1 Sam 1: 20-22, 24-28; Luke 2: 41-52
The first thing that struck me in this gospel, as we all spend time with family and friends this holiday season, is that as Mary and Joseph search for Jesus, they spend most of their time in the midst of the clan, the family, and with friends, and he’s nowhere to be found. Isn’t that often the same for us? You would think the easiest place to find Jesus, God, is in the midst of the people that know us the best, our family and friends? Yet, we know that’s not always true. Sometimes that makes it even harder because they are closest to us and so we’ve been hurt by them, we have expectations that aren’t met, we want them to give us something they’re not capable of, and so it makes it that much harder in seeking God, Jesus, in those relationships. For many the holiday is not easy because of that. We come from broken homes as we call it, with divorce, abuse, family members that don’t speak, grudges, and all the rest that gets entangled with family, making it difficult to find God, no matter how much we search, we can come up empty. It can take a lifetime to begin to untangle the hurt from the love and the gift that encompasses both.
But there’s something else and we hear it through Hannah in today’s first reading from First Samuel, among other stories of babies and children in the Scripture. It seems, as it is with Hannah, as well as others, such as Elizabeth that he heard just a week ago on the last Sunday of Advent, they freely hand their children over to God. It’s amazing, and it often comes through these women who have been barren and have struggled for years, too, questioning where God was in all of it, and then it happens and they want to give back. We must be mindful not to read these accounts historically, otherwise they become linear as life often seems. Rather, we must read them as myth, a truth that is eternal, and so we can glean something from these women and families about what we are called to as family here.
Another perspective, or approach, to these stories is that they see their children as gift and their primary vocation is that of steward of that gift. They know this child is not their own. They don’t possess the child. They cannot control the child. They cannot even determine the destiny of the child. All they can do is give them back to God. We like to think that they’re “our” kids, when in reality, we are the stewards of the gift that God has given, knowing it’s all for such a short time. All we can do is get out of the way and guide them in finding their purpose in this life. We can see in Jesus, one who has a deeper purpose and vocation, even at the young age of twelve, as he is drawn to the temple in today’s gospel.
Of course, I don’t think I’m the one to tell you how to raise your kids or what’s best for them. I’m in no position to do that. However, I have spent a great deal of time working with teens and so I have some perspective as to where they come from and I can tell you, that, we as adults put a great deal of pressure on them these days to be someone or something, often times who they aren’t. I’d bet none of us would respond the way Mary and Joseph do in today’s gospel after their son had been lost for days! Yet, again, they point us to a greater truth about one another and how we see life and do we see it as gift and we the stewards of this fragile gift that has been entrusted. We’ve become so much about consuming and producing that we’ve lost sight of the gift. It’s about success. It’s about being the best at everything. It’s so often about living through our kids because we were somehow shorted a childhood. It’s about getting into the best schools. And then go produce. Make yourself useful.
Don’t get me wrong. There is some of that that is necessary when we are young and part of our responsibility to care for others and this planet, but not until we’re ready. There must be time to explore and learn as Jesus does, sit at the feet of wisdom figures to absorb what is important in life. Otherwise, we lose sight of the gift we are and lose sight of the gift others are around us and toward us and even in spite of us! Maybe that’s why it is so hard to find God in the place that you would think to be the most obvious. Maybe even Mary and Joseph had to learn a lesson about this child entrusted to them in their quest and their “great anxiety” that they experienced. In the end, as much as we want to control and dictate, it’s just not our place. All we can do is get out of the way, and like Hannah, give them back to God. It helps to create space within us and around us so that we can see all along God has been present, but even that gets distorted in our youth as to what we expect rather than seeing the deeper mystery of the relationships at hand.
As we gather on this feast of the Holy Family, we pray for the same openness that we see in this family and in people like Hannah, among others, who continuously create that space in their lives for a deeper and greater mystery at work, a God who calls us to be His stewards to the gifts that have been entrusted to us, most especially the gift of life. There’s no doubt that a renewal of family is necessary but there’s also a need for healing among God’s people, for a family goes beyond our biological family. We are all gift, a mystery that continues to unfold within us, leading us to our deeper call, a deeper family, to be stewards of the greatest gift offered, the gift of human life, given back in order to become the greater glory of God.