30 December 2018 at St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl
Sirach 3, 2-6, 12-14 + Psalm 128 + Colossians 3, 12-21 + Luke 2, 41-52
There is some great wisdom behind our old tradition of reflecting upon family just after Christmas. After all, when God had finally decided it was time to enter into a real and lasting covenant with us, God seemed have decided that it should be through and within a real family. Taking a breather between Christmas and the celebration of a New Year offers us the chance to reflect and wonder about the mystery of family life. Of course, in our own times, what makes up or identifies a “family” is not quite as consistent as it might have been a generation or two ago. Regardless of who makes up a family these days when single-parent families seem to be growing in numbers, and extended families are more scattered, there is one element that doesn’t change. A family is bound, in one way or another, to consist of parents, and in that there lies some mystery.
This unique family who leads our reflections today may be unique in how it all got started by the message of some angels, but I don’t believe for a moment that after that birth there was anything terribly unique. Mary and Joseph were parents facing the frustrating and demanding challenges that St. Luke describes throughout the Gospel. Those two parents, just like any of you who have parented face the difficult discovery that your child is just not going to go along with you every step of the way. Their story with their son is the story of a real family living with conflicts, disappointments, frustrations, fear, and surprises. I think that this little family in Nazareth, or where ever they were, are symbolic of all kinds of relationships.
What those parents experienced is nothing different from what any of you have experienced. When they couldn’t find their son, you know what that fear is like. When they did find him and faced the fact that he was going to discover his own path in life, it had to have come as a jolt. He wasn’t going to be carpenter. He wasn’t going to inherit the shop. No matter what they might have hoped for him, he did not belong to them, and you know what it is like to come to that realization.
It might be fun to let your imagination run with that scene in the Temple when they finally found him. Isn’t it interesting that the Temple is where they went to look for him? Not in the market or a Mall, not in some night-spot that might attract adolescents, but in the Temple. As his first teachers, they taught him what every child needs to learn: something about God. So that is where they went, and that is where they found him. I love to imagine the real conversation not polished up by Saint Luke for his Gospel. My best bet is that he got grounded, and from the way the Gospel is put together, he was grounded for about twenty more years. I like to think that in response to his comment Mary really said: “Your time has not yet come. Get on the donkey.” It would be with a son’s knowing smile that some years later, he would repeat what she said at a wedding in Cana: “My time has not yet come”, and in quick response I think she said: “Oh yes it has, there is no wine. Do something to help.” Consistent with everything we have to go by in the scriptures, Joseph never says a word, but he is always there and he listens, and then he vanishes. The scriptures put very few words on Mary’s lips; but not much. Yet, every mother in this church could put words in her mouth, and they would probably be true. I can imagine her prayers now and then: “Dear God, that angel never warmed me about this!” “Will someone explain to me why he went off after that wild trouble maker named John.” “What in the world was he doing out there in the desert?”
What we are left to celebrate today is our relationships with those we love most deeply. What we may ponder in our prayer today is that the greatest gift we can give others is respect and the freedom to become all that God has created us to be. It is the secret of parenting I think. It is the key that unlocks the mystery of God’s plan for each one of us. Don’t be grieving because your children did not do what you wanted or live the way you expected. Rejoice in their freedom and trust in the one thing promised to Mary: “Nothing is impossible with God.”
If I had children, I would call them today and just tell them once more how much they are loved and give them a blessing.