At Christmas we celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ, the Light that has come into the Darkness; we celebrated liberation from our oppressors; that the burdens we carry have been lifted and that God has blessed us with joy. We celebrated the fact that God is establishing a kingdom of justice and peace and that He calls us and blesses us with a mission - to be a Light in the Darkness; to be Faith, Hope and Love for a world that struggles. We celebrated our call to be still and to listen to a God who reminds us that we are precious, that we are not alone and that what we do matters to him. We celebrated the fact that God walks among us and that we are living proof that God is here and has a never-ending love for our world.
Today, in our first reading from the Book of Genesis, we are told that Abram and his wife have no heir except a son born from a slave. God makes a promise to Abram – they will have a child and Abram’s descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Abram believes the Lord. Abram is given a reward for his trust in God. God changes his name to Abraham which suggests that there is a new relationship between Abraham and God. Sarai’s name is also changed, she becomes Sarah, and she bears a son. They delight in the unexpected gift of life.
The story reminds us that Abraham and Sarah are well beyond child-bearing years and so the birth of their child is considered a miracle. The birth of their child changes how they see life and it changes how they live, and it changes their relationship with God. It is God who is the author of this change.
In the Gospel reading from St. Luke, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus encounter two Jewish elders in the Synagogue – Simeon and Anna. Simeon is advanced in age and he is viewed as a faithful and righteous man. As a faith filled person, he is attentive to the promptings of the Spirit. We are told God promised Simeon that he would see the savior of the world before his death. When Simeon encounters the family, the Spirit moves him, and he recognizes Jesus as the Messiah. He tells Joseph and Mary about the future of their child.
Anna is like Simeon. A faithful and righteous person, Anna is a woman of prayer and she too recognizes that Jesus is special. While Simeon has a message for Mary and Joseph, Anna has a message for anyone who will listen to her. She tells everyone about the child and his role in the redemption of Israel.
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us of the journey of Abraham and the power of faith. We are told that Abraham’s faith in God set in motion the formation of a people intent on serving God. Abraham’s faith spread and inspired others and led them to God. Abraham’s faith led him to believe that God could do the impossible – even raise someone from the dead. The author suggests that faith changes how we see, think and act.
Today the Church invites us to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. When we think of this Feast we often think of Joseph, Jesus, and Mary. When I prayed with the scriptures, I was touched by how God has been creating a family that spans generations and includes everyone.
Abraham’s faith resulted in a family as numerous as the stars in the sky. Simeon reminded Joseph and Mary that their child would touch the whole people of Israel. Anna was telling all people that God was alive and at work in their midst.
These readings remind us that our faith in God creates life. Faith creates a sense of family that moves beyond the bond that is created by marriage or blood. When we think of family, we think of people who are related to us – people who are connected to us by blood or marriage or adoption. These readings urge us to see family in a much bigger sense.
God has taken the long view. Starting so many years ago, God began to create a family – the family is shaped by faith and trust in God (Abraham and Sarah believe that God can do the impossible and he does); the family is shaped by commitment (Joseph and Mary do what is asked of them by their religion); the family is shaped by listening to the Spirit of God (Simeon pays attention to the promptings of the Holy Spirit); family is shaped by our sharing of the Good News – Jesus Christ is alive in our world (Anna speaks of Jesus and his work of redemption to anyone who listens).
This vision that God has for family, challenges the way we function today. Today many of us are concerned about our family. We work hard and anything we achieve is directed towards helping us to enjoy the good things – toys, adult toys, holidays, luxury items and such. When we have what we want and think we need we share with others from our leftovers.
When I was young, my mom and dad did not have a lot of money, but there was always lots of food on the table. Whatever was on the table was to be shared equally – in other words everyone got something of what was offered. That principle kept our family together and nurtured within us the idea that we are family, that we are responsible for each other. When visitors came, we made sacrifices, so that they got the best of what was on the table. They never got the leftovers!
Perhaps our world would look different if, like Abraham and Sarah, I trusted in the power of God to transform my life.
Perhaps our world would look different if, like Joseph and Mary, I faithfully practiced my faith.
Perhaps our world would look different if, like Simeon, I listened to the prompting of the Spirit.
Perhaps our world would look different if, like Anna, I gave thanks and praise to God and through my words and actions, told people about Jesus.
Perhaps our world would look different if I saw you as my brother/sister, if I believed that we were all member of God’s Holy Family.
What happens within you when you hear the stories of Abraham and Sarah, of Joseph and Mary, and of Simeon and Anna? What is God asking of you?
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Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI