Christmas, the feast of birth, new life, and hope, is with us. At its heart is a family of people away from their home – refugees, or soon to be so in Egypt, facing homelessness and finding shelter among the poor. Why? Because they had to travel 100km to register for a census.
And this got me thinking about Christmas and the family.
The starting point was a TV ad break on a mid-November Thursday night. There were ads for Christmas and all of them were ‘buy, buy, buy’ and ‘give pain relievers as a Christmas gift’. My response is ‘get real’ and ‘don’t drink or hit and abuse’.
But there is another message that comes out at Christmas and it lives in the community to which we belong.
Its message is contained in the names we use for each other and our God and our relationships as a parish or school: father, son, mother, brother and sister.
What are we saying when we use the family to describe ourselves?
A potent example came to my notice recently. An elderly man had died and his son, who had stayed in the city to look after him in his old age, was trying to arrange his funeral. His sister-in-law, the wife of the brother who is the ‘real success’ of the family and working overseas, got in touch: ‘It is inconvenient, have him cremated, and we can “do something” when we come in the summer for our holiday?’
These words and deeds show two approaches to being family. One has at its core the care and mourning, the presence and seeking out, the serving and the celebrating, the loving by sacrificing and being present; and the other… well, you can put words around it better than I.
We are family. Family is based on a choice to love, to be present, to know, to serve, to wash, to clean, to heal, to celebrate, to praise, to educate, to love and to sacrifice.
We are willing to ‘be’ in a place. In our modern world, our sons and daughters could well be in Invercargill or Sydney. But we are also aware of the deep urge in our hearts, of parents and children, to be present with them, to them, for them. Grandparents seem to spend their lives going to ‘be with family’ and it speaks of the deep need we have, which we extend to all our brothers and sisters. We want to be present and for others to be present to us.
We are family. An extended group of people, inclusive of different genders, generations, skills and preferences, who choose to commit to each other, to live a common life, to include in good times and in bad, in richness and in poverty, in sickness and in health, the others at the core of all they are and do.
We are the ones who wait at Christmas, with the Father of the Parable, for the son or daughter to come home.
We can’t celebrate in isolation. We are the people who gather, open the door, find a place at the table, and welcome the one without a home and the one without a place. We are those who invite the one you know to come to Midnight Mass, come and sing and celebrate and take them home for ham and tomatoes. We are the ones who invite the new workmate with no family in town, the new family in the parish to join us on Christmas morning.
We are family. The message in the new life of Christmas is that all young mothers need formation, care, support, warmth, visitation, and gifts. And while our children need to learn to walk and talk, to run and play, we need to teach them to pray and to worship, and to hear the message: ‘Peace on earth and good will for all people’.
Our life in our home, in our school, our parish, our humanity has at its foundation a gift of life and love, which comes to us in family. But these are not words that are just spoken or written; they become a reality when they are incarnate, when they become actions and deeds.
The Word became flesh, and was God among us and the Word was, Come, sit, pray, eat, visit, listen, serve and celebrate. Please join us, come to table, how can I help, let us talk, let us pray, or at the end of the telephone:
‘Are you coming home for Christmas as I can’t celebrate it on my own, without you my son, my daughter, my brother or sister’.
A happy and holy Christmas to us all.