Holy Family Sunday 2018
December 30, 2018
Rev. Doug Floyd
For centuries, the Coptic church has celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family as they meditate upon the story of the time Jesus spent in Egypt. In fact, every year Egyptian Christians continue to rehearse the story of the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt. Pilgrims ferry across the Nile, singing and clapping in holy procession. This is one of the greatest stories in their culture. In rehearsing the story, they remember that God did not forget Egypt. He did not abandon the land of refuge.
In the twentieth century, the Roman Catholic church followed suit and also began to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. This is a day to meditate upon the mystery of Immanuel, God with us, even in the life of our families.
Scripture records that in the fullness of time, the Lord enters human history to redeem it. Just as the popular Scripture reminds us, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16).
Today’s Gospel reading reminds us of the mystery of his coming, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14). Matthew and Luke emphasize another aspect of the Word becoming Flesh, he enters into history the way all humans enter history, as a baby born into a family.
In Luke’s account, the angel appears to the shepherds and proclaims, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Lk 2:11–12.
And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. Lk 2:16.
Matthew tells the story of the Wise Men coming to behold this Christ, and they encounter Mary with the child Jesus. Next week, our Epiphany readings will focus on this encounter.
With these stories, we pause over the mystery of the Word Made Flesh and born to the Virgin Mary and raised by Mary and Joseph. We pause over the mystery of family.
Genesis tells us that when God creates the world, his culminating work is the creation of man and woman:
In verse 26, God says, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Ge 1:26.
And in verse 27, we read,
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. Ge 1:27.
Three times in two verses we are told that humans are created in the image of God. The whole person bears the image of God and in some way that includes the male and female together, that is the first family. Human history is the story of families. The family precedes all human structures including the government and the church. It is the first and primary place of becoming human.
Becoming human is way of speaking about how we are form into image bearers. Children bear the image of their parents and their siblings. In family, we learn to eat, sleep, walk, speak. We are living images of our families: both physically and emotionally. We have characteristics we may like and other we may not like that have formed in response to our families.
In the family, we experience warmth and comfort. We are named and we learn a way of seeing, a way of living, a way of laughing…and crying. In the family, we also experience great pain and loss. Consider the first two children: Cain kills Abel. Loss. Death. Pain.
The loss of a child or a parent may be the deepest loss we ever experience in life.
The family is the place of God’s blessing and the place of human sin and brokenness. All of us experience both in differing degrees. During the holidays, the sense of loss can be particularly poignant. Eight years ago, we took my father to the hospital on Thanksgiving and he died a couple days later. My brother has never wanted to go back home to mom’s for Thanksgiving. The sense of loss still pangs.
Some people feel denied the experience a full family. Some have never had a father or a mother, or have never had the joy of children. Others feel the loneliness of a single life without marriage. All these pains can feel particularly intense when we see the celebration of people around us, experiencing joys that are out of reach for us.
Many people have experienced the devastation of brokenness in family: separation, divorce, anger, arguments, never-ending feuds. Ive preached more than one funeral where family members would not speak across the aisle, and in one case an argument almost broken out during the service.
Years ago, I did a retreat on relationships. As I prepared, I was fascinated by the absence of healthy families in Scripture. Brokenness and violence abounds. Sons against fathers. Husbands being unfaithful to wives. Parents even sacrificing their children to Molech. It would seem the family is broken beyond repair.
And yet, when the Lord chooses to bring his blessing of redemption through Abraham’s offspring, he promises to bless the families of the earth. We can think of the world both then and now through the story of families or tribes. Nowadays, tribes become some type of surrogate family usually based on like interests or political beliefs.
Now with this overly brief reflection on family, I turn toward our texts today. The Isaiah lesson focuses on the restoration of Israel. This restoration is framed in terms of coming home and restoring the love between the bridegroom and his bride:
4 You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
5 For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your sons marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you (Is 62:4-5)
Our Psalm recounts the particular blessings that God pours out on one family: the Children of Israel. Our Galatians reading expands the notion of God’s chosen family. In Christ, the family is no longer limited to the blood descendants of Abraham.
8 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:28-29)
In Christ, both Jew and Gentile become Abraham’s blessed offspring. The Galatians lesson also highlights a similar reflection from the Gospel reading where John says that, “to all who did receive him (Jesus the Christ), who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
And Galatians 4 says,
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”
With these lessons in mind, I want to highlight to aspects of Christmas that speak to this idea of family. First, the act of adoption and secondly, the implications of the Word made Flesh.
The promise to Abraham is being fulfilled in the coming of the Son. In Jesus Christ, a way has been made for Jew and Gentile, male and female, rich and poor, to be adopted into the family of God. This is one of the great themes consistent all through Scripture. Those who were far off have been bought near. The orphan has been set in a family.
One of the primary metaphors Paul uses to describe the church is family. He does not call attention to this metaphor continuously but all his language of the church implicitly reinforces that we have become a new family: one new man. In Christ, we have become brothers and sisters. Our family bond is not in blood, it is not in common interests, and is not in political or ideological beliefs, it is in Christ. In Christ, both male and female have become the sons of God.
Though this family takes expression in local worship and fellowship, it extends beyond these walls and reaches into the prisons of China, the deserts of Africa, and back into the history of the world. In Christ, we are bound together with people from every race and tribe, this new family, carries the blessing of God for all nations.
The other day, we baptized Lewis, and this was a specific physical and spiritual act of acknowledging and experiencing the grace of God in bringing Lewis into the family. There is healing grace in this family as we all gather before the throne of God to worship and to eat and encounter the life of Christ poured out for us that binds us together as one.
Humans are still broken and we still hurt one another in this family. At the same time, by God’s grace, we are learning how to love and how to be loved, how to give and how to receive, how to serve others and how to let others serve us. We are learning the mystery of the Triune life of love.
With this in mind, I’ll say a few final words about our physical, birth families. I began by highlighting the accounts of Matthew and Luke that highlight the coming of the Son of God into the world through a family: through the Virgin Mary and raised in a family of Mary and Joseph.
A quick read through their genealogy and we come to see that Mary and Joseph’s families also knew the pain of family division and struggle and loss and disappointment. When the Son of God enters humanity in the person of Jesus, he enters into the struggle and pain and joy and sorrow of family life. His own family will misunderstand him and even try to change his ministry.
St. Gregory of Nazianzus wrestles with the mystery of the Triune life of God in his writings. When emphasizing the importance of Jesus experience the struggle of human life and rationality firsthand, he writes, “What has not been assumed has not been healed.”
Jesus assumes or enters into the whole human experience, including family. After his death and resurrection, Jesus ascends with the whole human experience into the life of the Godhead. Or as the writer of Hebrews says, 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:15–16).
Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with Us, is God with us in the midst of family pain and family joy. He knows our sense of loss and betrayal intimately. He knows our hopes and fears. He knows our grieve and sorrows as well as our deep desires. In fact, he knows us in ways we do not know ourselves. Spiritual formation in this life and our eternal hope in the next life includes this aspect of us becoming fully who he called us to be. We have yet to grasp the glory that awaits us.
In this season of Christmas let us come as children who are also children, parents, husbands, and wives in human families. We trust that he is present and he will not abandon us as we cry out for mercy and walk out the reality of His love made manifest in family.