Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The readings given for today’s feast of the Holy Family, record the stories of two individual families, separated by centuries, who each bring their child to the House of God, as was the ancient custom of the people of Israel.
Today’s Old Testament reading from the Book of Samuel tells the story of Hannah, who for many years had remained childless, despite it being her deepest desire to have a child of her own.
For much of her life she had gone up to the House of the Lord in Shiloh, the resting place of the Tabernacle before the founding of Jerusalem, praying earnestly that her desire might one day be fulfilled.
After many years of fervent prayer and repeated requests to the Lord, she finally makes an important discovery; She comes to realises that her life is not entirely her own but that she is meant to live in a collaboration with God himself.
Having come to this realisation, she gives up a selfish desire for a child and places that desire into the hands of God, and she promises that if it His will that she is to be granted the gift of a child, then that child will be handed over to the Lord and placed at His service.
Hannah’s patience, trust and continued prayers are rewarded!
Within a year she conceives and gives birth to a son whom she named Samuel, a name meaning ‘God-has-Heard’, and as promised, she secures the happiness and fulfilment of her son Samuel, by taking him to the House of the Lord and offering him to God for dedication and service.
Samuel, we know, was to become one of the greatest judges as well as one of the most respected prophets of Israel, in no small part, our faith informs us, because his journey began with a mother’s humble generosity, a generosity which came in response to having discovered complete trust and faithfulness in God and His will for her life and the life of any future children.
We see a similar humble generosity in Mary and Joseph, who had offered their baby son Jesus to God in the Temple at Jerusalem when he was two years old.
In today’s Gospel, now that Jesus is twelve years old, they bring him back to the Temple, to God’s own House in Jerusalem, as part of their family devotion, joining in the celebration of Passover with their brothers and Sisters of Israel.
This is a crucial moment in the life of Jesus, for it gives an opportunity for his vocation to be made clear.
Jesus’ encounter with the life and worship of the Temple reveals, with unmistakable clarity, how his future life will be spent – in the service of God himself: “I must be busy about my Father’s affairs”, he tells his mother Mary.
This is the mission that God has entrusted to him, and that all important clarity about Jesus’ vocation, begins with the decision of Mary and Joseph to bring their child to God.
One of the most important tasks of the family is to help our children to learn that God has a unique mission for each one of them.
Then we are called to accompany and encourage them in their great adventure of discovering God’s vocation for them.
Whatever that vocation might be in life, it is a unique gift of God and it is a gift that best flourishes with the support and encouragement of the family.
With generosity, we must encourage our children to be open to God’s call to whatever journey he is calling them to take in their lives.
To give up our own deepest desires and to place them into the hands of God is never an easy thing to do. But if we are generous, and accompany that generosity with faith and trust, God, we will discover, will always respond with an even greater generosity!
The Holy Family was a family filled with the desire always to do the will of God, and to carry out His plans in their life. At the heart of their family life was Jesus Christ.
We also need to make room for Jesus Christ in our homes and in the life of our families, but how do we do that?
We can make time to pray and worship together, for it is through our prayer together that Jesus Christ will always be at the heart of our families, strengthening us in the best and in the most difficult moments of our family life.
That daily prayer will also help us to place our deepest desires into the hands of God with generosity; that daily prayer will help us to discover and to encourage the unique mission that God has both for our children and for each one of us as their parents; that prayer will fill us with the grace needed to carry out his plans for us.
As we approach the New Year of 2019, let us entrust our families to the loving prayers of Mary and Joseph. May their prayers help us all to become living images of God’s loving generosity.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, please be assured of my prayers and good wishes for this Christmas Season and for the coming New Year.
Yours devotedly in Christ,
The Right Revd Alan S Hopes
Bishop of East Anglia