A message for the Feast of the Holy Family, this 6th Day of Christmas.
Preparing Our Hearts:
(Call to Worship from Worship Ways, a United Church of Christ resource.)
Leader: When Jesus is born to Mary and Joseph,
People: God is there.
Leader: When Jesus is presented at the temple,
People: God is there.
Leader: When Simeon holds Jesus in his arms,
People: God is there.
Leader: When Anna recognizes Jesus in the temple,
People: God is there.
Leader: This very morning,
People: God is here.
Leader: In the future we cannot see,
People: God is there.
All: Let Us Worship God!
For many Christians, today, this 6th day of Christmas is the Feast of the Holy Family which celebrates the human family unit, as well as the ultimate family unit: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The Holy Family is the name given to the family unit of Jesus: The Divine Son of God Jesus, his mother Mary, and his step-father Joseph. We know very little about the life of the Holy Family through the canonical Gospels. They speak of the early years of the Holy Family, including the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the flight into Egypt, and the finding of Jesus in the temple. While the exact details of the day-to-day life of the Holy Family may be unknown, we can still learn a lot from the stories we do have. The Feast of the Holy Family is not just about the Holy Family, but about our own families too. The main purpose of the Feast is to present the Holy Family as the model for all Christian families, and for domestic life in general. Our family life becomes sanctified when we live the life of the Church within our homes known as the "domestic church" or the "church in miniature." St. John Chrysostom urged all Christians to make each home a "family church," and in doing so, we sanctifying the family unit by making Christ the center of family and individual life: reading scripture regularly, praying daily, attending church, imitating the actions of the Holy Family, all done together as a family unit.
St. Paul provides advice on family life in Colossians 3:12-21: Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.
The Holy Family feast is a good time to remember the family unit and pray for our human and spiritual families; to reflect on the value and sanctity of the family unit; to evaluate our own family life. What ways may it be improved? But most importantly, we can use this feast to ask ourselves what are we doing to promote the family within our own cultures, neighborhoods, and communities?
But today, I want us to look at the lineage of the holy family we are a part of. The brokenness found within it, --the realness, the things that can make us say that is like my family, or better yet, my family and I fit in the holy family well. So many found in the genealogy of Jesus were broken and messed up people just like us. For some reason, we don’t hear the dark depth of many of these stories though God seemed just fine with making them a part of the Scriptures for us to read and relate to. We wonder why so many of the stories of the Bible no longer take our breath away. One of the reasons is because there is so much cover-up in Christianity. So much censorship. And that cosmetic touch, air brushes out the salacious and sordid stories that hold our attention and make the Bible interesting, dare I say, meaningful. The genealogy of Jesus is chuck-full of the most absurd individuals living out the most salacious stories…and somehow, they are a part of the family tree of our Savior.
We find some famous names in the history of Israel, from patriarchs to kings. The first ancestors of the Jewish nation were Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God called Himself their God. David the king was known as a “man after God’s own heart.” His son Solomon had the temple built in Jerusalem. Many other outstanding leaders can be found within this family tree such as Asa, Jehoshaphat, Uzziah, Jotham, Hezekiah, Josiah, and Zerubbabel. The lives of these men included great military victories and the restoration of true worship.
However, none of these outstanding men were perfect.
Abraham was a liar and a polygamist
Isaac was a liar also and showed favoritism in his children
Jacob was an extortionist and a swindler
David was a polygamist, adulterer, murderer, and poor father
Solomon was a polygamist and was drawn away from God by his many pagan wives
Rehoboam foolishly split the kingdom of Israel and led Judah to sin
Abijah walked in the sins of his father and was not devoted to God
Uzziah disobeyed the worship regulations of God and was struck with leprosy
Ahaz was very wicked, even leading Israel to sacrifice children
But it is in the genealogy of Jesus, we come to an extraordinary anomaly in ancient genealogical records. You know what it is? WOMEN! Yes, only in this extraordinary family tree of Jesus will we find women actually named. In ancient times, this just didn’t happen, and this geneaology even included GENTILE WOMEN. Yes, Rahab and Ruth. Rahab—she was a GENTILE PROSTITUTE. So much for the pristine bloodline of Jesus, but wait, the men already tainted that. And the stories of these women are as profound as they are scandalous. Tamar deceptively prostituted herself to her own father-in-law, Judah, in order to keep the family line unbroken. Rahab committed high treason against her own people in her hometown of Jericho by hiding the Israelite spies in her home and sneaking them out under cover of darkness. When the walls of Jericho came tumbling down, Rahab was saved. She later married into the family and gave us Boaz, which brings us to the extraordinary story Ruth.
Ruth, as you may remember, was a Gentile who lost her husband, yet she chose to stick with her mother-in-law, Naomi, and return to Israel. She had less than nothing, picking up the stalks of wheat left behind by the gleaners, but she pledged herself to Naomi’s God, the God who redeems widows. And that’s exactly what happened. She was redeemed by Boaz and they gave birth to Obed, and a generation later came Jesse, the father of David. Not only was Ruth not abandoned, God brought her into the center of the the story of redemption.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife. Remember Uriah’s wife’s name, who is not named in the family tree? Yep, Bathsheba! If ever there were a story for the Israeli Enquirer, this was it. The great King David broke all ten of the ten commandments in one fell swoop and yet God held fast to him. It reveals the depths of the possibilities of God’s redemption that David’s unwise adultery with Bathsheba, “who had been Uriah’s wife,” brought us Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived.
Jesus was born into the real lineage of a real family with all its drama and scary uncles. His bloodline was tainted by foreign blood and rogue relatives. It’s fascinating to consider how Jesus can get involved with “bad” blood and yet his blood remain so unalterably pure that it could save the entire human race. It makes sense, doesn’t it, that the Savior and Redeemer of the whole world would inextricably identify himself with such a sordid storyline. That’s how our God works. He doesn’t fly above the fray of the dark devastation of the human race. As only the Light of the World could do, he embedded himself right smack dab in the middle of the darkness. And as only the Resurrection and the Life could do, he ran headlong straight into the very jaws of death. Can you believe in a God like that? It’s the same God who enters into the depths of our self-deceiving story lines. Absolutely no one is beyond reach of redemption. It’s all right there in the genealogy. It is as simple as this, we said it to one another earlier in the service: You are special, God loves you. We are all part of God’s family. Family is a unit meant to endure, meant to encapsulate the strong and the weak, sinners and saints… Each year at our family reunion that I organize and host, I remind my family of this through a song written and performed by the great Dolly Parton that says it best. You may recognize the words:
When it's family, you forgive them for they know not what they do. When it's family, you accept them, 'cause you have no choice but to. When it's family, they're a mirror of the worst and best in you. And they always put you to the test And you always try to do your best. And just pray for God to do the rest, when it's family. Some are preachers, some are gay. Some are addicts, drunks and strays. But not a one is turned away, when it's family. Some are lucky, others ain't Some are fighters, others faint. Winners, losers, sinners, saints, it's all family! And when it's family you trust them and your heart's an open door. When it's family, you tolerate what you'd kill others for. When it's family, you love and hate and take, then give some more. Somehow you justify mistakes, try to find some better way, to solve the problems day to day, in the family. You take the trouble as it comes and love them more than anyone. Good or bad or indifferent, it's still family. You choose your lovers, you pick your friends. Not the family that you're in, they'll be with you 'til the end, 'cause it's family.
And with that I encourage you to ponder this week in the midst of your daily duties, work, and hectic, chaotic life:
How does this extraordinary genealogy with these exceptional stories of redemption encourage you?
What if Jesus is looking for us to be honest about our broken situations and seemingly irreparable mistakes? What would that change for you?
How does this change your impression, outlook and approach to people you may have formerly looked down on or disassociated with because of their bad choices and messed up lives?
If the stories of the women in our family genealogy inspired you, I encourage you to check out Tom Fuerst’s book, Underdogs and Outsiders.
*This reflection was compiled by Michael Jones and in large part is the work of the following sources woven together as a reflection for this special day from his own research & study on this topic. Michael is the Church Administrator for Veritas united Church of Christ and Treasurer for Rise Up Hagerstown. Michael resides in Hagerstown, Maryland and is a native of the area.
Sources Used or Referenced:
(Either in-part or in-entirety)
*This post does not reflect the views of anyone except the contributor, and is only meant to be a catalyst of conversation and growth.