Christmas II – Holy Family
2018 – Cycle ABC
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalm 128; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52
I didn’t know what to do with myself so I began opening envelopes. I realized the pile of greetings were a strange and unexpected mixture of Isaian prophecy urging us to rejoice for “A child is born for us” and sympathy and prayers on the death of my mother. The image of mother and child, so much at the heart of the Christmas Season, lay shattered in my lap like a broken piece of pottery.
T. S. Eliot in his verse play, Murder in the Cathedral, reflects on this same convergence of the two experiences. In the Interlude, he asks us to consider that on Christmas Day we celebrate the Lord’s birth by celebrating the Mass, the presence of Jesus’ passion and death. Sacred texts paradoxically lay alongside each other: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will” [Luke 2:14] with “On the day before he was to suffer Jesus took bread…and broke it” [Roman Missal]. Eliot concludes it is only in the Christian mysteries that we can rejoice and mourn at once and for the same reason. Paul’s letter to the Romans soberly states: “In life and death we belong to God” [Romans 14:8].
On this sixth day of Christmas we reflect on the Holy Family. A mother and father, Joseph and Mary, are rejoicing at Passover; God’s deliverance of his people by great signs and wonders from the slavery of Egypt into freedom while they come to find themselves filled with great worry and fear over a son that has gone missing and they cannot find. How paradoxical? Jesus, who will preach parables about seeking out the lost is himself lost. Yet is there ever a time or season that parents do not worry about their children? Consider Guatemalan and Salvadoran parents who have had to send their children toward our borders alone for fear of them being killed by drug lords and gangs. The fears of parents whose children are missing, or sick or have died on route or Yemeni parents watching their children starve.
Opposing views, like rejoicing and mourning, collide. “We have been looking for you.” “Why were you looking for me?” “Your father and I…” Must I not be in “my Father’s house?” Love and concern collide with growing self-awareness and maturity. At twelve years of age, Jesus is approaching adulthood. And while at this time in life his parents express great worry and concern for their son, the Son will express deep concern for the future of his mother as from the cross he will place Mary into the care of the Beloved Disciple. He recreates family for Mary whose family is dying. Without husband or son, in this culture without relationship to a male, Mary will become a no – person. The twelve year old Jesus who challenged his mother now as an adult assures her dignity and personhood.
Is not so much of family life about reversals, about colliding views and letting go, about the convergence of rejoicing and sadness?
Consider the opening passage from the Book of Sirach. “God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority God confirms over her sons.” Yet by the conclusion of the passage roles are reversed for the child is an adult. “My son, take care of your father [and mother when they are] old; grieve [them] not as long as [they live]. Even if [their] mind fail, be considerate of [them]…” How contemporary that sounds as children and spouses often must deal with forms of dementia and infirmity and the healthcare decisions that stem from the experience.
In all this we are called to be holy. Holiness is not perfection and obviously doesn’t not prevent us from the collisions and reversals of daily family living. So, what is holiness in the midst of family? Sirach states three values: honour, reverence and kindness to a parent. After the collision of generations, the Gospel concludes that the family came together, Jesus was obedient to his parents and Mary, and I expect Joseph, reflected on the event in their hearts. Holiness is being aware of the true realities of human relationship and life which so often are reflected in the paradoxes of “A child is born for us” with “Requiem aeternam…Eternal rest…”; “Glory to God in the highest…” with “On the day before he was to suffer…” Through those paradoxes, like Jesus, we all advance “in wisdom, and age and favour before God…”