Jan 8, 2019
Well it’s Epiphany, the Twelfth Day of Christmas, Little Christmas maybe you call it. While here at church the Christmas Season goes on for another week probably at home the season is winding down. Many of you have begun to take down your decorations. Maybe you have them all packed away for another year already.
So many people enjoy the Christmas Season because it is such a family time. They find their families a place of love and support. For them the family setting is the one place where they can be themselves and not worry about being judged. Families who don’t often get a chance to get together at other times of the year try to make sure they take advantage of the holidays to do so.
For others the Christmas Season can be a time of hurt and pain because their family life is strained or broken. The thoughts of getting together with family members causes anxiety and revives old wounded feelings. People avoid contact with their family or try to minimize it as much as possible. Whether your family life is positive or negative the word family is emotionally charged for everyone. The terms father, mother, sister, brother, aunt, cousin, all those family words have emotions and feelings attached to them.
During the Christmas Season our scripture readings placed a significant emphasis on family and family life. Leading up to Christmas, during the Advent season, we heard from our Mass readings how the Holy Family was formed. It didn’t come together in a conventional way. Its formation was quite dramatic.
Today we hear about another unusual event in the early life of the Holy Family. We hear that Magi from the East came hundreds of miles on a perilous journey to pay tribute to the newborn King of the Jews. These exotic characters brought unusual gifts too. The early life of the Holy Family was all very unconventional and at times disturbing.
Over the next few weeks the scripture readings will continue to have a sort of family theme as we hear not so much about the developing life of the Holy Family but how the family of the church began to develop during the early days of Jesus’ ministry.
This family theme from the scriptures has caused me to develop a series of homilies on family life. Last week I began this series I’m calling “Secrets of Every Happy Family”. The feedback I got from several parishioners after Mass and on the parish Facebook page leads me to believe this series will be appreciated and many will find it beneficial for making their family life happy. So, make plans to be here at Mass for the next few of weeks so you can benefit from the homilies. If you know someone who is struggling with family life invite them to join you for Mass. Help them learn some insights from scripture on how to make family life happier.
The Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy wrote, “Every happy family is happy in the same way. Every unhappy family is unhappy in their own way.” What Tolstoy was saying is that there seems to be a template or pattern of life that is helpful to follow for a happy family. There is a set of characteristics that when followed can guide families to happiness.
While these characteristics are many, I have selected three that are especially important. The first is that happy families recognize family life is messy. Since families are composed of imperfect individuals all families have some degree of dysfunction. Ozzy and Harriet and the Cleavers were never real families. Even though the neighbors or our friends seem to come from cooler, more together families the truth is they have their bad times too.
Happy families recognize that they will at times face difficulties and challenges. There will be times when members disappoint each other or hurt each other. Even families in the Bible had such experiences. Biblical families experienced fratricide, adultery, abuse and betrayal. Happy families anticipate and prepare for the rough patches that come to every family.
It is a willingness to confront problems realistically and straight forward that sets a happy family apart. When a challenge comes along, they are prepared to confront it and not let it get out of hand. They confront messiness with honesty and in forthright ways.
Respect for all members of the family is also something that happy families nurture. That respect begins with their relationship with God. They encourage each other to have a faithful relationship with God. A relationship that allows God to guide the family’s decision making and moral choices.
Respect for other family members is reflected in a relationship between spouses that has zero-tolerance for mistreatment either emotionally or physically. It does not allow for any bitterness or back biting. Respect is something that is offered to all members, children, parents, and grand- parents. Respect for the elderly is especially important since it is a sign to the young of how we value each other.
Recognizing the importance of happiness and strength in family life not only for individual families but the wider society is the third foundational principle of happy families. Happy families recognize they are the building blocks of the wider society. Happy families recognize they depend not only on themselves for their joy but are interconnectedness with all families to form a broader culture. They recognize all families depend on each other to form a strong and loving world. Happy families know when families are healthy and happy our wider world functions better too. That is the feature of happy families I want to address today.
Today’s scriptures tell us that from the very birth of Jesus God’s plan was to transform the world and not just a tiny exclusive corner of it into the Kingdom of God. God’s vision for the world is for all people regardless of national origin or ethnic background, race, current religious beliefs or economic status to come to live in happiness and harmony. That was what the visit of the Magi to adore the new born King of the Jews in today’s gospel was all about. It was to reveal to the world that while still a baby. Jesus set in motion the transformation of a world that was divided and broken into one united family, the Kingdom of God based on peace and respect for all people.
The apostle Paul understood the sharing of the Good News of Jesus Christ with the Gentiles as a special revelation to him. In today’s excerpt from his letter to the Ephesians he said:
“You have heard of the stewardship … given to me for your benefit…the mystery …made known to me by revelation. [T]hat the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.’
Throughout his missionary journeys Paul always made his first connections with his religious family the local Jewish community. He then reached out to others, the Gentiles, in an effort to expand the scope of his preaching to include everyone with an open heart that was receptive to the Good News regardless of their background.
Quite often that caused conflict with his fellow Jews. They were resistant to his message that God wanted to include not just Jews but all people in the Kingdom of God. Paul’s message of inclusivity caused him to face verbal and physical violence, imprisonment and suffering from those who had serious opposition to the message of unity and fellowship between Jews and Gentiles.
Discouragingly, our world today seems no more receptive to the concept of the Kingdom of God being a family or fellowship of all God’s people than it was in Paul’s day or the day the Magi’s visit. Today there still are people who resist Jesus’ message of fellowship for all people. We still have those who want to divide our world into factions of us against them. We are still divided by the criteria of racial, ethnic, religious and economic criteria.
In many ways it seems worse today then it was just a few years ago. More nations seem to be facing pressure from nationalistic and other groups that want to divide their community us against them. There has been an alarming growth in groups that want to denigrate and demean those who are different from themselves or the group they feel should dominate their countries. Those groups seem to be growing not only in developing countries but even in western pluralistic democracies like our own and even here in our community.
This is a trend that we have the power and ability to overcome. It can be overcome by starting right in our own families. If we recognize that our family’s happiness depends on the happiness of our world family. Then we will see the need to teach our family tolerance and openness to people from different backgrounds as the way to bring happiness to the family of humankind.
We can improve the condition of our world family if we teach our family that like the messiness in our own families the world family can be messy too. That messiness is caused by imperfect people who sometimes hurt and abuse others. If we stop counting up those injuries and start working to honestly address our world’s wounds then we can overcome our differences and come together in happiness as a world family.
Respect for each other as brothers and sisters of God our Father will also go a long way towards bringing healing and happiness to our world family. If we recognize God’s presence in each other despite our differences we can bring joy and hope to this world. If we respect each other because we understand that all our brothers and sisters regardless of their background are loved by a God who uniquely made each one of us then we can help create a happy world family.
In a few minutes we will come forward to receive Holy Communion. Communion means the coming together of all of us here in unity, happiness and peace towards all people. Receiving it is a sign of our desire to live in community of love for all people. The Eucharist we receive today is a gift of grace, God’s presence in our souls to help us grow in the desire to live in happiness as a world family. As we receive Communion today open your heart to God’s call to be people who work together to make our families sources of happiness for each other and our world.