Mary and Joseph must be on their way to Bethlehem now. Soon, soon, they will seek shelter, knowing the Child Jesus would soon come into this world, their world, a world of poverty and danger. The Holy Family, created in that miraculous moment when Mary conceived the Son of God, know little about their future, but enough to do God’s will in their life in each moment lived.
It is said that Advent, this month of journeying to Bethlehem, of preparing the way of the Lord in our hearts for his coming, is about Mary. It is Mary’s month, to be sure, in the sense that she said yes and will soon give birth to the Saviour of the World. And so we celebrate her, rejoicing in the gift to each one of us, Our Lady, Our Mother.
The family today is weathering many storms, fighting many defensive battles on many fronts. There appears to be a host of demons that seek to destroy the family, for in this holy assembly, made up of the mother and father and children, we find the nucleus or perhaps crux of the world, past, present, and to come. As the crux, it has become the cross of our culture, a suffering cross that heals wounds and divisions in our world.
We are fallen from grace, and within this micro-society we call the family, we see challenge and difficulty and even survival. Each one of us within the family is called to get along. Each is called to live with one another, usually in close circumstances, to honor and teach and love one another. Yet sin and self pulls us the other way, inward, and it is this tension that teaches us to sacrifice for the other.
I believe it was Evelyn Underhill who said that the family teaches us how to live within greater communities, the town, the nation, the world. The family is a training ground of love, the “School of Charity” as she put it. So too, is the parish family, mirroring all the petty squabbles in the biological/adoptive family as well as all that is precious and good by the grace of God.
My husband and I have had the grace to be a part of the Anglican Province of Christ the King for over forty years and within the same parish for that time as well. Trust me, there have been many squabbles witnessed and many sides taken and much wringing of hands over this or over that, by us as well as everyone else, but there’s been lots of love too, just as in any close family. I was thinking today, sitting in the nave of St. Peter’s Oakland and watching the traditional “Living Creche” performed in the chancel before the altar and tabernacle (home of the Real Presence of Christ), beneath the statue of Christ Crucified and the tall flaming candles at his feet, that these good people of our parish of every age and ethnicity and talent are truly my sisters and brothers. When I arrived at St. Peter’s in 1977 I was only thirty with a young son, and most of the congregation I considered to be my mothers and fathers, uncles and aunts, and even grandparents. Today, it seems (suddenly!) I am in the grandparent role, and I think of these faithful Christians gathered in church as my grandchildren, children, and sisters and bothers and cousins.
In all of these families – the Holy Family, the natural family, the parish family – we polish one another like tumbling rocks washed by the waters of Baptism. Year after year, we seek to get along, to love one another better, to beg forgiveness for harms done, and to seek repentance and healing at the altar. We learn to forgive and in the forgiving we grow closer to Christ. In the growing closer to Our Lord we seal one another with the Sign of the Cross, for only in Christ can this kind of love flourish, and only by the Cross can this love be real.
We know that the journey of the Holy Family must have been full of hardship and danger. They were Jews living in a hostile Roman world, a military occupation. Just so, we too live in a hostile world, occupied by a growing tyranny increasingly militant. We are encouraged by the image of their journey in the weeks of Advent, for we are on the same path in time to our own Bethlehem, Eternity with God, the new Jerusalem.
In the meantime, we journey to church with our families to worship Christ with our parish family. We learn to love as we are meant to love. Our advent is Mary’s advent for she is our Mother. In this way, Mary and Joseph lead us through the sufferings of the world, and in this month of counted days we await in the quiet of the night Our Lord’s coming to us on Christmas morning. It is a silent night for in such silence the music of the spheres may be heard, as all creation sings to the glory of God.
We listen for the music and we hear the angels sing. We see the shepherds gather and the gentile kings kneel with gifts. We too give gifts, our hearts to Mary and Joseph and the Holy Child, and presents to one another, as we receive his Presence, the greatest gift of all, starlight, star bright, the Son of God born this night to save us from ourselves, to give life and light to all of us, and to all the world.
Beautiful. Yes. The church is modeled on the family, or is it the reverse? My mother used to comment, as we children squabbled in the back seat on the way to church, that the one person who makes a point of coming to church every single Sunday is the devil. If we watch out for him, we can avoid his snares.