“Each year [Jesus’] parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover.”(Luke 2:41)(+)
The way we look at family life is highly subjective.Take the example of a woman who was congratulating a friend whose son and daughter had gotten married within a month of each other, a woman asked, “So tell me, what kind of man did your daughter marry?”“Oh, he’s wonderful,” gushed the mother.“He lets her sleep in, wants her to go to a spa regularly and insists on taking her out to dinner every night.”“That’s nice,” said her friend.“And how do you like your son’s new wife?”The mother sighed.“I’m not so happy about that situation,” she said.“His wife sleeps in, spends all her time at the spa and wants to go out to dinner every night.”What’s good for the daughter, in other words, may not be so good for the daughter-in-law. I would say that it’s impossible to come up with one model that is appealing to everyone.But on this feast day we pray for all families.We recognize an inherent value to family life in all its different forms.We are aware that for every family who says of their neighbours, “How can they live like that?” that their neighbours may very well be saying the same thing back in reply.But in spite of all these differences, family life has been a consistently beneficial gift for almost all of society.The family whether it consists of two people or twelve is respected because it is a place of love and support.Or at least it should be, and this is also what we pray for on this feast day, that those families scarred by a dangerous home may somehow first come to find protection and if possible even healing.
As we read last Sunday from Genesis, family begins with the love of two people.Adam and Eve completed each other, and this came to define the sacred union of matrimony.With this in mind, the commonly used phrase “starting a family” is often misused because family starts with just two people.Children are a blessing that may come along and add to the size of a family, but family is defined by love not by numbers.If a family does choose to have children, and they are so blessed by God to have children, then something miraculous occurs.You know, over in my house when the girls were younger they would have had on occasion a friend over around dinner time.When you plan a meal for four, and without expecting it, are asked to feed five or six, something strange happens: There may not be enough food.You don’t mind if they say something in advance, but five minutes before dinner makes it kind of hard to work kitchen miracles.We’re all familiar with limited resources.Gas only drives a car so far, a paycheck only pays so many bills, you can only do so many things in the hours of a day.But family love is different.A newly married husband and wife are in love.They decide to have a child or to adopt, and they now love that son or daughter.Where does that love come from?Does it draw down on the love of the husband for the wife and vice-versa?Do they only have a limited amount of love to share so that when they love the child they must love each other less?Obviously, something else happens:their ability to love increases.Have another child or even a third, and no one in the family is loved less.The ability to love increases.That’s something different than we’re used to experiencing in our lives.The more we’re asked to love, the more love we find.That’s a miracle of the family.This is one of the reasons why today we celebrate the family and pray for the family.It is a gift from God.
This idea of love is essential to what the church means by family.Human instinct can lead any two people to create a baby.This has nothing to do with love.Parenting is completely different than fathering a child.In the family, parents give their example to their children.In this sense, both the parents and the children are always learning through this relationship.Day-One parents are not going to be as good at raising a child as they are going to be.Parents learn from their children, and children learn from their parents.Parents set a model through their example of what they expect of their children, and that example will always trump anything just said to a child.This is why one of the greatest gifts of family is presence.Not “presents,” you know “gifts,” but “presence,” “being there.”Everyone is busy.The unemploy-ment rate in Massachusetts is around 10%.There have been a ton of lay-offs.A lot of jobs are no longer the traditional 8 to 5.People are working all kinds of shifts on all kinds of days.Employers know that even with fewer workers more is getting done, which means that people are coming home exhausted.It’s also easy to see that our young people are busier than ever before.There are before and after school programs.There is homework and also that constant, nagging need to socialize by texting, e-mailing, tweeting or whatever else they do to stay in constant contact.With all this going on, families need to make time to be together.They need to plan for “presence,” not stuff, but time.This becomes the canvas of relationship, and relationship is at the heart of family life.
And finally today we also pray that our families be filled with the gift of faith.I actually don’t even know when the adjective “Christian” was added to today’s feast day.In the Minutes of the Third General Synod from 1914, on the afternoon of December 3rd, the last day of this church gathering, the body voted to establish this feast day on the second Sunday of October, but it referred to the feast as the “Holy Day of the Family,” not the “Christian Family.”I think eventually, but I don’t know exactly when, as church we felt the need to pray more explicitly for faith in the family, and this is why we expanded on the name of today’s feast.But in 1914 as all those delegates gathered in Chicago I cannot imagine how they were not preoccupied by the fate of their families still in Europe who were beginning to suffer through the torments of World War I, which had started that same summer.I think with time we found the luxury of praying explicitly for the Christian Family, but in the immediacy of a World War, prayers just for the safety and welfare of the family were understandable.And so today we likewise pray for the good of all families in general because of all the blessings it continues to offer us, and additionally we pray for the gift of faith in Christian families that our homes may places where God is welcome and where Christ’s example is followed.For these things we pray in Jesus’ name.Amen.(+)