(Sunday sermons, talks, and teaching)
Luke 2:22, 39-40
‘The child grew to maturity, and he was filled with wisdom;
and God’s favour was with him’ (Luke 2:40)
I chose to read the shortened version of our gospel this morning for two reasons; first we are going to encounter this passage again in a few weeks’ time at Candlemas, and secondly, the main point Luke wants to make this morning is that Jesus, the eternal Son of God the Father, grew up and was formed in a human family – that Holy Family. Today’s celebration can teach us something about our faith. Falling on the Sunday in the Octave of Christmas, the Feast of the Holy Family is a natural extension of Christmas Day itself, the next step in unfolding the mystery of the Incarnation. God the Son chose to become “God-with-us”, he chose to become incarnate in Mary, he chose to be born in humble conditions; then he also chose to grow up as children do within the ordinariness of a human family. In this Holy Family, God humbled himself to learn obedience to earthly parents and how to relate to other people. Why?
In his loving purpose to redeem us in Jesus Christ, God assumed our flesh, our nature, and all the triviality of our being human; so he assumed also the tricky dynamics of human relationships, including family life. So in honouring the Holy Family we see how Jesus redeemed everything about our lives, even our sometimes dysfunctional families, showing us a better way, a holy way, to be family…
A better way to be family… These are loaded words. I understand it. And on this feast there is always a strong danger for preachers to hold up the Family of Nazareth as the divine blue print for the ideal set up of a Christian family – mummy and daddy are happily married, and their child is so adorably well-behaved that even a carol sings “no crying he makes”. I say a danger because a family so idealized could be a stumbling block for many of us, rather than an inspiration. Besides, in practice families don’t always work like that, and our domestic arrangements are, more often than not, rather more complicated that the ones faced by the Holy Family, even with all their travels as refugees, and their having to lodge in a stable – mummy and daddy are not necessarily happily married, or together at all, and sometimes the children can be a bit of a handful to say the least. So, what would the Feast of Holy Family teach us, teach our families, today? Rather than a blue print for our domestic set up they can become a spiritual model for our families in the sense that in the home of Nazareth we see an “authentic school of the Gospel” (JPII & Francis, Angelus Messages on 30 Dec 2001 & 27 Dec 2015), where Mary and Joseph, gathered around the living Word of God, lead their household in a way that is intentionally centred on faith and commitment to God.
We must look beyond the very unique features of the Holy Family’s domestic arrangements to see how Jesus, Mary, and Joseph can teach every home to be or become a “domestic church” (Lumen Gentium)– a community where the Christian habits of love, faith, and hope are practiced and taught; a haven of unconditional affection, a place where – as the introduction to the wedding service says – ‘each member, in good times and in bad, can find strength, companionship and comfort, and grow to maturity in love.’
May the prayers of the Holy Family help us to put God at centre of our homes, and gain for us the grace we need to imitate their devotion to one another in our relationships. Amen.
‘I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:
to you is born this day a Saviour, who is the Christ, the Lord.’ (Luke 2:10-11)
Earlier this week a BBC programme claimed that up to 25% of people who wouldn’t normally class themselves as religious believe in angels. So, it seems that even in our post-Christian, secular society many people still retain something of the time-honoured belief about these heavenly creatures. And the Christmas story we come to celebrate tonight is full of them.
Reading first couple of chapters of Luke’s gospel we encounter angels everywhere – speaking, singing, catching people by surprise in the ordinariness of their lives, and bringing to them messages from God. They pave the way, as it were, for the Christmas story to unfold; as if directing a large theatre production, the divine drama of the Incarnation, they invite each character to play their part… They speak to the Virgin Mary, they speak to Joseph, at the beginning of the book they even speak to Zachariah about the birth of John the Baptist, and tonight they speak to us… ‘I am bringing you good news of great joy’, says the angel; and confronted by these news, what should our response be?
If anything, 2017 has been the year of “Fake News”; at best these have been stories where the truth was side-lined in order to read as sensational headlines, and at their worst fake news have been clever pieces published to deceive or gain some dishonest advantage. So, when we hear again a two-thousand year old Bible story about heavenly creatures delivering incredible news, a few people, now perhaps more than ever before, may quite reasonably remain a little sceptic. But unseen, unheard, the angels speak to us tonight – the words of the gospel reading and the verses of our Christmas carols re-echo for us the first song they sang to the shepherds about the birth of Jesus Christ. Unseen, unheard, the angels speak to us in this place, and they bring us messages from God, true news about a child born for us. Unseen, unheard, the angels come to worship with us that child who is their King.
The Bible story speaks of shepherds living in the fields; people with whom we have probably little in common. But we have already travelled in the cold winter air, like the shepherds did, to worship the Christ-child. And the angels’ message for us is about another journey that lies before us; to travel yet further to a spiritual Bethlehem, to travel with our hearts to Jesus, to see him with in humble condition in which he was born for us, and to invite him to enter our lives – tonight – that he might live with us, and us for him.
‘I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:
to you is born this day a Saviour, who is the Christ, the Lord.’
Whether we remain sceptic about angels, or we take all news with a large pinch of salt, the good news proclaimed tonight remains; our salvation, our peace, our future lies wrapped in cloths in a stable, where God himself has come to be one of us. Like the shepherds, it is up to you to reach out to meet him.