Feast of the Holy Family
Feast of the Holy Family
December 30, 2018
Wouldn’t you love to know what Mary said to her son that day in Jerusalem? We know that it was not Luke’s intention to give us a historical documentation of what happened, but rather to tell the bigger story of Jesus. Likewise, Christian art has not always served us well in terms of picturing the Holy Family, either. Maybe it’s the paintings with larger-than-life halos, or the somber and overly-pious look on the faces of Jesus (who already looks like he’s three-years old and never has filled a diaper in his life) and Mary (who is never tired and always dressed in blue) and Joseph (who is usually in the background looking more like a grandpa than a young father). Nor can we depend upon our delicate crèche sets to accurately reflect the night Jesus was born in a cave outside of Bethlehem, of what would have been like 2000 years ago in a politically unstable country; what must have been going through the mind of this young, devout Jewish couple to have their first-born while they were a long way from home. Or how it felt to become refugees in another country and know the terror of losing their young child in a crowded city for three days. I’m sure they often didn’t understand each other anymore than parents and a twelve-year old understand each other today. It may not have been the pious, happy, white-skinned, haloed family we often think of on this Feast Day.
It’s not just in church art, though. Political and religious leaders sometimes paint an almost equally impossible picture of family for us to imitate, as well. We have projected an image of family with a mom and a dad who are gainfully employed and eat their home-cooked meals together and at a table every night, with intergenerational and extended family at their side at any time of crisis and that have most of, if not all, the answers to life. Picture perfect, just like our families. Right? (Or not!)
But reality is reality. Most families, even at their best, get on each other’s nerves and fight once in a while; we get envious of one another; mistakes are made and it takes time for trust to be re-established; bad habits form and sometimes addictions wreak havoc; some marriages can’t survive, despite the best of intentions; kids get into trouble or offer challenges to their parents they never imagined and have no clue how to respond. Families deal with the tragedy of abuse and sickness that strains the best of love. We are on a race to keep up with the neighbors but we don’t even know who our neighbors are. That’s reality.
So what are we to make of this Feast of the Holy Family? And what –if anything- does it have to say about our own wonderful and flawed families? Perhaps one word, the best word by way of description of the Holy Family - a word to guide us as children of God’s family and help us form the holiness of our own families, a word that seems to capture the essence of what formed and held the Holy Family together is this: gentleness.
Gentleness: To accept ourselves and each other with all our imperfections and limitations, to gently accept what is and what comes to be as life unfolds, even if we don’t understand it completely. Gentleness speaks of blessing instead of constant correction, respect of one another instead of power over one another. Gentleness forms authority that is love-driven and it confirms kindness at the most vulnerable of times. It gives a context to obedience and opens the door for forgiveness before it slams shut in anger. Gentleness is often misunderstood as softness or weakness, but in truth, there is nothing that requires more strength than gentleness. In a word, gentleness allows us to be who and what God calls us to be as family – the family into which we are born, or the family in which we are adopted, the family in which we are welcomed or the family that we create. Gentleness.