Deacon Cornellís Homily


1 Samuel 1:20-22,24-28
1 John 3:1-2,21-24
Luke 2:41-52


December 26-27, 2009, Feast of the Holy Family - Cycle C

What a wonderful trilogy of readings the Church gives us on this Feast of the Holy Family. Between the exhaustion in the wake of Christmas and the anticipation of the New Year, we hardly have the time or energy to spend with the wisdom and insight these readings give us.

The reading from the first book of Samuel paints this poignant little sketch of another holy family that lived 1000 years before Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Hannah, Elkanah and Samuel. Samuel will grow up to be the high priest to the first kings of Israel: Saul and then David. 2 years before this passage, Hannah was so inconsolable at her inability to have a child that Eli, the high priest, tried to throw her out of the temple thinking she was drunk. The story ends with her bringing Samuel, the child of her dreams, to leave him in the service of God in the temple. I think of this scene every time I talk with parent bringing their child for baptism as I ask them: Do you understand what you are undertaking? Are you really willing to bring this child of yours so he or she might be dedicated to God's service?

The scene with Jesus at the temple should be a consolation to all parents of a teenager. One commentator , Sr. Elizabeth Boyle OP, characterizes Jesus as the twelve-years old-enough-to-know-better. When I read that, my first thought was that Sr. Elizabeth never lived with a pre-adolescent or teenager. Teens and preteens are so preoccupied with becoming who they will be they have no clue about what others think or feel or expect. Luke writes that Mary and Joseph did not understand. Again as parents we can identify with that feeling. Finally Luke ends his story with the terse statement that Jesus went down to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph and was obedient to them. Sr. Elizabeth ends her comments by noting that Luke says he was obedient to them, not that Jesus met their expectations!

And sandwiched between these beautiful small pictures of holy family life is our second reading from the first letter of John. The first two verses are one of the most important passages in all of Scripture for me. They give me a glimpse into how God's plan for salvation works. As an engineer, it is not enough for me to know that God has a plan and that I have a part in it, but I want to know something about the process, how it works.

The author of John's letter says that what we are now are children of God. Not because of anything we have done but because of God's love in sending Jesus among us, we have been adopted as sons and daughters of God, sisters and brothers of Jesus, son of God. He then goes on to say that what God has in store for us as our final destiny is beyond human comprehension. It not only has not been revealed but it cannot be revealed because we could not understand it. But, he goes on to say that when it is revealed we know something about what will be revealed. We use so many different metaphors for identifying when the fullness of God's plans for us will be revealed: when we die and go to heaven, when we stand before the face of God, when we are fully incorporated into the loving relationship we call Trinity, when the kingdom of God is fully established here on earth, when Christ comes again in glory. But each of these and all of these really refer to the same thing, so use whichever makes the most sense to you. When it is revealed, we will be like God for we will see God as God really is.

I think it is a pretty fundamental human experience that when we look at the face of someone we know truly and deeply loves us, it changes us. Love transforms us into something better. It has the power to strip away false aspects of our ego to reveal a truer self. Whether that person is a spouse or parent or child or sibling or true friend, experiencing that love never diminishes us; it always exalts us. If this is true for human experience, what if we were face to face with Love itself. Love as deep and unending and passionate as love can be. God does not just love; God is love. Face to face with love itself transforms us into love, into God.

So God's plan as scripture tells us, as we pray for in the Lord's Prayer, as we celebrate in the Eucharist, is to transform this world into the kingdom of God, to make all of creation the paradise God has always dreamed for it. And God plans to do this by loving it into completion. From the very beginning God has made God's love present in the beauty of nature, in God's relationship with the chosen people of Israel, and in these last days in the incarnation of love that is Christ. And here and now we are called by baptism to be this body of Christ, this incarnation of God's love that can, and will, transform this ugly world around us into the kingdom of God here on earth.

What an astounding cosmic revelation these two verses give us. But for all their cosmic significance and awesome importance, the two stories that bookend this revelation remind us that this cosmic truth is played out in the most mundane human experience: living together as family. This transformation power of love is given reality in the love that Hannah and Elkanah have for Samuel, and certainly in the love that Joseph and Mary have for Jesus, and the love that Jesus has for Joseph and Mary. Because God has chosen to implement his plan through human effort, it is not just Mary and Joseph being transformed by Jesus, God incarnate, but Jesus as human is being transformed through obedience to, and awareness of the love Mary and Joseph has for him.

I pray that we gather enough energy to open this wonderful gift our readings are today. That we see in them our call to incarnate God's love in the midst of that most basic human experience: living together as family. And that we live out that baptismal call to be love so that love can transform this world. As this first letter of John says in the verses between the two sections of Chapter 3 that we heard today: Let us love not in word or speech, but in deed and truth.

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