My friends, Holy Family Sunday, at least through the chosen Scriptures for today would seem to conjure up within us all that is good, true and wonderful about family life. These readings call forth in each of us how we should behave within our families—primarily with respect, honor, love and caring. They don’t address the situations when members within a family aren’t loved and cared for by the very people that should extend these gifts to them. But, we will leave that for now.
Each year the feast day of the Holy Family comes on the first Sunday after Christmas and it seems well-placed in our church year. We have just remembered the birth of our brother Jesus in Bethlehem, a small, insignificant place—really.
Our God makes it clear from the beginning that this graced life of Jesus will not be about position and power, but about time, place and action. We get the message through his lowly birth and the circumstances of him and his holy family living as refugees in his first years, literally running for their lives, as so many immigrant families at our borders are doing in our present day, of just who he would be coming to serve.
And for all the Christmas cards and greetings that proclaim this a season of peace, love and joy—we know that our brother Jesus would struggle his entire adult life in ministry to help his followers understand that it wasn’t an earthly kingdom that he came to establish—one that would overthrow the powers-that-be, but a kin-dom of love, care, mercy, justice and equality for all. Unfortunately, in our Church Universal, this later notion of “kingdom” and power-over” has clouded the image of the “kin-dom” that Jesus came to establish.
Ideas of getting at the humanity and the everyday struggles of this young family that we have come to call, “holy” have been discouraged and the ideas of a God asking the ultimate from this child, in time, to save humanity and make it acceptable to this God that we were all taught to fear have been those that have been uplifted.
And what has that done to our faith and belief systems? Basically, it has made God distant, one to be feared and really one who is unlovable. The real mystery and beauty of Christmas time is that our God, in all the glory that is God’s alone, freely chose to be close to us, in the only real way that it was possible to do so—by becoming one of us—with us. The theology that teaches otherwise is clearly wrong! That is man’s theology and I do mean, “man’s,” not God’s! We didn’t need to be “saved,” and we were already acceptable to God, more than acceptable!
The humanity of Jesus and the life into which he was born is only too obvious from the Christmas Scriptures shared this week. This was a poor family—[they] “laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.” Scriptures don’t tell us this, but the human heart knows that Mary and Joseph were a couple in love—that, is a given, because they couldn’t have raised the man that Jesus came to be had they not been a couple who loved deeply.
A friend shared an article with me this past week that talked about showing this purely, human fact—that of Mary and Joseph’s love for each other being at the heart of the Christmas story by the placing of the figurines of Mary and Joseph in the crib scene, not one on either side of the crib, but next to each other, embracing and supporting each other as a couple in love would do, at the birth of their child as they marveled at what had befallen them!
Marjorie Holmes, who writes so beautifully of that first Christmas in TWO FROM GALILEE, says that God chose Mary and Joseph to be Jesus’ earthly parents primarily because they already loved each other. Love goes a long way to get people through the bumps in the road of life. I think of many couples I know, family and friends, for which this is true. The outdated theology that depicts Joseph as a caretaker husband and father and wants to put such emphasis on Jesus’ parents living a celibate, married life is simply silly and not of God. To have the goodness, the comfort, the physical closeness of a partner for the journey is part and parcel of what made Jesus’ earthly family, holy, as all families are holy.
It was through his humanity and his earthly experience in the home that Mary and Joseph provided, complete with daily examples of love-in-action that Jesus was then able to show us, his earthly brothers and sisters on a larger scale, how we are to love as the God of us all intended.
My friends, this is all so simple, yet in its simplicity, profound. Loving well is the hardest thing any of us will do in our lifetime. Now that may sound strange when we have just come through a time of being with family and friends and hopefully physical expressions of love. And while we may still be basking in the goodness of warm times and moments with loved ones; we all know that true love isn’t always easy.
I am thinking of the “tough love” parents may sometimes have to give to help their children to grow “in wisdom and grace”—to become their best selves. Without this kind of love, in the best sense, and their love for each other; they wouldn’t have the stamina to give their children what they truly need to grow up well and be a credit to their world.
In the beginning I indicated that the readings for Holy Family Sunday might not be comforting and even more so, confusing, to those whose experience of parental love and care may have been lacking or downright cruel. As I said, these Scriptures don’t speak to this scenario, but Jesus helps us out in other places, indicating the way we must go: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We don’t take our lead from our fellow creatures, but from our brother Jesus. Jesus and God truly want us to become whole people, doing what is good for others, but for ourselves as well—it’s a balance.
The Holy Family calls each of us in our families to live as they did; keeping our eyes on what is most important—simply put—the love. Will it always be easy—no, it won’t, but it will always be rich because we can only measure the result by how much we have loved and again, that includes, loving ourselves. If we have loved well, selflessly for the most part, then even if all doesn’t turn out as we had hoped, we know that we chose the best in the end.
My friends, may each of you find love, joy and peace within family—however you find it in this blessed season. Amen? Amen!