The nativity story in Luke’s gospel is a familiar and beautiful piece of Scripture, isn’t it? Shepherds and angels and singing and a star. If the story is embroidered somewhat or if things didn’t happen in just that sequence, we don’t care. It’s a beloved story. What is important to do is to glean what this familiar piece of scripture is saying to us this Christmas season. I’m going to share with you the thoughts that I been thinking. Stay with me, this reflection does have to do with Christmas, I promise!
You know, when we read scripture stories we often read of crowd activity. Crowds gathered to pray, to attend a wedding, to listen to Jesus preach, to celebrate Passover. During Advent we heard of John the Baptist who pulled in crowds to help them get their lives back on track. We read of Mary, on hearing she was pregnant, went to visit Elizabeth. It seems a crowd was at that stable so long ago. Clearly, our ancient ancestors liked being together just as we do today.
In our own lives when we want to celebrate something we gather with family and or friends. In sadness, we gather with family and friends to help ease the burden of suffering. We are infused with the desire to belong, to be needed, to be loved. Those things can happen when we are in community. We can survive on our own, but we thrive in community.
Many of us have been part of parish communities. If you were raised in the Catholic faith, you will remember May Crowning’s and First Fridays and the abject terror you felt on your first confession, Girls will remember chapel veils and boys will remember being altar boys. If you were initiated into the Church as an adult through RCIA, you will know the terms catechumen or candidate, the Rites of Acceptance and Election. We have a spiritual foundation that was formed by our teachers, our parents, our grandparents and our priests and we are so grateful for that.
We were happy with our Church and its celebration of all the seasons and holidays and it seemed to fit who we were….. until it didn’t. The institutional church started to change on us or maybe we had started to question some of the man-made rules. For instance, we know gay people in our lives and in our families and they aren’t intrinsically disordered. Many of our parents and friends are divorced, why shouldn’t they be able to remarry and still be able to receive communion? The God I had come to know created me worthy, why did I have to keep saying I wasn’t? Slowly, slowly, there became for like-minded people, no room in the inn. Some of us stayed in the parish and were angry. Others of us simply left.
I stopped going to church five years before I was ordained. I had experienced the drop that made the bucket spill over and left on a Holy Saturday night. In the beginning it wasn’t so bad not going to church. I had a whole Sunday morning that belonged to me now. A leisurely breakfast and reading of the paper, time for two cups of coffee, I didn’t have any trouble filling up that time.
While I didn’t miss the institution at all, over time I missed being with a prayer community. I missed seeing the little kids in a community grow up, or celebrating with someone who was about to get married, or celebrate an anniversary with a couple. I missed the deep blues of Advent and the pastel colors of Easter. I missed the pageantry of Christmas. I missed the music of the choir. I missed the Mass, I missed the sacraments. I knew I didn’t want to die without experiencing community again. So what to do?
Look at the Gospel we just read. What did Joseph do when there was no room for them at the inn? He took matters into his own hands and found a place. The place, whether a stable or a cave certainly wasn’t anything he had in mind, but both he and Mary made it work. The people who came to see them were strangers, surely the shepherds, the wise men, and whoever else in Bethlehem went to see what all the commotion was about. These people, who started their journeys toward the stable as strangers, gathered at the manger, met Mary and Joseph and Jesus and were rewarded with new acquaintances and a divine experience.
We have taken matters into our own hands much like Joseph did 2,000 years ago. Holy Family Inclusive Catholic Community has been birthed because those of us whose roots were withering in the institutional church needed a place to gather. We love our faith, but found our experiences of an all engrossing God were antithetical to what the Church is teaching.
We know God is a God of love and everything flows from that. We know then that God is neither a punishing God, nor a harsh task master or cares if we eat meat on Friday. We don’t acquiesce to out dated theologies that tell us we need to grovel before God because we aren’t worthy. We believe all people were made in the image and likeness of God and so therefore, all are holy and beloved. We respect and honor the Eucharist as a gift from Jesus freely given and as such don’t ever put limitations on who may or may not receive it.
Are you being drawn to pray at Holy Family, just like the shepherds and the wise men and others were drawn to visit the stable that night? You may come to Holy Family as a stranger, but you won’t leave as one. You will be part of a community. Experience your authentic self at Holy Family. Pray in a way that feeds your soul at Holy Family. Experience what you have come to know to be true. Bring your questions, bring your doubts, bring your certainties, bring who you are and make all of us in your community all the richer.
But the Angel said to them
“Do not be afraid, for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all of you here at Holy Family Community. To you is born this day Jesus, your brother. Gloria in exelsis Deo!”