The Feast of the Holy Family at St Mark the Evangelist Church in Norman, OK
December 29, 2002
Genesis 15:1-6; 1:1-3 + Hebrews 11:8, 11-12, 17-19 + Luke 2:22-40
One look at the families in the Bible, and you discover there’s hope for us all. Dysfunction is not a social phenomenon of the late twentieth century. That age just gave it a clever name that markets a lot of self-help books. We would like to think that all was well with Abraham and Sarah. After all, they were favored by God, open to God’s plans, and more or less happy to co-operate. Abraham tried to kill his son, Isaac! God had to intervene. Then Isaac had his own problems with his two sons who fought among themselves and tricked each other out of their inheritance. But who could be surprised, their ancestors, Adam and Eve ended up with Cane and Able. They didn’t do so well either!
The families of Biblical History are not much different from the families of our time. Infidelity, abuse, lying, cheating, rebellious children, murder, lonely widows, abandonment, illness, and early death. It’s all there. It’s all in our history. It’s all a part of being God’s people. This annual feast on the Sunday after Christmas can become stressful observance for many especially those who grew up with the Nelson family and the Cleavers as weekly models in their homes as television entertainment. I don’t know about you, but my dad never wore a tie in the house. He wore it to work, but came off just before his shoes when he walked through the door. I never saw Ozzie Nelson lying on the couch drinking a beer! While my parents kept their disputes to themselves and I never saw how they worked out their disagreements, I was keenly aware of the silence and stares that were a part of that process.
The consequence of all that idealism leaves us stranded in these days of single parent families, blended families, extended families, and families of persons not genetically related to one another. For some it may stir up guilt, disappointment, or anger. This feast has nothing to do with that. It invites us to think again about family in a more radical way: to reconsider the relationships of our lives. Famulus in Latin means servant, which would suggest that the real meaning of “family” is that place where one serves another, where places the needs, interests, desires and delights of the other ahead of their own.
Family is the nesting ground of society where each of us learn to live with and love one another discovering who we are and what we are capable of becoming. It is that net-work of relationships that keeps our ego in check, and teaches us to look out for one another. It strikes me that one of the unexpected benefits to rethinking the idea of “family” brought about by the broken relationships of our generations is that we might think bigger than the unit that shares the same address. The whole vision of the “Human Family” is a healthy one. It might inspire diplomats and politicians to think more creatively about how to bring peace to this world, and it might motivate all of us to look out for one another more personally when some of the family are out of work, homeless, sick or hungry.
This feast is no sentimental opportunity to compare ourselves to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. It comes as a reminder that there is family larger than those who share the same name or the same genes. Family is not a matter of marital fidelity. It is a relationship of care and service. It is a bond of grace and love. This day speaks to us of God’s family, and invites us to consider our ancestors in faith.
That is the role of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in this feast. We are related to them: to Abraham and Sarah too; to David, Samuel, Esther, Ruth, and Jeremiah; to Simeon and Anna; Peter, Andrew, James, and John. They are our brothers. Joan of Arc, Teresa of Avila, and Teresa of Calcutta; Oscar Romero and Dorothy Day are part of our family. They teach us to serve, how to be proud of ourselves, and they teach us the responsibility of love and service as a consequence of being born into the human family: the Holy Family that has God as Father and Mother of us all.