This morning the liturgy moves from Bethlehem via Jerusalem to Nazareth. On Tuesday we celebrated the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Today we celebrate his childhood in Nazareth. As we heard at the end of the holy gospel, following the incident in the Temple: Jesus went down with Mary and Joseph and came to Nazareth.
I once went to Nazareth. I’ll never forget seeing two young boys at a well drawing water for their families. They could have been Jesus and his cousin John. The water was probably from the same source as that drawn on 2000 years ago, for wells do not move.
This morning we are all going in heart and mind to Nazareth, to the household of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. We’re going, with the scriptures and the holy liturgy to seek inspiration from the Holy Family for our own families and for the family we enjoy here at St. Giles’ as a local expression of God’s never-ending family, the holy, catholic church.
As we go to Nazareth we find welcome, challenge and empowerment.
We find firstly a welcome. The hearth of Mary and Joseph is an open hearth. How could it be otherwise? How could this couple who welcome God into their earthly home be guilty of turning any away?
In the Holy Family there is hospitality, the generous reception of friends and stranger alike. We catch something of the extended life of the Holy Family in today’s Gospel story of Jesus getting lost in the Temple when the three of them travel in a large extended family. To enter the story of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is to find yourself welcomed into that great hospitable procession of the people of God into the heavenly Temple. Mary and Joseph remind us that we can never have Jesus to ourselves. To be a Christian is to be one with Mary and Joseph and Paul and Augustine and Francis and Giles – and the list goes on!
In the Holy Family we find the welcome that marks the church from its beginning, God’s people belonging to God and belonging together.
You and I haven’t chosen one another but God has chosen us together to be his family here in Horsted Keynes. Welcome one another says the Apostle as God in Christ has welcomed you.
In Nazareth we see also an image of Christian family, of mutual belonging. Jesus, Mary and Joseph are present to one another in a way we can only hope to imitate by the grace of God.
Our families need to go to Nazareth, so to speak, and to learn there how to be more present to one another.
As we go to Nazareth we find such a welcome – and also a challenge. It is the Feast of the Holy Family today.
There’s so much sentimentality surrounding Mary and Joseph we need to get back to scripture to see them as they are – two of God’s holy ones and holiness is nothing comfortable but rather something challenging. The infancy narratives in the Gospel give evidence of St. Joseph’s capacity to hear the voice of God and guide the Holy Family.
And Mary! If she had not been what we call ‘ascetic’, a woman set apart and well disciplined in the spiritual life, she would not have become the God-Bearer by whom God came down to live in your life and mine.
As someone wrote, it was as if the human race were a little dark house, without light or air, locked and latched. The wind of the spirit had beaten on the door, rattled the windows, tapped on the dark glass, trying to get in – and yet the Spirit was outside. But one day a woman opened the door, and the little house was swept pure and clean by the wind. Seas of light swept through it, and the light remained in it; and in that little house, a Child was born and the Child was God.
As we go to the home in Nazareth we encounter the challenge of holiness, what Pascal said was the most important influence in the world. We see a Holy Child formed by a Holy Mother and her Spouse. How can we enter such a home?
There are families I know where there is such a sense of the Holy Spirit that I am made to feel deeply challenged. Some households have about them a transcendent quality, a joy that is pointer to heaven our true home.
This is also true of churches. Just welcoming visitors is not enough. They need to be challenged, intrigued by what they see inside our buildings, both the worship of Jesus and the people of Jesus in their self-lessness and joy.
This morning we go to Nazareth to learn in the school of Jesus, Mary and Joseph of a welcoming love and a challenge to holiness. Lastly we will find at Nazareth a source of empowerment.
For 2000 years people have been empowered by the saving grace of Jesus Christ born of Mary. What a Saviour – a practical Saviour! As practical as his foster father, Joseph, in carpentry where Our Lord picks up his capacity to mend, yes, even families.
How many of us have had to bring our marriages and our families to be mended? To the Carpenter, the One who anoints and empowers and saves – and seen the difference Christian Faith makes.
How much we need to get back to Nazareth, to Jesus, Mary and Joseph and see there a work of intense spiritual transformation open to all. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour (Luke 2:52). He did so that we too might increase in the same fashion!
Either Jesus Christ makes a difference, either he is born ‘to raise the sons of earth’ or our religion is moralistic do-gooding. If Christianity is about ‘do gooding’ it is only in the sense that Christians have access to a power beyond this world that incidentally helps you do what is right.
For that empowerment, for the challenge and welcoming love the Holy Spirit brings we go in gratitude once more this morning to Nazareth!
Through modelling Jesus, Mary and Joseph, may our families and our church be places of welcome so that people may find a home with us and with the Lord!
May our families and our church be challenging places where people get intrigued by Jesus Christ living in the midst of his people!
Father grant that our families and our churches may become places of spiritual empowerment where we share in the anointing of your anointed Son, who with you and the Holy Spirit live and reign, One God for ever and ever. Amen.