Family Portrait (2013)

This reflection was prepared and offered at the Lessons and Carols service at College Park Pres on Christmas Eve 2013 following the reading of John 1:1-14.

I love checking the mail this time of year and finding real mail – Christmas Cards and Christmas Letters, especially the ones with family pictures in them.

Often you can see how kids begin to take after their parents, grandparents or cousins. And not just physically.  Mannerisms get passed along, too, like the way people carry themselves or laugh. You’ve probably seen the photos where even the pets begin look or act like their owners

Thinking about those shepherds who ran to the stable that night, I wonder if they looked to see if the baby favored his mother, Mary. And I wonder if, as he grew year after year, Jesus picked up any of Joseph’s mannerisms- maybe his smile or the way he walked, or how looked at people when listening closely.

We can’t look back at their family pictures to find out. Because, well, it’s not like they had cameras.  But… if you’ll indulge me a 1000 words or so, maybe I can paint that picture based on the story we’ve heard and sung and read tonight…

(Here I paused to place figures into a nativity scene)

(placing the infant) The Word, the one who spoke the world into being became flesh, took on a form like yours and mine, and lived among those he created.  God became part of a human family. Adopted by Joseph, so that God could adopt us, save us, and begin to redeem all of creation.

(Then I mimed taking a photograph)

THERE… a snapshot of the first family group that our gospel writers describe around Jesus. What can we learn about Jesus by looking at them?

His father, Joseph was a carpenter with rough hands and a tender heart. Through Joseph, we remember that Jesus came to create, not destroy. God sent Jesus to lead us in building God’s kingdom.

Mary was a wife and a mother. She would have cared for Jesus through the illnesses and difficulties a child faces, as she did for his siblings. She would also have shown hospitality to those who visited their home.
Mary reminds us that Jesus cared deeply for the people who were sick or sad or lonely. God sent Jesus to heal and to love, to welcome all people into God’s house.

The shepherds– that’s an easy one.  After all, Jesus was called himself the Good Shepherd; he looked for people who were lost or in danger, people who had been pushed away or who had walked away, correcting them and calling them back into the fold. His rod and staff comfort, they comfort us. The shepherd reminds us that Jesus leads by caring for and caring about people. God sent Jesus to watch over us.

Ah… the KingsWhen they saw the star they rejoiced with great joy! That is why the Kings traveled far to see him. The stories and prophecies they had studied told them the star would appear when the greatest king was born.  The Light of the World, announced by a great light in the sky. The surprise was that Jesus wasn’t in a palace surrounded by the signs of wealth and power.

But even in the humble manger they recognized his glory, and offered their gifts. The Kings with their gifts remind us that Jesus is the King of Kings, worthy of worship. As John wrote: we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  God sent Jesus to bring the reign of Heaven to earth, as a king who sees, understands and meets the needs of all people.

And finally – the Angel. In Greek, the word for Angel is the word for messenger. The angels brought good news of great joy: The arrival of the promised Messiah. The angel reminds us that Jesus was God’s messenger of Good News. God sent Jesus to live and teach as a man, so that through his death and resurrection, we would see and understand the power of God’s amazing love for all of humanity.

Over two thousand years later, we put up nativity sets in churches and at home so we can remember this little family. But it’s not a complete picture any more, any more than my wedding photo shows our whole family

Just imagine… If we were to include all the people who are part of Jesus’ family today, it would be a GINORMOUS photo. There are gatherings of our extended family all around the world on this Christmas Eve… in house churches and cathedrals, in small sanctuaries and storefronts and schools, in homeless camps and shelters and in airport chapels.  If we could somehow take that ginormous photo, it would reveal a beautiful family, made up of people of every color, shape and size, speaking hundreds of different languages.

You see, when we say “Yes, I love you” to God, we each become God’s children. We are adopted and become part of the big picture, part of the little family in the nativity scene. That tiny baby in the manger is our brother. But we don’t need an ID or family photo to prove it…

We show our connection to God’s family in the way we take after them:
Building people up.
Welcoming, caring for and nurturing the people we meet who are in need.
Watching for those who are far from the fold, offering them refuge from the world’s darkness.
And sharing the Good News of love and grace Jesus offers.

We get to tell everyone that there is nothing they can do, or say, or think or experience that will keep God from loving them. Or that will keep God from offering that love every single day.  We share proof of God’s love in the way we live: By offering food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, a home to the outcast, justice for the oppressed, and presence to the lonely.

No matter how big or small your family celebration is tonight and tomorrow. Whether you are with people who look just like you, or you stand out because of your hair color, height or funny toes. there is one family that you can choose to resemble. All it takes is receiving, trusting and sharing God’s love.

May we all look a little bit more like Jesus today and in the days to come


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