We celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family last Friday in the Christian context. A very late feast attached to the Liturgical Calendar, it still has a lot of significance for me, because it celebrates the lives of a rather unconventional family.
So lemme get this straight- God impregnates a teenage girl from the backcountry, and everyone’s supposed to buy into this idea? Oh hell no! Mary knew people wouldn’t, and so she did the smart thing- she took off, all the way across the country, to her cousin’s house! To wait it out, and return only when she was pregnant enough that no one would think of stoning her to death.
Very clever girl, but I would expect God to choose such a person. Joseph was one, too. He takes Mary in, and claims Jesus as his own, despite any shame and dishonor it might bring to his family. I think his family was pretty disappointed in him, going through with marrying a girl that has obviously already betrayed him. God’s Visions and Dreams tend to have this effect. They subvert the Normal and threaten the Established, over and over.
So here are God’s heroes- a teenage harlot and her senseless husband. Poor peasants, out into the world with a child who will change everything. Homeless, travelling immigrants through hostile kingdoms, most likely crossing these borders illegally. Powerless, penniless, preposterous. This is God’s foolish plan- bring about a transformation in the universe, through the last family on earth anyone would ever imagine Her doing this with.
This is the Holy Family, then, and now, because, as with everything biblical, the real meaning of each story isn’t what happened in the time they took place. No, the real meaning is the deeper meaning, what this story means in this time, the time that we’re reading it, and hearing it, and telling it. Because the Holy Family is still with us. The families we see today in these same conditions are the faces of Mary, Jesus, and Joseph in our context. We see them all the time:
-They hold up cardboard signs at our highway off ramps, asking for meager pennies, and we call them lazy fools.
-They show up at our hospitals needing medical care, and we call them worthless leeches and “anchor babies”.
-They ask for public assistance (though they’re also working two and three jobs), and we call them “welfare queens”, a serious drain on our tax dollars.
They serve our food, build our houses and highways. They wash our dishes, and make our beds. These Holy Families are among us all the time, and God is still transformng the universe with them.
(One place we won’t ever really need to worry about them showing up is church, at least we have that going for us. They don’t have nice enough clothes for the occasion, and certainly no money to put in our collection plates. They understand the unwritten rules we’ve created for what constitutes “membership”, no matter how much we say that “everyone’s welcome” in our “family friendly” church.)
These are our Holy Families today. And, exactly, who are we, in this midrashic scenario? Well, I’m pretty sure this is why God gives us a week between the Feast of the Holy Family and Epiphany, so that we have time to think about this, and to choose:
-Will we be like the Magi? Astrologers, fortune tellers, from a completely different religion….what? Isn’t their faith different from God’s clearly proscribed ways, based on demonic beliefs in Zodiac signs, constellations, movements of planets and stars? Aren’t they atheists, or polytheists, or something else unacceptable? How could we ever consider being Magi, whose religious ways are condemned in our very scriptures?
-OK, well, at least we can consider being like the shepherds, right? Oh no, wait, no way! They weren’t good people, either! Constantly low class, not religiously observant at all, let alone very cordial or civil. You’d never see a shepherd in church today, can you imagine? Always looked down on as the worst kind of people, never concerned about God’s good ways, because their way of life doesn’t fit into these good ways.
Yea, there are two of our choices, and then there’s also a third one, that most of us will choose: to be like practically everyone else, who didn’t really care to know about this Family’s significance, or to pay much attention if they did. The Holy Family transforms the universe. How many of us have noticed this? Aren’t we too busy throwing out all the holiday trash, cleaning up after all the holiday indulgence, getting ready to go back to school and work? Very few people really understand or pay attention to what’s really happening with Mary, Jesus, and Joseph, in the initial story. How many of us really understand, and pay attention, now? I have a feeling it’s very few, since Christmas services were well over a week ago. Yea, nice stories to tell our kids, light a few candles and sing about. Now where’d I put my cell phone?….
Yea, we have a choice here, but to choose walking into the true significance of this Family will put you in some strange and suspect company. It will not lead you into acceptable and comfortable places, because that’s not where Mary, Jesus, Joseph, the Magi and shepherds are. Get ready to find yourself in homeless shelters and hospitals, rather than quiet churches or heated houses. Get ready to find yourself around some dangerous people, and in dangerous places, where Normal and Established people will call you dangerous things. Get to be rejected by everyone you know, because the journey with the Holy Family will take you beyond all that is acceptable. This is God’s way, and as we see over and over in scripture, it’s not an easy way. This is God’s way, and as we see over and over right in front of us today, every day, it will strip you or everything you take for granted, and leave you with nothing worth much of anything in most people’s eyes (including your own). Walking into the Holy Family’s transformative significance might cost you in ways you thought unimaginable before. Right now, on this journey to Epiphany, what will you choose?
What will you choose?….