03 Jan December 29th, 2019
Deacon Blaine Barclay
Today is the feast of the Holy Family. Every year this feast is part of our celebration of the season of Christmas. The family is taken up into the mystery of the Word made flesh, the Incarnation.
It is easy for us to idealize the experience of the Holy Family. After all they were Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. Not at all like our experience of family life which is quite often less than ideal. Sometimes more like the Unholy Family if we were honest.
The Collect prayer for today speaks of the ‘virtues of family life’, and the ‘bonds of charity’. Both Virtue and Charity are often forged in the middle of struggle, and our readings today have a lot of good solid advice to give us about how to grow with what life sends us, which is often less than ideal.
Our first reading from the book of Sirach, says a lot about the dignity of the vocation of being a father or mother, of the respect and honour due to parents. It calls us to show kindness to our parents, especially when they grow old. It is inter-generational in that it connects kindness toward the previous generation with our capacity for joy in our own children. Family, both holy and unholy is always inter-generational and extended.
Our Psalm speaks of children being like ‘olive shoots’ around the family table. Making sense of family life with the metaphor of keeping a fruitful vineyard. I assume this includes both the need for pruning and fertilizer.
But let’s look at the model of the Holy Family presented for us in the gospel today. Not unlike our own experience of family life, it is a story of a vulnerable family under siege. A story filled with fear and foreboding, fleeing in the middle of the night, on multiple occasions. When you think of it, a homeless Holy Family. Refugees fleeing unthinkable violence, longing for home. Displaced, first from Nazareth, then from Bethlehem, then from Egypt, perhaps a second time from Bethlehem, and finally back home again to the relative safety of Nazareth. Somewhat out of the way of an all-pervasive Roman Rule, and the jealousy of kings.
Joseph is both a dreamer and a man of action. The word of God comes to him in a series of dreams over a number of years. He was a dreamer like the Joseph of old with the coat of many colours, who also ended up in Egypt. No doubt Joseph had a lot of dreams, most of which were of no account and quickly forgotten. Rare is the dream that points to something that we need to pay attention to. But like the Joseph of old, our Joseph was also an interpreter of dreams, one who knew how to listen to the ones that really mattered. In this regard he was not only a dreamer, but a man of action. Not afraid to risk everything in order to keep the family safe, to do what needed to be done.
And so, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, finally come home to the hidden life of Nazareth. No doubt strengthened by the bonds formed by their shared experience of tribulation, displaced by threatened violence, midnight flights, strangers in a strange land. Perhaps it was fear of a resurgence of this violence that lengthened the span of the hidden years. Kids usually leave home before their thirty, don’t they? For Jesus, from the beginning, public life was a risk. Life in the Holy Family was shelter from the storm.
And finally, our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Colossians. It reads like a recipe for a holy life, or for life in a Holy Family. Here are the ‘virtues of family life’ and the ‘bonds of Charity’ that our Collect prayer spoke of. ‘Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience. These are the practical lessons we are meant to learn form the gift of each other in family life. Like the Holy Family they are often forged in the furnace of our shared struggles. The key to everything, as every family knows, even in our brokenness, is love. How does St. Paul put it. ‘Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony’. Even the struggles, if only they are leavened by the Word of God. St. Paul again, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly”, as it did in the Holy Family. As we celebrate the Incarnation, let’s not forget that the Word became flesh as part of a family.