Given that we're told that most people learn most of their theology through singing in church, it's just a little worrying how much BAD theology there is in some of our Christmas carols! Last week I pointed out to the congregation (here) at All Saints that, however much you may love “Away in a Manger”, the assertion that “The little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes” is badly off course when describing a REAL baby.
Today, I'm afraid it's “Once in Royal David's City” that is running into trouble.
“And through all his wondrous childhood he would honour and obey, love and watch the lowly maiden in whose gentle arms he lay”.
Not if you listen to the story Luke told us this morning.
Today, as we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family, we encounter a very REAL family indeed.....a family where a son, not yet out of his teens, decides he is quite grown up enough to go his own way.
A family where the adults are sometimes preoccupied, and forget for a few moments that they have the most precious child of all time in their care
A family where things go wrong and tempers are frayed...
Where have you BEEN Jesus? Your Father and I were frantic”
A family where even God's own Son can sound rather a know-it-all as he say
“Did you not know I must be in my Father's house”
My Father's house.....I wonder how those words sounded to Joseph, especially, after those 12 years of nurturing Jesus, making a home for him and his mother...I'd guess they hurt rather – a brusque reminder that the events of the first Christmas were not an amazing one off, that could be safely confined to the family memoirs, relegated to an annual retelling around Jesus's birthday celebrations
That child só dear and gentle was growing up and growing into his full identity as God's son and that would involve pain, both predicted and unguessed at, for his earthly parents. Later on, they will lose him in Jerusalem once again for 3 days – and find him again in a way that they could never have expected...for this is no ordinary child – no ordinary family.
Mary and Joseph had to come to terms with who Jesus was, letting go of whom they might have wanted him to be...and that is often a challenge for us too. We so ofen try our best to mould him to our requirements...just think of all those pictures of white Anglo-Saxon Christs who surely bear virtually no resemblance to the 1st Century Jew …
They are simply the outward evidence for something we try to do on other levels too: if we tend to see the world through a conservative lens, then that is the Jesus we focus on too. If our approach is more liberal – we try to make Jesus a champion for OUR cause. We struggle, for the most part, with letting him BE Jesus in our lives – and in our church.
You see, Jesus is always uncompromisingly HIMSELF...Not meek and mild, not malleable – for if he were, he would be powerless to save us from ourselves. He is REAL – and his earthly family remains a real family too, a family made up of those who are connected to him not through blood and birth but through the power of the Holy Spirit.
His family – complete with imperfections, frayed tempers and failures to attend to his whereabouts.
And, like Mary and Joseph that Passover 2000 years ago, we often find ourselves losing sight of Jesus – and looking for him in the wrong places.
We want him to tag along with us, to live life on our terms, to bless us with his presence without demanding that we change direction at all but HE WONT DO THAT. He is always ahead of us, calling us onwards, asking more of us than we believe we can give – though, wonderfully, we find that he also enables us to exceed our own limited expectations if we set about following him with heart, mind and soul.
Like Hannah, who had to give back to God the precious child that God himself had given her, we cannot hold on to Jesus, keep him walking beside us on some kind of spiritual baby reins.
We can't demand that he falls in with our plans and agenda...He needs to be about his Father's business and he invites us to join him.
Today may perhaps be a good time to take stock of how well we are doing in that ...as individuals, and as churches.
The prospect of a new year always encourages that sort of reflection – but it's specially pertinent for us as we contemplate the new patterns of ministry which we will be part of in the future.
We might use the epistle as a kind of template to measure our success – or otherwise...for if we are truly about our Father's business, truly the Church, then our lives will bear the hall-marks of which Paul writes to those Christians in Colossae. The DNA of the Church, God's family here on earth, should reflect the DNA of our Father – who is wholly love.
“Above all, clothe yourselves with love” writes Paul “which binds all things together in perfect harmony”.
As we look forward to another year we know that we will fall short of that perfect harmony again and again...that we will fail to allow Christ's peaceful rule its proper place in our hearts and lives...that we will impede our Father's business by habits of mind and patterns of behaviour....Like most other families, we will struggle with relationships and hurt one another again and again. The Church of England as an institution has managed that particularly successfully in the course of the past year – but those same failures of trust and generosity, that same insistence on having things the way WE want them have at times been visible in our smaller church families too. We, the Church, are a dysfunctional family...a family in constant need of redemption and restoration, if it is to be true to itself once again.
So let's pray for one another as we go our separate ways – that the grace of Jesus Christ may fill us more and more, and the family likeness grow ever stronger.
+ In the name of the Father...