What Families Do…

My husband and I planned a pre-Christmas gathering for early December. We began by coordinating calendars with our sons to insure that they and their families would be able to attend. All was going well until the week beforehand. It was Tuesday when our eldest granddaughter called. Ellie began the conversation by sharing her excitement over the new friends she’s made in middle school. This grandparent and retired teacher was very happy to hear this as middle school can be challenging for newcomers. Ellie went on to say that one of her new friends had invited her and a few others to a party. The single complication in all of this was that the party was scheduled for the same evening as our gathering. Ellie called to ask if Grandpa Mike and I minded if she attended the other party. Before I could respond, Ellie assured me that she didn’t want to disappoint us and that she would come to our party if we wanted her to. Of course, my heart melted. I told Ellie that Grandpa and I wanted her to attend her friend’s party. After Ellie excitedly thanked us, this worrying Grandma confirmed with my son that Ellie had a ride to the party and that she would stay at her neighborhood friend’s home until her parents and siblings returned from our house. As it happened, Ellie had an enjoyable and safe time with her friends just as we did here.

Though we missed Ellie that Saturday night, Mike and I celebrated the realization that our first grandchild is morphing into a wonderful young person. We can’t ask for more than this. At the same time, Ellie’s party adventure brought back poignant memories of her dad’s and uncle’s experiences in this regard. Before our sons left the house for an evening of fun, I offered an excess of motherly guidance regarding their activities. Shall I mention that their dad usually stood in the background rolling his eyes? When our sons left, I also offered a prayer. I begged God and everyone else who was listening from above to inspire our sons to be wise and safe until they returned home. Happily, my prayers were answered generously! I share all of this because all of us want the best for those we’ve been given to love and parents have worried about their children since the beginning of time. Not even Mary and Joseph were spared this reality…

On this Feast of the Holy Family, Luke’s gospel (2:41-52) details Jesus’ contribution to his parents’ accumulation of gray hair. As was the custom at the time, Joseph, Mary and Jesus walked from Nazareth to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover in the temple. They traveled in the company of numerous neighbors and friends. After observing the feast, Mary and Joseph allowed Jesus to mingle freely amidst the caravan as they walked home. After all, Jesus was almost a teenager at the time. All the while, Mary assumed that her growing son was walking with the men. Joseph, who likely acknowledged that Jesus still had a lot of growing to do, assumed that his son was walking with the women and children. It was nightfall when Mary and Joseph realized that Jesus wasn’t with either one of them. Because they’d taught Jesus common sense and consideration for others, the frantic couple feared the worst. So it was that they left the safety of the caravan and walked back to Jerusalem alone to search for Jesus. When Mary and Joseph finally found him in the temple, Jesus seemed bothered by his parents’ concern. He asked, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” I know many of us could have advised Mary and Joseph regarding an appropriate response! Still, these two who had taught Jesus compassion, kindness, humility, patience and forgiveness practiced what they preached. Though they failed to understand Jesus’ actions, they resisted scolding him and simply led him home. As for Jesus, he returned to Nazareth “…and was obedient to them.” Perhaps I should tell Ellie that if she avoids causing her parents to worry, she’ll be far more successful than Jesus in this regard!

As I consider today’s Feast of the Holy Family, Jesus’ adventure in the temple compels me to dismiss the beautiful Christmas Cards and artwork which depict father, mother and child with halos and perpetual smiles in place. Life in Nazareth two millenniums ago wasn’t any less complicated than our lives are today. Just as our complicated modern-day circumstances impact family life, circumstances in Nazareth did the same for the Holy Family. Overcrowding, poverty, inhumane Roman rule and the unyielding expectations of the temple hierarchy were formidable stressors in this little family’s life. Like us, Joseph and Mary struggled to keep order in their household while loving and raising their child as best they could. When Jesus was lost, Joseph and Mary did exactly what any of us would have done when they went to the rescue of their loved one. It seems to me that today’s celebration of the Holy Family is a celebration of all of God’s family. Whether our roles are those of parent, child, grandparent, friend or a caring passer-by, God asks us to love one another and to keep track of one another just as God loves and watches over each one of us. After all, this is what families do, especially God’s family.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Beloved Child

As I write, the scent of our Fraser Fir makes its way upstairs to the study. I wonder if our Christmas Tree senses that the end is near. I breathe in the tree’s lovely fragrance. This scent compels me to turn toward the living room where our tree will reign for a short while longer. “You’re a good tree,” I say, fully expecting a satisfied nod in return. The tree responds by standing motionless in the light that pours through our living room windows. In the quiet of my heart, I hope that somehow this soon-to-be-recycled bit of creation realizes the joyful presence with which it filled our home this Christmas Season. Before I return to the keyboard, I whisper “Thank you!” to our tree and its Maker.

As I continue to write, it occurs to me that the most important Presence which fills our home each Christmas also awaits a transformation. During Advent and Christmastime, images of Joseph, Mary and Jesus fill us up. Joseph puts his faith in the Lord God in spite of the confusion and betrayal he feels regarding Mary’s unexpected pregnancy. Mary, in danger of being found out, puts her own concerns aside to focus upon her cousin who is also with child. Mary sets out to visit her older cousin Elizabeth. When the two women meet, they proclaim their hope in the Lord God as they comfort one another in these difficult times. Afterward, Mary returns home only to discover that she and Joseph must journey to Bethlehem to register for the census. When they finally arrive, there is no room in any of the local inns. A single innkeeper offers Mary and Joseph shelter in the cave where he keeps his livestock. There is nothing pristine or comfortable about this setting. Still, Mary and Joseph welcome Jesus into their humble world with the warmth of their love. After a visit by the Magi and a detour to Egypt to avoid Herod’s wrath, Joseph, Mary and Jesus make their home in Nazareth. The scriptures tell us that it is there that Jesus grows in wisdom and age and favor before God and humankind. With the exception of twelve-year-old Jesus’ Passover adventure in Jerusalem where he is separated from his parents for a day or two, we know little of what occurs in Jesus’ childhood and young adulthood until his fateful meeting with John the Baptizer.

Luke’s gospel tells us that Jesus-the-Young-Man approaches his cousin John for baptism. This meeting with John the Baptizer marks a transformation in Jesus’ life from which there will be no turning back. Jesus enters the water to be baptized with many good people who hear John’s call to make way for the coming of the Lord. While some think that John himself may be the long-awaited messiah, John assures all concerned that one mightier than he is on the horizon. That Mighty One prays quietly at the riverside after his baptism only to be singled out by God who declares, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.”

When he accepts baptism at the hands of John, Jesus steps into new life. When he is singled out by God, Jesus receives the encouragement he needs to embrace the life that lies before him. Jesus lives out this life with unquestionable goodness. Though the circumstances in which he finds himself are usually difficult at best, Jesus persists. As bad as things seem from the world’s perspective, God’s words provide a soothing mantra: “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.” So it happens that Jesus lives the life he is meant to live. He endures the agony in the garden, his passion and his death. Jesus embraces the fullness of life on Easter Sunday.

Our lives on this earth are imperfect as well. Fortunately for you and me, our days are also punctuated with transformations –like the Baptism of Jesus– which call our attention to the things that matter most. Before we set out on our own, God singles us out with the same words Jesus heard: “You are my beloved child; with you I am well pleased.” Though they may not echo from the clouds above, we hear God’s words just the same in the depths of our hearts. They come to life each and every time we make those difficult, selfless choices that make all of the difference in the world to those around us. They also come to life when we need God most.

Though our Christmas Tree will have found its way to the parkway by the time you read this, that unmistakable fragrance will remain. Our tree’s final gift is a lingering reminder that a transformation has occurred in our home and in our hearts. Just as we selected this particular tree to enhance our Christmastime festivities, God has singled out you and me to enhance life on this earth, especially the lives of those God has given us to love.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved