The Christmas season in our culture emphasizes family gatherings, events and activities. We have idealized these gatherings in film, on TV and in advertising. The goal seems to be achieving a perfect Christmas with a perfect family. This sentimentalized and sanitized vision of perfection makes it impossible for any real family made up of fallible human beings to achieve the ideal. In addition, this emphasis has made it a very difficult time of year for those who do not have families with whom to gather or who are estranged from them.
It would be well for us to recall that Mary and Joseph, in the Gospel of Luke, were nowhere near their families. They are in difficult circumstances, among strangers and unsupported by extended family. The Lucan Gospel is not dealing with picturesque greeting card events but with gritty real life circumstance.
Into this reality comes the rough and unfamiliar shepherds to find and greet the newborn. The innkeeper (a reluctant host) and the sheep herders, all strangers, become in essence a part of the extended family that greet the child and befriend the parents. This Holy Family of Bethlehem then included angels, shepherds, the innkeeper, and probably others, as well as Mary, Joseph and the child in the manger. Community is formed in the midst of the human reality, grit and all.
At Christmas, and indeed all year long, we in the church are given many opportunities to create similar holy families. A holy family formed not out of sentiment and stereotype, but as the prologue of John’s gospel states, it is formed “not of blood, or the will of the flesh or the will of man, but of God.” It is a holy family put together by circumstance and composed in whole or in part of strangers who become community – family.
And when we become willing participants in creating in this kind of h9ly family “the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us, full of grace and truth.”