This past December I learned that many Catholic churches designate the Sunday following Christmas as “the feast of the Holy Family.” It’s a relatively new designation, officially adopted less than 100 years ago. The Scriptures that are read on this day remind us of the important role that family played in the life of Jesus. The feast helps people link the biblical stories of Jesus and his parents to families today, and underlines the significance of family in the life of the church. (From God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas, edited by Pennoyer and Wolfe).
At our church, we heard Luke’s account of the infant Jesus being carried in his parents’ arms to the temple, just as faithful parents today carry their children to church for Christian nurture. Luke’s story also includes the double blessing of the well-aged, godly Simeon and Anna, celebrating the birth of the Lord’s Messiah. Their presence in the story reminds us that families need, and are surrounded by, many supports, including the priceless treasure of wise elders. And Anna and Simeon show us that family is larger than biological connections; we need a whole church to raise our children.
We readily make connections between the Scripture readings of Jesus as a young child in the care of his parents and our own families. Through our imagination, we linger on images of Jesus being nursed to sleep by Mary. We can almost see Joseph curling his hand over Jesus’ as he teaches him how to use a tool. When Mary and Joseph lose Jesus in the crowded streets of Jerusalem, their fearful, frantic search blends with our own experiences of lost children. These glimpses of the beginnings of Jesus’ life show clearly, if briefly, that he was a human child growing up in a family, faithfully cared for by Mary and Joseph. Jesus knew family life intimately, with all the delights and struggles that affords.
Might we borrow this family life concept from our Catholic friends? Could we designate the Sunday after Christmas as a family life day? I confess that initially the idea seems a little strange. I’m a Protestant, after all, and an Anabaptist at that! I am not an inheritor of feast days and designated prayer times. I’m supposed to pray without ceasing, right? I’m supposed to pray every day for my family, right? Such prayers are not stored up for just one special day a year.
Well, in reality, I don’t pray every day for my family members, except in a generic way. And designating a family life Sunday doesn’t preclude the possibility of praying every day for one’s loved ones. Still, I find that some days are more special than others. Like birthdays and wedding anniversaries and the day of a death. And certainly we are fortified when we meld the biblical story with the nuts and bolts of our lives.
We’re still close to the beginning of a new year. It likely is a good day in which to pray a prayer of blessing for our families:
- To ask God to help us demonstrate the same nurture, protection and fidelity that Joseph and Mary showed to Jesus.
- To renew our wedding vows, which some couples do on their anniversaries.
- To seek reconciliation where there is strain or wounded silence. Perhaps we do this with the family members we live with or with those who are closest to us.
The Holy Family of Mary and Joseph and Jesus can show us some things about how to be a holy family today.
Melissa Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a pastor and counsellor, seeking wholeness in relationships.
—Posted Jan. 28, 2015