Genesis 15: 1-6; 21: 1-3; Hebrews 11: 8-19; Luke 2: 22-40
On this Feast of the Holy Family you’d think we’d hear something from one of them and yet nothing. Maybe a commercial as to what it’s like to raise this child. Or maybe some advice when it comes to the woes of being a parent in their day. There is plenty that they could tell us about what it means to be holy in one way or another and yet nothing. It seems as if everyone does the talking for them. But maybe that’s the point and that’s their simple message not only to parents but also to all of us gathered here this day is to simply be silent. All they could do as they listen and see all that is going on around them, like any new parent, it be present to the moment and try to take it all in as mystery unfolds around and within them. Their lesson is simply to find that silence and be present to the moment, to presence, to the mystery that has consumed their lives.
They encounter in this moment today, in the midst of their silence, these great wisdom figures who only appear at this one time and yet have waited patiently for this one singular moment. Simeon and Anna are not there to tell them what this child is going to do or tell them how the plan is going to unfold and all the expectations that Mary and Joseph should consider. They’re not their to give advice at all. What they do, though, is point Mary and Joseph to what is being revealed. It’s not going to be Mary and Joseph that define who the Christ is going to be. Rather, the Christ is going to define who they are as parents, just as the eternal Christ has done for Simeon and Anna, illuminating before their eyes a vision of the heartache of letting go of their own self-absorption and their own plan while experiencing the joy of learning to trust and grow in this sense of freedom that comes with faith. They, Mary and Joseph, now stand on the shoulders of their ancestors, such as Abraham and Sarah, and all they can do is stand in wonder, in silence, and be present by the overwhelming mystery before their very eyes and yet snuggled deep in their hearts. Their lives are forever changed by this mystery and yet they can present this child knowing full well that they don’t gather alone, but rather in faith with their ancestors who have pointed the way to and for them.
Abraham and Sarah are two who have pointed the way for Mary and Joseph and we hear their own vision in today’s first reading from Genesis and coupled with the Letter to the Hebrews. I think one of the most important things to take away from this first reading is to know that there are six chapters missing in between the first part of the reading with the vision given to Abram and then the fulfillment of the promise at the end with Sarah giving birth to Isaac. Life happens in between. Abraham and Sarah doubt, they question, Abraham tries to fulfill his own idea of the promise, their skeptical, they laugh at God, all this taking place for that child is born. They too feel they are doing it alone. They got to figure it out on their own. Yet, it’s not until they begin to stand on the shoulders of their ancestors can they begin to learn to let go and surrender, to be liberated from their own self-absorption and to be open to seeing God and God’s plan through a different lens. They too needed to learn to silence their own idea before they can be open to giving birth to a new way of life. It takes them their entire lives before they can move to such a place. Those six chapters are crucial to finding their way to the promise and to be able to finally stand in awe and wonder and the mystery unfolding and being birthed in their own lives. Abraham and Sarah become the wisdom figures with Simeon and Anna that we now stand upon to point us to the way of faith. In an age where doubt, fear, skepticism are what we put our faith in, these giants point us in a different direction and ask us where our faith lies, even if it means an encounter with the sword that pierces. The Christ not only illumines who we really are but also points to where we are not and where we still, like Abraham and Sarah, need to learn how to trust, surrender, and grow in faith.
Hebrews spells it out so beautifully in this second reading today. It would be worth your while to go back and read it in its entirety. It’s not just Abraham and Sarah, the writer goes through salvation history and how this mystery has unfolded in all of God’s creation. Our ancestors aren’t there to tell us how to live and to give us advice. No, they’re there to point the way and nothing more or less. They point the way to mystery, to beyond our doubts and fears, and to stand with us when we go astray, in order to point again back to mystery, back to the Christ child born in us this day. The reading from Hebrews shows not perfect people; none of us are. Mary and Joseph doubted themselves as well. However, they show us in faith what can happen in and with our lives when we learn to trust, step back, and simply stand in awe and wonder of the mystery unfolding in our lives. It seems as if everyone else knows what Mary and Joseph already believe in their hearts. The shepherds knew it. The animals knew it. All of creation has known it. And now revealed in the flesh.
Mary and Joseph and the Feast of the Holy Family isn’t here to tell us how to raise our kids. They’re not here to give advice. They’re not here to tell us how great our kids are and all that they should do. That only feeds into our own self-absorption and thinking that our kids are really ours in the first place. No, like the ancestors that have gone before, we stand on their shoulders as they point the way to a still more perfect way of faith and trust. Thing will never go the way we plan and will never unfold the way we want it. That’s simply our own way. Our ancestors in faith remind us to live life, doubt at times, but always surrender to someone and something bigger than ourselves, the Christ. The more we can learn to stand in wonder and awe before this mystery that is so enormous and yet intimate at the same time, the more we learn to surrender and to be liberated from our own idea of who this God is, thinking we know, and simply chuckle like Abraham and Sarah that once again God has proved me wrong and in that moment, do as Mary and Joseph, simply be silent and be present to the presence being illuminated before and within. Maybe on this Feast of the Holy Family it’s the best advice they can ever give.