29
Acts 13:16 – 17, 22 – 25
Matthew 1:1 – 25

Reflection: Our holy-ish Families

The best Christmas homily I’ve ever heard was maybe 20 years ago, at my home parish: Epiphany of Our Lord in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania. My family had gone to the family mass, which, as you know, is usually held around 4 or 5 PM, to accommodate families with kids, sometimes even earlier. 

At the gospel, Msgr. Joseph Gentili, the pastor, looked out onto a sea of families, many with babies and toddlers who were crying and fussing. Then he launched into the Gospel reading for that day, from Matthew: the genealogy of Jesus, the reading for the Christmas vigil mass. And it’s a long reading, tracing Jesus’s family tree all the way back to Abraham and ending up with Joseph, Mary’s husband. Matthew’s gospel, which was probably addressed to a largely Jewish audience, is very much concerned with linking Jesus to the Old Testament. 

Msgr. Gentili read that long reading, and you could hear all the kids squirming as he read out names like Ram and Boaz and Rahab and David and Uriah. After the gospel, he said, “Well, you’re probably asking yourself: Why did he read that whole reading?” 


Then he proceeded to say that it was to show that Jesus’s family wasn’t perfect. 

And it’s true.  In the middle of that long list are some surprising people, not always the holiest of men and women. Abraham, to begin with, unfairly banishes Ishmael, his own son, and Ishmael’s mother, Hagar, into the desert; Jacob steals his brother Esau’s birthright by deceiving their father; and David commits adultery with a woman named Bathsheba and then arranges to have Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, a warrior, put in the front of a battle, where he is killed

Jesus’s family tree also includes Tamar, a Canaanite woman, someone outside the Jewish faith, who seduces her father-in-law, Judah, so she could have a child, and Rahab, another Canaanite and an outsider, who is also a prostitute.

Msgr. Gentili said, “Look, out of that family could come something holy: Jesus.” And so our families, messed up as they may be, are also places where the holy can dwell. 

All of us have families, none of them are perfect all of them are dysfunctional. And you know even the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph would have had aunts and uncles and cousins who weren’t perfect.  Even they knew what it meant to live among imperfection. So this Christmas let’s all take a deep breath and remind ourselves how holiness makes its home in humanity. Just like God did at Christmas, in the person of Jesus.

About the author

James Martin, S.J.

James Martin, S.J. is the author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything (HarperOne, 2010).

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