Sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas
30th Dec 2018
The Feast of the Holy Family 2018
Bear with one another… Colossians 3.13
It is natural at Christmas for The Church to be observing this Feast of the Holy Family. For Christians celebrate at Christmas the coming of Emmanuel, a name which means ‘God With Us’. God sends us his only begotten and beloved Son. And the Christmas story unfolds in a journey made by a family. Significant events mark the way: the arrival at the stable in Bethlehem, the delivery of the child, the visit of the shepherds and the wise men, Joseph’s dream and the decision to escape from danger and into Egypt. All is held within the bond of love and courage that exists within that one small Holy Family.
This morning’s Gospel reading has us fast forward twelve years to the loss of the boy Jesus in the Temple. This, you might think, seems a strange and sudden departure from the Christmas narrative. But its purpose is sure : it places the life of Jesus, the Jesus we proclaim as God, firmly within the patterns and the rhythms and the events of life within a human family. And it’s within the experiences of a close and loving family, that deep veins of life are lived out. Our sense of identity in adulthood is inescapably shaped by our experience as members of our own family. And family history has played its own part, and contributed, to our adult existence for good or ill. There is much evidence of how families have failed and have left brokenness and sadness in their wake. Many families are divided by misunderstanding and an unwillingness to forgive. But equally family life has given strength and joy and hope and we have carried the goodness of it forward and been glad for it.
It is not possible for us to find our true identity as solitaries. Some kind of interdependent life is necessary if we are to grow as persons. And the attempt to fix our lives according to our sole wishes and gratifications often proves joyless and useless. Many who have driven themselves into this way of living nonetheless reach out (perhaps very tentatively) toward some kind of communion with others. It becomes necessary that there exist communities of hope, which welcome in those who seek to find a place of belonging. We are as a human race, made for community. It is the Church’s task to be the ‘Body of Christ on earth’ and to offer to our members places of honest welcome and real belonging. And in this endeavour there is the desire to respect the individuality and the true worth of every person who comes through the door. On this feast of the Holy Family please pray that The Church may offer a place of big and broad family life and a truly open community. This is a family that we have not chosen but one which we believe God has chosen for us.
The second aspect of this story of the boy Jesus in Jerusalem grows out of the first. Jesus grows in stature as he is nurtured by what we may call his three families; the first as son of Mary and Joseph, the second, held within the Jewish family of faith of which the Temple is home, and the most important, and the third the relation Jesus has, even as a twelve year old boy, with God. It is revealed in the Temple with the elders as Holy Wisdom, and it becomes clear that this is no ordinary boy, but one with a manifest destiny. The story of his being apparently ‘lost’ by his parents and then found in the Temple serves to further emphasize that Jesus is destined both in the ordinary life of a carpenter’s son in Nazareth and as the bearer of Godly wisdom. He is ‘found’ by his parents while at God’s service, which will take him away from them. This story echoes the one which refers to Samuel hundreds of years before Jesus who served God in the Temple and whose life was dedicated to listening to the Word of God.
As we enter into a New Year, 2019, it seems entirely appropriate for us to be honoring the Holy Family and spending time thinking about the idea of family. In our own time, the idea of family has become enlarged and made both more simple and complex. But its identifying marks are ones which speak of nurture and love and understanding and belonging and stability, and sharing and forgiving – ‘…bear with one another, that you may fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6.2) . There is a call here for the Church as the family of God on earth to be more of the kind of society which encourages our co-creative potential. A place of healing and of transformation. ‘Better Together’ was the title of a book written out of a potentially divided city, Liverpool, in the 1980s.
It’s a good message for the coming New Year, both at the local and global level.