Over the past week we have journeyed with the holy family whose story is a story of the re-creation of the universe in that Christ’s coming changes the way we understand ourselves, each other, the Creator, and the created world around us.
As it is in all families, their story is one of unexpected journeys, ~ of adapting to unforeseen circumstances, ~ of travelling together (and sometimes apart), ~ of making room for people who pop in (often at the most inconvenient times – but more on that over the next two weeks), ~ of making home for characters who come from the strangest places but want or need to stay (yes, I’m talking about the donkey), ~ of the profound influence that we have through blood and through presence; an impact that does not seem as limited by time and distance as we sometimes feel or imagine, ~ of how complicated it can be making sense day by day by day of who we are and whose we are and where we fit in and outside of the the family order.
Above all, their story is the story of a God who chooses to be relational, though that’s messy and hard and risky and, indeed, as we read further in the Gospels we see teenage Jesus causing his parents anguish at the temple, Joseph disappearing from the story, Mary pushing her son into the limelight when it’s not yet time, Jesus probably causing some offence to his siblings when he identified his followers as his brothers ….
So I invite you, over the course of this weekend, to pray for the family of your heart – especially if some of those relationships are messy or hard or risky right now – as you respond in faith to a grace-filled invitation into an ever extending family formed by the Father’s own hand, liberated by the love of the Son, and held together by the Spirit of Truth who testifies to our belonging.
Today was definitely a donkey day for me: a day of slow, but determined plodding through a never-ending to-do list of administrative tasks and unpleasant chores accompanied by the incessant throbbing of a mild lack-of-sleep-lack-of-coffee headache ….
Picture the poor little donkey that had to walk all of those miles to Bethlehem with a heavily pregnant Mary on his back.
Picture it, because although commonly portrayed in art and on Christmas cards, dear donkey does not appear at all in the Gospel accounts (though the tradition does stem from other early Christian writings).
Yet, it is a treasured part of the Godly Play story of the Holy Family:
Here is the donkey that Mary rode when she and Joseph went to Bethlehem to be counted by the Roman soldiers. Mary was about to have a baby, so it was hard for her to walk. Sometimes she rode on the donkey. It is also hard to ride on a donkey when you are about to have a baby. Sometimes she got down and walked.
The donkey was in the stable when the baby was born. He was surprised to find a baby in the feed box, the manger, where he expected to find his breakfast.
I love that the donkey has made it in to our traditions, our stories, our imaginings. Just like I love the way that God makes it in to each moment in which I am open and attentive (and even sometimes when I’m not) – especially on mundane days like these.
So, take a breath; see how God shows up – and maybe even take a moment to share that story with another because it might be just what they need to get through another day.
As we reflect on Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem today, I invite you to look around the space in which you currently find yourself.
What do you love about it?Do you consider it a safe-haven, a sanctuary?
At the time that Mary and Joseph received news that she was carrying the Christ-child, they were living in the sanctuary of their community in Nazareth. But, a Roman decree was issued for all to register for the census in their home towns that the Empire might keep careful tax of her citizens – and taxpayers.
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
Angel visitations. An unexpected pregnancy. And now – an undesirable journey of some 25 kilometres at an inconvenient time!
So, today, I invite you to let this reflection interrupt what you are doing and move you from where you are.
You don’t have to journey 25kms but do take a wander outside, around the block, or simply into a different part of the building where you may be. As you move, picture Mary and Joseph undertaking their journey and try to imagine yourself in the story. The following questions may help you:
how do they feel about going?
what are their fears?
how do they travel?
is it just the two of them or do they travel with a group?
what is the weather like?
how do 25kms feel to a pregnant woman?
God, you are on the move. Move us too. Even when it’s challenging. Even when it’s inconvenient. Even when we’re comfortable where we are right now. Move us that we might see things from a different perspective, and put ourselves in another’s shoes, and be counted as people of faith as we follow you. God, you are on the move.
To all my travelling companions on this special journey …
Today we light the second candle of our Advent wreath: the Bethlehem candle which represents faith and reminds us of the journey that Mary and Joseph undertook from Nazareth to Bethlehem in order to meet Roman census requirements and, more importantly, in fulfilment of what the prophets had foretold.
In a Godly Play room, the Holy Family is a centre of focus for other stories as they hold deep significance for our faith. Their story is the story of the re-creation of the Universe for, from Mary’s womb, new life comes; not just a new life but the new life of God for the whole world.
Christ’s incarnation changes everything: it changes the way we understand ourselves, each other, the Creator, and the created world around us.
The Holy Family is the focus of attention in the Christmas story with the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem setting others on their own journeys too: the shepherds travel from nearby fields to see if the Good News that they receive from the angels is true, and the wise men travel from afar to bear their gifts to the newborn King.
As we light the second candle today, I wonder what journeys you will be undertaking during this time. ~ Will you be heading off to visit with friends and family? ~ Will they be coming to visit you? ~ What journeys do you remember from your past that hold special significance? ~ What trips might you be looking forward to? ~ And what new life might the Christ-child open up for you?