05 Jan Feast of the Holy Family
Deacon Blaine Barclay
December 31, 2017
All families are called to holiness, and the example of the Holy Family will help us get there. In our readings today, there are actually two holy families. The Jewish holy family of Abraham Sarah, and Isaac; and the Christian Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Both families are iconic, proto- families, models, exemplar families of faith, who teach us lessons about faith and family.
Let’s begin with the most ancient ’holy family’. Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac. They came from a place called Ur in Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq. They were nomads who wandered and kept sheep, trading their meat, wool, and milk. Ur was actually their market town. Mesopotamian culture at the time was polytheistic, they worshiped many gods and represented them in a variety of idols of wood and stone and metal.
In the middle of all of this, later in life, Abraham, ’Our father in faith’, has a foundational experience of an invisible God, who claims to be the only God, who makes and keeps promises, who invites Abraham and Sarah into a relationship of trust, a covenant relationship of faith. What does this God promise this elderly couple? What impossible future does the word of this God make possible? They have no land, no children, no future. Dissipated among the fragmented field of the plurality of gods, they have no hope. In the middle of this their scattered lives God calls them to a future. God promises them descendants ’as many as the stars in the sky, the sand on the seashore’. The promise is for their children’s, children as well. God promises them a home-land, a promise land, a place for their descendants to dwell in, for all generations to come.
So transformative is this call, promise, covenant, future, that they are given new names. Abram becomes Abraham, Sari becomes Sarah. Sarah, long barren, becomes pregnant with child. The child’s name is Isaac (Itzak in Hebrew) which means, ’to laugh’. Sarah said, ’God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me’. God turned her sorrow into joy, her mourning into dancing, her tears into laughter. Family, becomes for her and for all of us, the place of laughter, of forgetfulness of self, and mutual delight in the presence of the other members of the family.
Was Sarah and Abraham’s laughter an end to sorrow and struggle for them? No, long was their future journey. But, given the joy and laughter also given with this promise, Abraham and Sarah left the security of their homeland and set out in faith, trusting in the promises of God. As our second reading says; ‘[Abraham] set out, not knowing where he was going’. Sounds like my life sometimes. About Sarah it says; ’by faith Sarah herself… received power to conceive, even when she was too old, because she considered him faithful who had promised’. Let us also enter with faith into Gods promises, God’s future, God’s gift of faith and laughter.
So, now with the backcloth of our Jewish holy family, with their gift of faith, of trust in God’s future, God’s promise, God’s gift of laughter, let us turn to our other Holy Family, the first family, of the new covenant, the Messianic family; Jesus, Mary and Joseph. What lessons do they have to teach us and our families, what promises, what future do they invite us into?
We know that they were a poor family, can only afford to offer two young pigeons. So, we know from their example that poverty alone is no barrier to holiness. We also know that they were open to receive the faith testimony of others, that they listened to the righteous, devout testimony of Simeon, ’that the child’s father and mother, (Mary and Joseph), were amazed at what was being said about [Jesus]’. They received Simeon’s blessing even though the promised future included a sword piercing the heart of Mary. Every mother and father worthy of the name, embraces the task of suffering ‘with’ the struggles and trials of their children. There is no pain quite like the pain of the one we love. Mary and Joseph said yes, not only to the profound mystery of the Incarnation, but to a participation of in the suffering of their Son as well.
They listened also to the testimony of the Prophet Anna. Yes, women can be prophets, perhaps more than men. Powerful was her testimony; ’She never left the temple, but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day’. Anna praises God and speaks about Jesus to everyone who will listen.
In response to all this testimony about their Son, what do Mary and Joseph do? Their response is as simple as it is profound. ’When Mary and Joseph had finished everything required by the Torah, the law of the Lord, they returned to…their own town of Nazareth’. They went home, and attended to ’the duty of the moment’, the hidden life of Nazareth, the little things done with great love. They watched and waited, and hoped for their child what every parent longs for their children. Growth, strength, wisdom, and the favour of God. As our gospel puts it; ’The child gre