There are many words associated with Christmas. A word association would yield various responses such as Christmas—presents, candles, tree, shopping, carols, Jesus. But I’d be surprised if in a group of twenty people at least one didn’t say—“home”. Christmas is one holiday most people want to celebrate at home—just ask one of our servicemen or women. The popular song of the WW II era expresses this sentiment well:
Even among those who are not concerned about being “home” for the holidays, chances are they at least want to be with family or close friends. Certainly the heart of the Christmas message is not about home or even family, yet, when the angels first announced their message to the shepherds, “Fear not … for to you is born a savior who is Christ the Lord”, the breathless Bedouins did in fact find the Holy Family there around the manger. While perhaps not a house or an inn, the stable was a home—at least for the night!
Of Joseph, we see only vague shadows. He seems to have shunned the spotlight. A righteous man, discreet and compassionate, he was by trade a carpenter or as some New Testament scholars suggest, a “house builder”. More importantly, if Jesus and his stepbrother James (Acts 1:14; 15:13; I Cor. 15:7) are any indication, he was a “home-builder”, which is what we so desperately need from men today. We know a little more about Jesus’ mother, Mary. Of her great, self-less obedience to God’s awesome call there is no doubt. Her holiness, purity of heart and humility are evident whenever she appears on the pages of Holy Scripture. Still, glimpses into the life of the holy family are rare.
Three qualities, however, seem evident. First, there was a firm, but loving authority in the home. This can be seen in the one episode where there was a misunderstanding between Jesus and his parents. (Luke 2:41ff) A second familial practice was implicit in this event: they were faithful in keeping holy days, as well as in Sabbath and synagogue worship. Thirdly, both Mary and Jesus demonstrated a deep intimacy with the Hebrew Scriptures. Great portions of the Law, Prophets and Psalms appear to have been memorized. We might like to know more about their daily lives, but this much we may safely assume: There was a strong, positive and loving discipline; a sure trust in God’s providential care; a commitment to regular worship; and a deep and practical knowledge of the Scriptures.
How such qualities are needed today in our homes—where
- the Bible is read and children hear and see their parents reading and praying the Scripture
- prayers are said as individuals and as families
- parents and children go to church and worship together
- God’s name is spoken with reverence and where his teachings are believed
- wholesome and proper authority is respected
During Christmas some homes come under added stress. This is true for those already torn by excessive arguments, marital struggles, addictions, unruly children, busy schedules, or un-forgiveness, bitterness, and nursed resentments. Perhaps through God’s grace the greatest gift one can give a husband or wife, parent or child is the gift of forgiveness, a clean slate and a rekindled, loving relationship. This is one of the gifts the Christ Child can uniquely bring—for he was born to save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21)
This is also a time to remember those whose homes are broken. A divorce has shattered the dreams that once united two people; a single parent now struggles to do what even two parents sometimes find too demanding. We should not forget that even Mary came one dream away from being a single parent. (Matthew 1:18ff) In yet another home, a widow makes her way in a now lonely house. How important it is to remember that Mary and Joseph shared the joy of the baby Jesus with the aging Simeon and the widowed Anna. (Luke 2:22ff) They were brought into the glow and circle of Christ’s family and so the Church should do the same today for those who live alone as we share our lives and our homes.
Finally, we should remember there are many who are homeless—political and religious refugees, war-scarred, battle-wearied, and hungry www.persecutedchurch.com —some in Iraq, Iran, Syria, or in Egypt and Ethiopia where we have diocesan partnerships. These are places where the gospel was first heard and where the Holy Family found refuge and now where the Church hangs on by a thread of hope and prayers of the saints. Let us remember them at our Christmas Eucharist and throughout this Christmastide.
It is a wonderful gift to be home for Christmas, or to be with family and friends. It is even a greater blessing to have Christ and the joy of Christmas in our family, our friendships and our homes.
A Blessed Christmastide to You and Yours,
+Mark Joseph Lawrence
XIV Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina