Christmas, a Family Affair on earth and in Heaven
This Sunday is known as the Holy Family Sunday, also as the Holy Name of Jesus Sunday (the presentation and naming of Jesus). It allows us a brief look into the Lord Jesus’ infancy and family life.
Very little is Biblically reported to us about his infancy life, yet we know that our Lord lived a full human and family life with a father and a mother.
If we could reflect on one or two aspects of this Sunday and its readings, I would suggest family and community life as an important vessel of the covenant between us and God. The Lord Jesus did not act alone; He belonged and depended on a family, a Community and a culture. True God and true Man He was.
Accepting the Blessing
Isaiah the prophet, who lived almost 700 years before Christ, prophesied more about Jesus than others. He prophesied about his birth (Isaiah 7:14, 9:6-7), His suffering (Isaiah 53) and even about John the baptizer who prepared the way for Him (Isaiah 40:3-5).
Isaiah later prophesied that Messiah will give a crown of beauty instead of ashes, oil of joy instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
Jesus once entered the synagogue in his hometown where he was given a scroll to read (Luke 4). He opened the part where Isaiah had prophesied about him and read it. After reading he said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” The people who heard this rejected him and tried to throw him off a cliff. He walked through them and went on his way.
Today, we can decide to accept the blessings of Messiah or reject him. May the Lord help us to receive his blessings during this time of Advent and be a blessing to others as well.
Friends are rare and precious. I am so thankful for so many I count as friends. New Covenant is truly a friend-filled place!
Here are a couple of my other friends.
FR. BURNET CHERISOL
This Sunday I want to introduce to you all a new friend of the past couple years. Father Burnet Cherisol is the recently installed Episcopal Vicar of Anglican Mission Haiti. A couple weeks ago I shared the story of our time there in a bit more detail in a midweek epistle entitled, Haiti And Back. Sheryl Shaw, Fr. Gabriel and I, along with Bishop Kevin Donlon, went to Port au Prince for Fr. Burnet’s installation and to do Confirmations, Receptions, and Received a couple of priests into the new Mission.
Burnet was a seminary professor in Haiti and is a well-known personality there. The times we have been with him there, people regularly stop to greet him. And when he is with you at the airport, even the security people give him a nod and let you pass. You will like him! He will be with us this Sunday.
FR. BRENNAN MANNING
We became friends in the mid 80s. We use to walk the French Quarter stopping at every gelato and ice cream parlor, finishing the day with some fresh beignets.
Here’s a wonderful Christmas story from a blog Brennan wrote in 2012. He checked into the heavenly Jerusalem in April the next year.
The Enchanted One
from The Ship Wrecked at the Stable
There is a beautiful story recounted every Christmas in the forests of Provence in southern France. It’s about the four shepherds who came to Bethlehem to see the child. One brought eggs, another bread and cheese, the third brought wine. And the fourth brought nothing at all. People called him L’Enchanté.
The first three shepherds chatted with Mary and Joseph, commenting on how well Mary looked, how cozy was the cave and how handsomely Joseph had appointed it, what a beautiful starlit night it was. They congratulated the proud parents, presented them with their gifts and assured them that if they needed anything else, they had only to ask.
Finally someone asked, “Where is L’Enchanté?” They searched high and low, up and down, inside and out. Finally, someone peeked through the blanket hung against the draft, into the crèche. There, kneeling at the crib, was L’Enchanté – the Enchanted One.
Like a flag or a flame taking the direction of the wind, he had taken the direction of love. Throughout the entire night, he stayed in adoration, whispering, “Jesu, Jesu, Jesu – Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”
Yes! As the chorus goes, “What a friend we have in Jesus…” And when Jesus is in our friends, well, we experience the incarnation in every greeting!
Greetings to you all my friends,
Have you ever double-booked during the holidays?
“American Airlines Group Inc. is rushing to resolve a scheduling fault that gave time off to too many pilots in December — a flaw that has left more than 15,000 flights without enough crew during the holiday rush, according to a union for the carrier’s pilots.” Bloomberg News 29 November 2017
Think about your own upcoming holiday commitments for a moment. (If your plans include a flight on American Airlines, you may have a bit of anxiety just now.) As you imagine the next six weeks for your family, you may feel a bit of sympathy or commiseration with the folks tasked with the immediate rescheduling of all the pilots, crews, and staff who now will themselves have to reschedule the plans they’ve made inthe meantime.
Our schedules are one big window through which we may peer at our values and priorities. As your calendar for December fills, how have you prioritized your precious time and attention? Maybe you have maximized opportunities to consume eggnog in the company of St. Nick-hatted neighbors and coworkers. Or perhaps you rsvp mainly to make other people happy, even if eggnog always gives you a rather queasy feeling.
This season offers us a wealth of family traditions, office outings, giftwrap-wrangling, community gatherings, attic-boxed decorating, favorite holiday movies, candle-lit silent night, slowly consuming an entire gingerbread village, twinkling lights, nativity scenes, hot-cocoa with the air-conditioner on, and singing along to the music in the mall.
All these, as you know, are just the tip of the tree.
Each allocates a portion of our precious time, attention, and focus. As they should. We are, after all, both souls and bodies. And bodies have strong and valuable opinions about eggnog.
We move through time (Advent calendars can really help) as people entwined within expectations, memory, uncertainty, and anticipation. We move through our December days toward a grand and greater end, to which Christmas morning in our homes serves as an interim sacrament-ed sign. The great kingdom celebration at world’s end to which the Feast of Christmas aligns raises a key question. How do the days before Christmas connect to Christmas itself?
The message of Advent, this faith-shaped countdown to Christmas, is not to abstain but to prepare.
Prepare with intention so as to make the most of these holiday moments. Embrace the wonder of the Incarnation, the embodiment of God, who is Spirit, into the inspired craftsmanship of flesh and blood. Jesus was born and raised so that fruitcake (as part of the whole creation) could be and would be redeemed for the glory of God the Father.
To do that, we re-center on the stereo-ed message of the prophets and apostles: rejoice in the fulfilled first coming of the Christ as the baby of Bethlehem and prepare for the guaranteed return of the Risen Christ as the King of Kings at the world’s grand end.
To find that center again and to hold onto that center in the midst of the many scheduled and rescheduled events and opportunities ahead of you, we invite you to join us and others in this season for times of worship and connection.
We know we won’t see you at everything. We don’t want you to double-book like the faulty scheduling system at American Airlines did.
We would love to see you when we can hear together the booming words of Isaiah, watch the children gather around the crèche, greet new friends at Christmas on the Lawn, share a coke at Elf, take Steps to the Stable eachWednesday, and listen for the hush just before the Christmas story is read aloud on Christmas Eve.
Welcoming the miracle of Christmas invites our best focus and intention, because we are turning our focus and intention to God’s own best gift to us. We will jump in this Sunday with the essential task of shipping out the ghosts of Christmas past and looking forward to the promise of the Christmas just ahead of us.
Prayer for the First Sunday in Advent
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.Amen.
See you Sunday,