Advent 4

Now the birth of Jesus, the Messiah took place in this way… the way of family, of trust and risk, and promise and compassion.  Our savior, our redemption, our gift from God, required us, the holy family, to say yes.  To embrace and protect, to nurture and give shelter so that God could bring to fulfillment this plan of redemption.

I have had a moment like Joseph.  Annie and I know what it feels like when the spirit says, take this child into your life, your home… be a family with her.  Your mind fills with questions and concerns and what ifs…  what will this mean for me, for us, for our other children? I still do not know what it will all mean.  I only know what would not be if we had said “no”.

“Joseph, son of david, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, and the child as your own.  Fear stops us, but divine and human love make a way.   

I believe the church is called to be the Holy Family…a community in which the spirit is bringing forth all kinds of children, of sons and daughters, who bring peace and redemption and love into our world. Our life and community together ought to be a safe and nurturing environment in which the Holy Spirit can implant the vulnerable plans and gifts of peace, and grace, and mercy, and redemption in our world.

The Morning Prayer office ends with the Prayer of St. Chrysostom, a 4th century priest in the Orthodox Church.

“Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen.

    Everytime I pray with one or two others in the chapel, I feel that sense of kindling, or conceiving, and bringing forth fragile and vulnerable hopes and dreams of peace, and healing, and beautiful and holy rhythm in our world.  Each time we whisper a name who requires healing, discernment, direction; each time when we call out on behalf of government and civil life we share, each time we offer prayers of compassion for one who has lost their life-long companion, each time we call forth blessing and vocation for a young person beginning their adult life, or when we pray for the blessing and health of a mother bearing her unborn child…we are being the Holy Family bringing forth God’s precious love and redemption and peace into the world… we are the Body of Christ bringing forth the presence of Christ in our day, in our world.  John Chrysostom’s prayer, affirms this mystical idea, that it simply takes two or three people to come together to manifest the presence of Christ in their midst.

I think this story of how the Christ came into our world also says something about what it means to be a family, or what makes a family, or the power of being family. I think the Spirit calls people together to be a family who are not necessarily blood.  Like the Holy Family, the spirit can create all kinds of family in our life.  We have seen great changes in our times and culture in what “family” looks like, and though some choose to dismiss the blessing or validity of “unconventional” or “modern families”, I believe the gift of love and protection and community and faithfulness and endearment and support and sacrifice are a gift from and sacrament of God regardless of what or who it looks like.  Jesus himself, created family, not through marriage or being a father, but by creating a community of mutual love and care and belonging among people from diverse backgrounds and places in life.  What makes a family?  We make a family when we choose to love and forgive and listen and help and be available and be vulnerable and be kind and accepting and sacrifice for the sake of another.  I think when we choose to be family for others we bring forth Christ’s redemption for those whom we make family.  We save them from isolation and being alone.  We save them from bearing the weight of their world and their burdens alone. We rescue households that are in the grip of conflict and tension, anger and frustration when we extend the grace and belonging of our own family to others.

At the last men’s group, one of the guys shared with the rest of us, “my door is always open.”  It was an invitation that we were welcome to his home and his life.  I was moved by the invitation, and I believe others were as well.  And I think the group moved a little closer from being a gathering to being a family, from being a group of men, to being among brothers.

In a world where the trends of mobility, sexuality, technology, and cocooning have been radically changing our culture for at least six decades, the gift and power and redemption of family is a blessing from God in all of its shapes and forms.  It is often the way and how the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, takes place in our world, today. Just as it did in the days of Joseph and Mary.  Amen