This is the sermon I preached for the Jeremias Meneses clan family reunion on 19th December 2010. As it was a Sunday I took the Gospel for the day (Fourth Sunday in Advent) – Matthew 1:18-25.
Today is a day to celebrate and rejoice!
We celebrate because it is our family reunion day – and that is a good reason to celebrate. But we also celebrate because Christmas is upon us. The Simbang Gabi marks the final few days of the long Filipino countdown to Christmas. In the church, this is the fourth Sunday of Advent and the gospel reading is from the first chapter of St Matthew. As we are not in church today, I thought it would be good to reflect for a few minutes on Matthew chapter 1 and see what it has to say to us as a family, at this time of reunion.
It is very appropriate that we hold our family reunion at Christmas time. For at Christmas the focus is very much on the family – and one family in particular – la sagrada familia, the Holy Family, whose story is at the very heart of Christmas.
In the Philippines the Holy Family is constantly before us at Christmas time. Everywhere we turn we see the Belen – the nativity scene – in homes, streets, businesses, shopping malls and churches. Whether small or large, simple or ornate, the Belen reminds us of the family at the heart of Christmas. This morning I want us to reflect on the Holy Family as an example and inspiration for our own family life.
The first thing I want to say is that like us, this was a large extended family. Oh, I know that in the Belen the only family members we see are a father, mother and child – by Filipino standards, a very small family. But Jesus was part of a much larger, extended family, with aunts and uncles and cousins. Do you remember the story of Jesus as a twelve year old boy, on pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover festival? And how his parents lost him? How could loving parents lose their child so easily? I think because they were traveling as apart of a big, extended family. Why would they worry about Jesus? They probably assumed he was with lolo and lola or playing with his cousins.
So I’m sure that Jesus knew what it was like to grow up in a big family – though perhaps not as large as the Meneses-Santos clan. And he knew all about the stresses and strains, the difficulties – and the joy – of family life.
The second thing we can say about the Holy Family is that they were poor. Despite the fact that Joseph worked as a carpenter; they were an ordinary, poor, working family.
How do we know this? Because there was no room for them at the inn. I’m sure you know the story, how Joseph and Mary traveled all the way to Bethlehem only to find that every inn had a ‘no vacancy’ sign. If Joseph and Mary were wealthy, I’m sure the inn keeper would have been all too ready to find them a bed for the night. If not they could have slipped him one or two thousand pesos. Could you just check again for us please?
But in fact Joseph and Mary had no such resources and a stable was the best they could find.
I must admit that this is not conclusive evidence. But in Luke’s Gospel chapter 2 we are given absolute proof that the family was poor. It was the Jewish tradition that every first born son had to be taken to the temple to be consecrated to the Lord and a sacrifice offered. According to the law, the correct sacrifice was a lamb and a dove, but a poor family could offer two doves instead. And which sacrifice did Joseph and Mary make? Yes – two doves, the sacrifice of a poor family. (Leviticus 12:8; Luke 2:24)
So, firstly, Jesus was born into a large, extended family and secondly, they were working people, not particularly wealthy, powerful or influential. Although Joseph was of royal descent, socially and financially the Holy Family was not among the Macapagal Arroyos of the world. Rather they would be found among the ordinary people of the barrio. And therefore, may we say, among people like us?
Mention of Joseph’s royal ancestry brings me to my third point. Joseph and Mary knew their roots. In fact, that was the reason they were in Bethlehem, because Joseph was of the family of David; King David, that great hero of the Jewish people who reigned about a thousand years before the birth of Jesus. Just imagine that – Joseph could trace his family history back a thousand years – and indeed much further!
Now we cannot go back quite so far. But we are aware of our heritage and that is why we are here. It is important that we know where we come from. In his letter to the Romans St Paul writes: “you do not support the root, but the root supports you” (Romans 11:18). Paul is writing about the Jewish heritage of the Christian church, but I think it is more widely applicable. What is the heritage we celebrate today? Obviously that we are part of the family of Jeremias Meneses, either by birth or marriage. That brings us into relationship with each other and also with this place. Our roots lie in Pampanga and in San Simon, even though many of us here today were born in other places such as Manila and Zambales – or even further away, in Hawaii and the United Kingdom.
What I suggesting is that San Simon is our Bethlehem, the town to which we have returned – and like Joseph and Mary some have traveled a long, long way to be here. Today we reconnect with this shared heritage – we return to our roots. We also recognize the responsibility we have to pass this heritage to our children and grandchildren.
The fourth thing I want to say about the Holy Family is more controversial. At the heart of the Christmas story, at the heart of this family is a scandal. To ignore the scandal would be, as we say, to ignore the elephant in the room. The reason for this scandal is very clear in our gospel reading: despite the fact that they were not yet married, Mary was pregnant. We are told: Joseph “was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace” (Matthew 1:19). He was quite entitled to think very badly of Mary, at least until he was put straight by an angel of the Lord and discovered this unexpected pregnancy was all God’s doing.
Now, in a large family such as this it is inevitable that at times there have been misunderstandings and arguments, perhaps even scandals. To ignore them and pretend that everybody always gets on all the time would also be to ignore the elephant in the room. These are things that I don’t need to elaborate.
I hope that a day like today is an opportunity to set differences and disagreements aside. And to restore relationships that need to be repaired.
The last thing I want to say about the Holy Family is that they were people of faith and prayer. Joseph was a ‘righteous man’. Mary was obedient to her calling to bear God’s Son. St Luke tells us that everything they did was ‘in accordance with God’s Law’.
Can we say the same of ourselves? Is the Meneses Santos family likewise built on faith and prayer? Are we, like Joseph and Mary, people of righteousness and obedience, open to God’s purpose and will? Would our grandfather Jeremias Meneses be proud of the family we are and what we have made of ourselves?
That is a question for each of us to answer in our hearts. The good news is that just as God could take an ordinary man and woman, two thousand years ago, and create a miracle, so too God can use you and me for his wonderful purpose today. And that is indeed a reason to celebrate and rejoice!
Let us pray:
Lord God, we thank you for Christmas and the example of the Holy Family, la sagrada familia. May they be an inspiration for our family today. As Joseph was righteous, and Mary open to your call, help us to be righteous people, truly open to you. So, like them, may we be richly blessed by the presence of Jesus in our family life. Amen.