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The Holy Family

Revd Denise: December 30th, 2012

Isn’t it strange how quickly we move on: only a week ago we were anticipating the great joy of our Saviour’s birth, singing carols and welcoming The Word made flesh, Christ’s light and love into our lives. Already the mood has moved on from those familiar sights and sounds to the coming year ahead.

Today our Old Testament and the Gospel readings relate striking encounters between mothers and sons in the context of religious life in Israel and I think today’s gospel reading will resonate with many mothers. It’s likely that most will be able to recall situations when a son or daughter has been out much later than they were expected to be, perhaps gone travelling abroad for the first time  or  he/she had not made the promised telephone call having reached a particular destination. The fear and panic that sets in is indescribable, with a sickening sense of desperation; fortunately for most these fears are transformed to overwhelming relief when all is found to be well. However let us never stop praying for the families of children who have gone missing and never been found.

 Like parents everywhere Mary and Joseph knew the strains and stresses of family life and had already had their share of difficulties. Few young couples would have experienced the degree of hardship which confronted Mary and Joseph when they searched for shelter prior to Jesus’ birth, let alone their frantic flight into Egypt to save their child from the wrath of King Herod and his army. They knew what it was like to be refugees in a strange country without any money and then on the way home from their Passover visit to Jerusalem Jesus, aged only 12 went missing.

Perhaps the first strange thing about this story is that Mary and Joseph were happy to set off with their large group without checking that their son was with them. This tells us a lot about the kind of world that they lived in where people lived together in close-knit mutual trust. Of course had this all happened today the story would have had a very different impact because now most 12 year olds carry a mobile phone and Mary could easily have made contact with Jesus. But then the only option open to Mary and Joseph was to return to Jerusalem by themselves to search for Jesus. Without the rest of their party the city was potentially dangerous with lots of dark allies and strange people, not the place for them to go searching and certainly not the sort of place you would be happy to leave your young son for a few days.

It is hardly surprising that Mary objected to Jesus’ behaviour although at 12 he would be ready to take his place as a man in the Jewish religious community. Apart from today’s reading we don’t have any information about Jesus’ childhood in the canonical Gospels but Luke’s Gospel is clearly saying that Jesus’ greatness could already be recognised in his adolescence. We can appreciate that Jesus is quietly asserting an independence and vocation. Jesus is in fact ‘Vocation’ himself, he is called to do his Father’s will. Let us remember that we all have vocations; we must be receptive to them and follow them, each of us in the way God planned for us.

So although most of those early years of Jesus’ life were hidden from us we learn about his upbringing simply by looking at the cultural patterns and habits of home and family life at that time. The family was the school of Jesus’ early life as it is for us and our families. And fundamental to the Jewish way of life was daily worship in the home. Jesus would have been used to reciting passages from the scriptures and the Ten Commandments morning and night. At 12 a Jewish boy attained bar mitzvah which meant becoming a son of the Law.  His life in Nazareth would have been steeped in Holy Scripture, prayer and observing the Sabbath. It was, and still is in orthodox Jewish homes, a life which revolved round God and his law, a life of obedience, prayer and worship. If only our lives mirrored that example today!

However when Jesus was 12, the annual family pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover did not turn out according to plan and Jesus just like many other young adolescents he acted without the permission of his parents. After all he came among us in human form and so can’t be exempt from the more complex aspects of his development. That would be less than true incarnation.  Writer, John Pridmore once wrote, ‘Faith in incarnation means that we believe that there was once a gawky lad, experiencing all the startling and confusing changes that adolescence visits on us, yet lives in abiding union with God.’
Yes Jesus did act thoughtlessly with regard for his parents but he showed on this occasion a passion, a conscientiousness of a special relationship with his heavenly ‘Father’.

Finding Jesus engaged in dialogue with the teachers of Israel may have been astonishing but it didn’t lessen the anxiety that his parents felt and Mary had every reason to feel upset. It seems rather irresponsible that the academics themselves didn’t question the whereabouts of Jesus’ parents, presumably they fed him and provided him with sleeping accommodation. I wonder if they were the same people who later went on to indirectly sentence Jesus to death by sending him to Pilate?

It is in the Temple that Jesus is driven by an overwhelming sense of God’s presence and a deep desire to think, speak and act within that very special relationship and he can’t tear himself away. Even his parents can’t make sense of his words because they cannot relate to such a strong sense of attachment and relationship. Jesus realises that he has another Father, a Father who is not looking for him, but a Father who has found him and made him at home in the Temple. ‘Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?’ Says Jesus to his parents.

The incident offered just a glimpse of what was to develop and Mary kept all these things in her heart. At 12 Jesus was no longer a child but not yet fully adult. He was at the stage of losing and finding, of leaving and entering, of letting go and making a commitment. Being the child to human parents must now give way to the greater authority of the heavenly Father and later Jesus was to echo that theme throughout his teaching; you must let go of life in order to find it, bread must be broken before it can be shared and Jesus had to die in the flesh before he was raised from the dead.

Having glimpsed the future, Jesus went back to Nazareth to live in obedience with Mary and Joseph. Mary and Joseph would probably no longer take him for granted as their child. Perhaps after today’s service you may want to reflect on a time when you thought that you had lost someone very precious. We live in a society of lost and damaged souls, this past year has been nothing short of tragic for some and disappointing for others; the news has been filled with stories of victims of abuse, break up of family life, the women bishop’s debate, gay marriages, murder or abduction.
So how do we respond?   Do we just take Jesus for granted? After all if Mary and Joseph did there is every reason to suppose we can too.

Like Mary and Joseph we mustn’t assume he is always accompanying us as we go about our own business and lives. But if we feel a sense of God’s lack of presence then we too must go back to search, search hard for him in prayer, in the scriptures and in the sacraments. We mustn’t give up until we find him again.

We must also be aware though that when we do meet up again he will not necessarily direct us in the way we hope or expect. God does have his purpose for each of us his children and as Jesus was busy with his Father’s affairs the same should be true for us too!


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