Christmas, Holy Family. The recording is very poor so here is an abbreviated transcript of the homily.
A couple of weeks ago a woman in our parish brought me a box of homemade goodies: applesauce, pears, jams, salsa, even cookies. So I put the box in the sacristy. After Mass I ran into Fr. Jack and he said, "Fr. Joel, someone brought me a box of goodies. Would you please take most of the things that are in that box, because I’m going on sabbatical and I won’t be able to eat them."
I said, "Fr. Jack, I’ll take everything in that box, because it was a gift to me!"
We both had a good laugh over it later on. The confusion was simple: Whom did the gift really belong to? It belonged to me. And I wasn’t about to let it get away.
We have some very interesting readings this weekend. Our first reading tells the story of Elkanah, a man with two wives. One of his wives has children, but Hannah has none. So she prays to God and promises that if God sends her a child, she will dedicate that child to God. And so Samuel is born and when he is weaned she takes him to the temple and gives him to God. He grows up to become one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament. She goes on to have more children – 3 more sons and 2 more daughters, a reward for her generosity to God.
Children are a gift from God. But whom do they really belong to? Our first reading reveals that the truly belong to God. He has entrusted children to their parents as stewards, who must care for these infinitely precious gifts. Children don’t truly belong to their parents, they belong to God, and we must care for them as God would want us to.
We see the same idea again in the Gospel reading. Jesus’ parents accidentally leave him in the temple. After searching for 3 days, they finally find him. Mary gives him a hard time; "Son, why did you do this to us?" Jesus responds, "Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house." He’s in the temple, he is in his father’s house; it makes perfect sense to him. Now if there is anyone who can say, "My parents don’t understand me," it’s Jesus. He is the Son of God – how could his parents possibly understand him?
And yet Jesus chooses to be obedient to them. There is another side to the coin of stewardship. Just as parents have been entrusted with their children, so children have been entrusted to their parents. God doesn’t just want Mary and Joseph to babysit his son – he trusts them with Jesus. And so Jesus is obedient to them, and because he was obedient the Bible says, "He advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man." He advances because he is obedient to them. Parents represent God the Father to their children, and the children must be obedient.
The comforting thing about this Gospel is this: even the Holy Family didn’t get it right all the time. Even the most perfect parents in the world lost their child once. Just as we find ourselves having to search for Jesus, so even Mary and Joseph had to go out and search for Jesus. So on this feast of the Holy Family we not only rejoice in the gift of families but we also pray that God would make our own families better reflections of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
(27 Dec 2009)