Family fortunes

There were two brothers who had a longstanding feud between them. Their parents were fed up with them so they invited round the priest to mediate between them and effect a reconciliation. After much deliberation, the priest managed to get them to settle their differences. As a final gesture of peace, the priest asked them to shake hands and make a wish for each other. One brother said to the other. ‘I wish for you what you wish for me.’ The other threw his hands in the air and exclaimed. ‘Look father, he’s starting up again!’

I wonder how many family gatherings this Christmas were blessed with peace and how many suffered argy-bargy. At Christmas more than any other time of the year we realise that while we can choose our friends we cannot choose our family.  Christmas viewing of soap operas whether in Weatherfield, Walford or Beckindale will be dominated by family bust-ups. The purpose of the soaps at Christmas seems to be to impress upon us that if you think your family is bad, it could be much worse!

The Bible is also full of highly dysfunctional families. Jacob cheats his brother Esau out of his rightful inheritance. Joseph suffers the jealousy of his brothers who strip him of his wonderful coat and leave him for dead down a well. David’s beloved son Absalom turns against his father in revolt.

Although today we celebrate The Holy Family, Jesus is not always a model son. He speaks to his mother insolently after he is found in the temple, ‘didn’t you know I’d be in my father’s house?’.  He’s quite rude to Mary at the wedding of Cana, ‘woman, what is that to me?’ he says when she tells him of the lack of wine. He virtually disowns his family: ‘who is my mother and my brother and my sister?’ he asks. ‘Whoever heeds the word of God is part of my family’.  Jesus declares emphatically that any follower of his must put him before family and forecasts that his words will bring family divisions.

The Holy Family is held as the paradigm of a Christian family, a shining example for us to follow. And yet we know very little about the nature of their family life. There are frustratingly few glimpses. We are obliged to use our imagination to picture the nature of family life at Nazareth. This family life gave Jesus a firm foundation. We can presume that Jesus was brought up a good Jewish boy, observing all the rituals, sharing Passover with his parents, asking the questions as to the reasons behind what the did, as the youngest at the meal, attending synagogue with Joseph, and accompanying his parents to the temple on at least one occasion.

What of the times when Jesus misbehaved and needed correction. Was he punished? What was Jesus like as a teenager?  

Jesus clearly grew up with love and protection. Mary treasured every memory of the special events of his childhood in her heart, as all mothers do. Although she was at times bewildered by Jesus she never deserted her son and was there standing vigil at the foot of the cross. Joseph was his guardian his protector, without him he would not have survived his early years.

We are blessed if we know that we are loved and protected. That may or may not come from family. It may be provided by a partner or a friend. This church should be a place, where love and security are received, where all are accepted. Not everyone has a family, not everyone has friends. Christmas has been described as a conspiracy to make single people feel alone.

For me, the highlight of Christmas was to have with us at Midnight Mass, six rough-sleepers who had found emergency accommodation at the Merchants Terrace Hostel. How lustily they sang Silent Night during communion! They had sought out the church, and were moved by what they found. It was as if the rough shepherds had come to the stable. 

Our faith should provide us with love and security. We have a heavenly father who never fails us. Though family and friends may not always live up to our expectations, he is always the same, ever faithful, ever sure.