for a video of this homily, click here
December 26, 2021, Feast of the Holy Family
Colossians 3:12-21; Luke 2:41-52
Last week Barb and I decided to take our fifteen-month-old grandson and our two dogs for a walk in the woods.
This turned out to be a bad idea.
For one thing the tires on the stroller were half-flat, and the dogs were jumpy, and then it started to rain, and then it rained harder, and Hank started to cry, and then to cry louder, until finally Barb picked him up and walked home, without a word—just took off—leaving me in the mud with two barking dogs and a stroller I had to drag behind me all the way back.
I was so mad I could barely see straight—not at Hank—he’s a perfect little boy—but at Barb, at my wife—and I shouldn’t have been mad at her. It wasn’t her fault. Really, I was mad at myself, that even as a grandfather I can’t seem to control my emotions.
How can any of us ever be as patient and loving as the scriptures suggest Mary and Joseph are? As faithful? As kind? In today’s gospel Mary and Joseph are “anxious,” we’re told, and maybe frantic, and maybe they even raise their voices a little when they find their little boy in the temple. “Why have you done this to us?” But I think the traditional interpretation is finally right, that in the end they were patient, they accepted, they listened, even though they didn’t understand—they were holy—and it just doesn’t seem fair that we’re supposed to live up to that standard ourselves.
But I think that’s too easy. That’s letting ourselves off the hook.
We need ideals. We need high standards. We have more than enough examples all around us of slacking off and letting things go and making excuses. We need models of virtue and love, even if we know we can never live up to them, and in a way that’s the point, that we know what is right and know when we’re wrong and so turn to God for forgiveness and grace.
That’s what the stories of the Holy Family are really about. Grace. The immeasurable stores of God’s grace.
Mary was conceived without sin, which is a lot more than could ever be said of us. But she was conceived without sin, before she was even born, before she could do anything to earn or achieve that grace. Mary was saved by the love and the mercy of the son she had yet to bring into the world. In that sense the only difference between her and us is that we are saved after Jesus was born, and because he was, and that we have to keep asking for his grace after we are born, every day.
And also, unlike Mary a few short years later, we don’t say yes when the angel calls us. We say no. Again and again.
But that grace is always there, it’s always there, and all families are holy in the sense that they continually give us opportunities to admit our failings and receive this grace.
O Lord, forgive me for my anger and impatience in the woods. I am a small and sinful man and I need your grace and I need your help. Please, O Lord, strengthen me to be more like Mary and more like Joseph.
I was talking with my dental hygienist the other day in the pauses as she cleaned my teeth. She’s a young, Christian mother with two kids, including a boy who is on a basketball team. The other night, after the opposing team scored and the coach was urging the kids to hustle back down the court, he didn’t. He just walked back. And his father was furious when they got home, he was really angry, and the boy ran up to his room and wouldn’t come down to dinner.
So the mother went upstairs to comfort her son, but she also went up to support her husband. She told her son she was sorry his dad had gotten so mad but that he was right to be upset. You weren’t doing your best, she told him, you weren’t doing what God wants you to do, and your dad and I have to call on you that.
The next day the dad apologized, too, but he didn’t back down either. There were consequences. There were expectations.
Sometimes dads have to be dads, and moms have to be moms, and moms and dads have to support each other, and moms and dads have to set boundaries and establish standards for their kids, even when they get too mad and aren’t perfect and make mistakes.
Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, which I take to mean, be loving. Put them first. Husbands, love your wives and avoid any bitterness toward them, which I take to mean, be subordinate to them. Put them first. Children, obey your parents, because you don’t know everything and you can’t do whatever you want to do—but parents, do not provoke them. Don’t be too hard on them. Don’t discourage them.
My hygienist and her husband are struggling to balance their commitment to their church with the sports their kids get involved in, as many parents are, since often practices and tournaments take place on Sundays. Church has to come first, even if sometimes in the interests of the kids the parents have to make compromises.
But what’s obvious, too, is that God was on the court that night, God was in the game, as he was with me and my barking dogs and that stupid stroller with the flat tires. He is always with us, and every situation gives us a chance to discern the will of God and to act in Godly ways or try to.
My wife heard this story and passed it on to me.
A woman’s three or four-year-old grandson was standing at a window looking outside. After a few seconds he reached up and tried to swipe the window.
He tried to swipe the window. As if it were the screen on his phone. As if it were too dark and rainy and he wanted to look at something else.
We don’t establish rules and set boundaries to make our children conform to who we are. We do this to help them conform to who God is. We do it because there’s a reality beyond that window, a real world we have to face and to see and to deal with, whether we want to or not, and that takes discipline and that takes humility and that takes faith.
Only in God can the souls of our children be healthy and whole and good, and we know that because it’s true for us. We are all of us always searching for Jesus, as Mary and Joseph search for him today. Every moment is a window. This is what we know and what we try to teach our kids: that there is goodness and beauty and excellence in the world, that Christ is in the world, and that only in Him can we ever be happy and free. Only in him can we ever be who we were really meant to be.