WHAT’S A FAMILY FOR?

FAITH IN FOCUS: WHAT’S A FAMILY FOR?

When the little family of Mary and Joseph brought their baby to the Temple, there were two old-timers who couldn’t believe their eyes: Simeon and Anna. We’re told that Simeon was an elderly man and that Anna was 84 years old. They were regular Temple-goers and they were looking forward to the day when the Lord would send his Messiah, the one who would save Israel, the Jewish people, from oppression. They recognised this in Jesus. Simeon said that at last he was ready to die because he now knew God had kept his promise.

But the child that Simeon and Anna saw was just a baby. The Son of God, yes. The Messiah, yes. But just a baby. He needed a family to grow up in. Families are where we become human, where we can rely on the support of those close to us and we can take our first steps in the lifelong journey of discovery.

At the end of today’s gospel, Luke tells us that ‘the child grew to maturity, was filled with wisdom and God’s favour was with him’. This, of course, means that Jesus had to develop; he didn’t come into the world fully formed. He had to mature like every other human being. And it was in the family at Nazareth that this happened.

Families help us to grow physically, to increase in stature. Responsible parents look after their children by feeding them the right food, making sure they’re not fed on a diet of junk food or snacks which cause obesity and fizzy drinks that rot the teeth. They provide proper clothing, suitable opportunity for exercise, a caring atmosphere etc.

It’s within the family that a child grows in wisdom, in other words, mentally. Families encourage their children to take a healthy interest in learning, rather than simply in being entertained. It’s the parents who are the primary leaders in educating their sons and daughters, encouraging them to ever-new horizons, inculcating searching mind and a thirst for knowledge.

And, of course, it is within the family that a child develops his or her spiritual understanding. Children take their cue from their parents. A family in which God plays a crucial role is one in which children learn that life is about more than having and getting, and that there are values which go beyond the material.

We all have a spiritual dimension to our being, but it needs to be developed in such a way that we begin to realise that we are part of a larger family, the family of God, and that we have duties, responsibilities and benefits that accrue from this. We are capable of having a relationship with God and with his Son who came on earth to show us how to be human, to help us to get the most out of life and live it to the full.

 

RECEIVING GIFTS

FAITH IN FOCUS: RECEIVING GIFTS

Tom’s parents had told him that when he graduated from university they would buy him a second-hand car. In the weeks before his results came through he went with his father to look at what the dealers had to offer and they decided on the right model. The day of his results came. He’d passed with flying colours. A few days later when he came home he expected to find the car waiting on the driveway, but instead his father congratulated him and gave him a small package.

The package contained a bible and Tom was so furious that he threw the bible down and stormed out. A week later his father died and Tom came home to be with his mother. In his father’s room he came across the bible and as he leafed through it he saw a cheque that his father had made out to him for the exact amount that the car would have cost. The gift had been there all along but he had been unaware of it.

The Christmas story is a bit like Tom’s experience. It’s not that God didn’t care about humanity until that first Christmas when Jesus took flesh as the child of Bethlehem. God has loved us from eternity and never ceases to do so. In fact, if God stopped loving us for even one second we would cease to exist, for we are held in being by the power of God’s love and compassion. Yet when Christ came among us it was to show us that God loved us so much that he wanted us to be with him eternally. It took the Christ-event for the world to be able to refocus on its relationship with its creator.

When the angel appeared to Mary it was this all-pervading love of God that was at work again. In fact the angel’s first words to Mary were, ‘Hail highly favoured Mary’. When we say the Hail Mary we translate this as ‘full of grace’ but the Greek really means someone who has had favour heaped upon her. The birth of Jesus began with Mary being reminded how much she was gifted by God.

The challenge of this Christmas is for us to be aware of this grace. What we celebrate is the birth of God’s own Son and the fact that although we might not always recognise God’s gifts, they are always there for us.

POINTING BEYOND THE OBVIOUS

FAITH IN FOCUS: POINTING BEYOND THE OBVIOUS

The BBC Sports Personality of the Year (live from Liverpool this Sunday 7pm) is all about the winners, the best, those who have achieved something. What about those who are behind their success the trainer, the caddie, the ones who support them in so many different ways? It’s good to recognise that it’s OK to be Number Two. That’s because these people all make it possible for their friends to be Number One.

You could call John the Baptist Jesus’s Number Two. The whole purpose of his life was to play second fiddle to his cousin, Jesus. His preaching and his ministry pointed to someone whose shoes he wasn’t even worthy to undo. He was a witness to someone greater than himself. Yet his own work prepared the way for the Lamb of God.

John the Baptist knew who he wasn’t. He made it clear that he was not the Messiah. He also knew who he was. When they asked him who he was he could have built himself up: a great prophet, a wonder-preacher etc. But he simply said that he was a voice. Voices come and go, and some of them are never heard. Jesus is described as the ‘Word’, the ‘message’ of God that has existed from all eternity the fullness of God’s plan for humanity. But John says he is simply a passing voice that points to the ‘Word’.

In the run-up to Christmas we are challenged as Christians. And our challenge is to be the voice of our time that points to something and someone that the world might not see.  

We are called to be witnesses to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And in particular we are called to bear witness to the fact that behind all the shallow glossiness of the season and the one-dimensional celebration of indulgence there lies a reality that shocks some and thrills others: our God has taken flesh and become one of us so that he might teach us how be like him.

This is what we prepare for during Advent and celebrate at Christmas. And while we do so we point beyond the obvious to someone and something that only faith can see.