Scripture Readings: Isaiah 61:10–62:3 | Psalm 148 | Galatians 4:4–7 | Luke 2:22–40
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.” (Galatians 4:4-7).
What comes to mind when you hear the word: “family”?
Maybe you think of the images of your own relatives… partners, children, parents, siblings, and so on? And the joy-filled memories of times you felt surrounded by love and fellowship? Maybe you think of the pain that comes from feeling cut off from others… especially those you were once close to? Or maybe, like many people today, the idea of “family” feels like a mix of all this at once: heartache and hope, longing and belonging… chaos as well as communion?
The truth is, families are complicated blessings: A good gift from God to be sure, but one which brings along with it all sorts of challenges… and which requires all involved to grow into, and to nurture, to bear good fruit.
Now we know there are many reasons this time of year for us to be thinking about family. But we do so today especially because the first Sunday after Christmas is when the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family: a day commemorating the shared life of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, which began in Bethlehem all those long years ago.
We remember that our Saviour didn’t just drop down from heaven, but was lovingly cared for and raised in a humble human community… with all it’s joys and challenges. We remember that the Word of God who spoke the whole Universe into being also listened and learned… was protected and provided for… was comforted and embraced by the trembling hands of a first-time mother, and an adopted father.
Today we remember and rejoice that Jesus, the Lord of Glory chose a completely unlikely… far-from ideal family to share in… in order to adopt all of us messy families into His own… that is, the Church: the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic community of Jesus.
Church communities are often called a family. And sometimes this can be meant quite literally! I myself grew up in a rural Church, surrounded by four living generations of relatives, and which had been founded by my ancestors going even further back. Many Churches still have these kind of deep roots, arising from tight-knit neighbourhoods. But on the other hand, with many Churches that’s not the case at all: communities of people who have had no real connection before.
The early Christian communities were of course a mix of both. Many churches began when a family, or household would receive the Gospel, and commit themselves to Jesus. And in time, when they would then share the Good News with their neighbours, some of them would believe as well, and begin to worship with them. Especially in small towns, these were all probably people they already knew quite well.
But there was another astonishing trend that took place even in the earliest days of the Church: people from completely different backgrounds… classes, cultures, and social spheres, who would NEVER have had anything to do with each other before, began to believe the Good News of Jesus… and to worship the Living God together, and even be baptized together into God’s new family.
This may not seem all that strange to us today, but it would prove to be a wonderful, world-changing scandal for the Church: slaves and their masters, women and men, Jews, and Greeks, and others from all over the world were starting to be treated as equals… as brothers and sisters before God. Not just rubbing shoulders, but learning to actually share their lives, and to love each other.
Of course, it wasn’t easy. And it went against so many of their natural and cultural inclinations. But it did become reality: humans like us learning to live as God’s family, not just in heaven, but right here on earth.
But even this gift of the new Christian family was a complicated blessing. Many found joy in the Good News of Jesus, and brought their old friends and family with them into the Church. Many others would find themselves rejected by their loved ones because of their faith in Jesus… and would have to endure great pain and heartache, as Christ Himself experienced, and warned us would be the case.
But this new community wouldn’t be dependent on our natural human bonds… our shared bloodlines, our social classes, our ethnicity, culture, traditions, or interests. Across all these barriers, we are bound together now by the Good News of Jesus Christ, and what He has done! And all of humanity can now be embraced and adopted into God’s family.
Right before our second reading today from the letter to the Galatians, St. Paul makes this startling claim that reminds us all of what it means to be in God’s family:
Galatians 3:26-29, “for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
In Christ. Trusting in Christ. Baptized into Christ. Clothed with Christ. One in Christ. Belonging to Christ. Nothing else can get us in, or keep us out, of God’s family.
And St. Paul goes on: Chapter 4:4-7,
“when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.”
Because of Christ Jesus, and what He has done, we can be adopted into God’s family… as full members, as heirs along with Jesus our Lord of God’s eternal kingdom. No matter where we come from, no matter how many mistakes we have made, or how hurt we have been by our world, because of Jesus Christ we can become true children of God, filled with His Holy Spirit, and sharing in the everlasting love of His Heavenly Father.
This is what it means to be a part of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church… this strange, messy, and complicated, but still blessed community of Jesus Christ here on earth. But as we know, the Living God doesn’t deal with ideals… but with our broken realities… in His mercy and love, making all things new.
After all, the original Holy Family itself was far from ideal: Mary was a nobody, graciously chosen to receive a miracle… to conceive and give birth to God’s Son… but that blessed gift would bring all sorts of unlooked for complications with it. And Joseph would have walked away, were it not for a visit from the angel Gabriel in a dream… convincing him to put aside his suspicions and fears, and keep their family together. And Jesus Christ Himself set aside His eternal glory to take on our humble humanity, all in order to reconcile sinners like us to God.
The Holy Family was complicated… but the Living God brought them together to bring about through them far more than Mary and Joseph could have imagined. And from the three of them would come the one worldwide family of God.
We catch a glimpse of this along with them in our Gospel reading from Luke Chapter 2, when out of the blue they are given the prophecies of Simeon and Anna in the Temple… blessed and challenged by two elders led by God to embrace this young family, and share the Lord’s word with them:
In Luke 2:29–32, holding the baby Jesus, Simeon says “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
In Christ, Simeon saw God’s salvation… for Israel, and all the nations… fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham, that through his descendant, “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3).
And over the centuries since, God’s family has changed a lot. This little family… Mary, Joseph, and God’s Son, Jesus, would grow to become a truly worldwide community. Stretching not only across the Roman Empire, but across the whole earth.
Sometimes we have done a good job of staying true to our calling, and our beginnings… of growing together as a community bound to each other by God’s holy love, offered to absolutely everyone through Jesus Christ His Son.
And sometimes, we have failed pretty badly: becoming caught up in the old ways of the world… turning our hearts away from those who are not like us, cutting off those who come from a different class, a different culture… or who have different politics… forgetting that the Church, the family of God is so much bigger than we are, based on the Good News of Jesus, God’s Son, and what He Himself has done to adopted us all.
And so today, with a new year on the horizon, one question I’d like to challenge us to reflect on is this: how can we here in Gondola Point better embody God’s One, Holy Family? How can we be Living Faith, Growing Love, and Sharing Hope here together in ways that stay true to the Good News of our adoption by God in Jesus Christ?
Maybe we’re being called to nurture and grow in our existing relationships inside our Parish community… gathering together as brothers and sisters for worship, fellowship, and service?
Maybe we also need to reach out beyond our own circles to embrace those we don’t really know yet: welcoming visitors… building connections with our Christian brothers and sisters from other Churches… including those from our neighbouring Anglican Parishes here in the Valley?
Maybe we need to reflect on, and remember that the reason we belong to the Church at all, is not because of how good we may be, or how long our ancestors have lived here, or anything other than the Good News of Jesus Christ and what He has done for us… helping us start to see and treat everyone around us as those that the Living God longs to adopt as well.
In Christ, God has opened the door for everyone to become our adopted siblings… to share in the complicated but world-changing blessings that come with being the children of God. And by His grace, may we grow into and nurture the gift of God’s Family for all here in Gondola Point. Amen.
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School