Today we keep the feast of the Holy Family. And today’s Gospel recounts a dramatic episode in that family’s life: the losing and finding of the 12 year old Jesus. ‘My child why have you done this to us?’ This must have burst out of Mary. ‘See how worried your father and I have been…’ ‘Worried’ would be better rendered ‘greatly distressed’ or ‘anguished’. ‘We’ve lived a nightmare these last days.’ Then we can think back to Mary’s pregnancy and the perplexity (at least) that Joseph must have endured at that time. Then again, the drama around the census, the journey to Bethlehem, no room at the inn and the rest. Then the flight into Egypt, when all three became refugees and had to establish themselves in a foreign country.
Being the Holy Family didn’t mean being an unreal family. There was no certificate of exemption from the troubles of life. That might console us in our difficult passages. When the angel came to Mary at the Annunciation and told her she would conceive by the Holy Spirit, he added: ‘therefore the child to be born of you will be called ‘holy’. The Holy Family was holy because the Holy One was in the midst of it. And so we must believe with our own families. This is the blessing of sacramental marriage. Don’t we talk sometimes of ‘holy matrimony’? Through that sacrament Christ, the Holy One, is present – with husband and wife but then through them and through the children’s ‘holy baptisms’ with the children as well. The Holy One is there.
This is Christmas. We’re remembering that the Word became flesh and dwelt, and dwells, among us. He has taken on the whole human ‘thing’. Within that, he has taken on family life as well. The Holy One is in the midst of our families. And when Scripture speaks of the Lord being among us, it often adds, ‘Don’t fear’. We can enlarge this too. Today the Sisters of the Holy Family renew their vows. I lived in a religious community too for 37 years. And it’s not an unreal, trouble-free life – believe me. And so religious too need to remember: the Holy One is in their midst. And what of single people too? There are so many nowadays. Once again, the Holy one is in their midst. They are not alone. Or again the whole Church: for all the troubles, the Holy One is there. The Holy One will be present among us, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in this very Mass.
In today’s Gospel, the 12-year old Holy One behaves very strangely: staying behind in Jerusalem without telling his parents. And then replying to his mother’s reproach: ‘Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?’ It sounds cruel. But actually, he has given us comfort for when he seems to be absent. He is ‘about his Father’s business’. What is that Father’s business? Our well-being, our salvation, our holiness. That ‘business’ is the passage, the Passover, through the Cross, to the third day of the Resurrection. That’s what this whole story, with its Jerusalem, its Passover, its three days and its losing and finding, is about. Through the Incarnation Christ enters our family life, and through his Cross and Resurrection leads it to the Father. All we need to do is hang on to him, like Mary and Joseph.
There’s another thought I’d like to share. St Paul says in the 2nd reading: ‘Let the message of Christ in all its richness find a home in you’. He is talking to the whole Christian community in Colossae, married and single, clergy and laity. ‘Teach each other and advise each other in all wisdom’, says St Paul again. There’s something coming to light here. I hope I can express it. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that we talk of the Church as a family – we are brothers and sisters in Christ- and that sometimes we talk of the family as a ‘domestic Church’? So, there’s connectivity here, a mutuality, an interchange, a cross-fertilisation. And it’s two-sided, just like marriage itself. ‘Let the message of Christ in all its richness find a home in you.’ In today’s Gospel, the young Jesus was allowing Israel’s Scriptures to find a home in himself, listening and asking questions. This is for us to follow. I think that if families can find a home in their lives for the wisdom of Scripture and the teaching of the Church then they will be strengthened. I think of the teaching on mutual forgiveness, gentleness and patience, on the carrying of one another’s burdens. Or of the teaching on the sacredness of marriage between man and woman, of the values of pre-marital chastity, of marital fidelity, of openness to new life, of the good ways to regulate birth, and so on. And on the other side, if there is a space within our Church-communities for families to be heard and to listen to and support each other; if good channels of honest communication with clergy are open, then what bishops and theologians say will be grounded and helpful and we all be strengthened. The ‘message of Christ’ is what it is – it is given – but it can always be better understood and better presented. Then it can a find a home in us all. The message can be demanding, but it can also console like nothing else. Then we will all, as it were, catch up with Jesus, who listened and asked questions. Then, we will be drawn with him into the Father’s business. We will make the journey together from Christmas to Easter, until we all find each other, by God’s grace, united in our true and final home, the house of the Father. Amen.
St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, Sunday 30 December