1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28
Psalm 84:2-3, 5-6, 9-10
1 John 3:1-2, 21-24
Upon entering a house during the Christmas season, we always take note of a few things, the various lights and decorations, most especially the Christmas tree and how it is decorated. Usually somewhere around the house, displayed somewhere in a prominent place, is a Nativity set. They come in various shapes, sizes, colors, cultures. But what makes up a Nativity set, what is essential for the Nativity scene?
I can remember one year at one of my assignments I was putting away a Lennox nativity set given to us by one of the benefactors of the school that was displayed annually in the school chapel. Each year a new piece was given to us to be added, and this had been going on for several years before I had even arrived. Well, as I was carefully placing each precious piece of Lennox crystal into its cushioned box, a camel ever so slightly tapped the tile floor of the chapel, and – just like that – shattered into what seemed to be a million pieces. I was a nervous wreck, because the benefactor took great pride in the set. One of my colleagues tried to comfort me, saying, “Look at it this way. It could have been Mary or Joseph, or God forbid, the baby Jesus. That definitely would have been noticeable! But, come on, it’s only a camel.” (I later found out this benefactor would take a picture each year of the set because she always liked how we creatively displayed it, so it indeed was noticed!)
In our gospel today, the Christ child went missing from the scene, and this was eventually noticed by Mary and Joseph. That scene of stability often depicted by the stable, was no more – for an essential piece, an essential person wasn’t there. Mary and Joseph spent time searching for the Christ child – an action, an image common in our gospels throughout this Christmas season. Many were in search of the Christ child – the shepherds, the Magi, and now Mary and Joseph themselves. Each of them was not complete until the Christ child was present. Jesus was the glue, the centerpiece in each of their stories, in each of their journeys. Jesus was essential in completing the picture.
On this feast of the Holy Family, we are invited as individual families, and as a community, to examine what is really essential and what is non essential in making us work, in fulfilling our mission, in keeping us going. We have to look at the Nativity Sets of our lives, how we are set up, displayed as a family, in both all of its function and dysfunction, and discern what is essential and what we might have to let go of, so that we can keep on the journey, as did Hannah in our first reading, who knew Samuel would flourish by letting him go to the Temple with Eli.
We can spend so much time and energy picking up the broken pieces that often occur in our lives, past hurts perhaps, images of what we once were as a family and miss what remains. Or we might notice that something essential is in fact missing in our lives, and we have to go after it, look for it, as did Mary and Joseph, to make us whole once again.
Being a holy family was not just a given for Mary and Joseph; it didn’t just “happen” to them. They had to work at it, that is, they had to respond to God in their lives. That’s what made their family really holy. From the beginning, they had to let go of any assumptions they may have had about the future of their life together, and respond to God in their circumstances as life unfolded before them. That moment of looking for the Christ child was an essential, ongoing activity in their life together, in keeping Jesus, in keeping God in the center of their story, of their scene. In the midst of sometimes shattered, broken pieces, they trusted God was at work on them, in them, through them, as St. John says in our second reading, not always knowing what the end product would be.
Isn’t that what Eucharist is? Isn’t that what Eucharist does to us, but mold us, shape us into this sense of holiness – and not just exclusively for this feast day. The prayer of the Eucharist, over the bread and wine, takes our lives as they are and where we are, and makes of us an eternal offering, as we hear, but we have to want it, we have to be open to this process of holiness, for God’s desire to transform us. And this end product of holiness? Nothing more – and nothing less – than various shapes, sizes, and colors, as a Nativity set, all of which together reveal the presence of Christ among us.