Good morning everyone!  I ask that you allow me a moment to scan the congregation to make sure that none of my family members are here in church. I have been doing this for the last 20 years or so because of an incident that happened on Holy Family Sunday that to this day gives me pause.  On that day, as I stepped to the center aisle to begin preaching, this cute as a button two year old young lady came running down the aisle from her pew and stopped just about two pews short ofwhere I was standing and gave me kind of an “in your face but happy to see you kind of stare.”  Of course, I quickly realized that she was my niece Katie, who had brought herwhole family with her for a surprise visit.  I introduced her to the congregation, and I told her that I was very happy to see her and her dad (who is my brother) and her mom and her two brothers, but that now I was in a bit of a dilemma. You see my homily that day, the Feast of the Holy Family was largely based on talking about them!  Oh, what to do, what to do?  That’s why ever since then, I really don’t talk about my family that much on this day. Ever since then, I talk about your families-so here goes.  First of all, I must say that I do think it is fitting that the Church celebrates this feast on the first Sunday after Christmas, because undoubtedly we have been visiting with family members and by this time have probably just about had our fill of them.  Or in other words, this time of year does put our families, warts and all, in the spotlight, does it not?  For us Catholic Christians the starting point is that God the Father sent His own Son into the world to be part of a family. This, of course, has so many implications for us, but the starting point is that our family is our family and the family we are in is not just some random coincidence-it is part of God’s plan.  That is the simple truth. And as far as striving to have a simple Christmas goes: I’ll bet a lot of what you have been trying to do or simplify has to do with your families. I am sure that so much of what God wants us to accomplish this Christmas and throughout the year is about making progress and growing in our family relationships.  What He wants for all families is very simple, but it is not easy. But first of all, I think I can identify something that all of us want and hope for and not just for Christmas but for all year round. All of us want to be accepted for who we are; at some level all of us just want to get along.  Parents want their children to get along, employers want their staffs to get along, pastors want their parishioners to get along, etc. etc. No one wants to live in a war zone.  Actually, I think this might be why some of us are having trouble living simply, which actually means to live in hope.  Our expectations might be low or even non-existent because we know that our wives are going to annoy us, or that our husbands are going to let us down, or that our siblings are going to drive us crazy, or that our in-laws are going to do what they always do, and we won’t feel accepted because we can’t get along and our hope is smothered out.  Believe me, I get it. Well, if that’s you, I think St. Paul has something to say to you, and to all of us. In the first verse of the 15th chapter of Romans, St. Paul says that we who are strong should put up with the failings of the weak, not for the purpose of pleasing ourselves, but rather to build them up.  In other words he is saying that we need to accommodate the very people who are getting on our last nerve and let them have things their way.  Not only should we not insist on having things our way but we should even look for ways to allow them to have things their way. We should focus on ways to build them up, to accept them as Christ has accepted us. And we should do all this, why?  In verse 4 he says, so that we may have hope.  That’s right; when we accept other people as Christ accepts us, when we let them get their way, when we accommodate them, we receive hope. That is how it works.  That’s what Christ does with us; that’s how He wants it to be with us. We give acceptance; we receive hope. Try it; you just might like it.  Christ accepts us totally as we are, with all of our flaws, and then He says “Follow me.” Acceptance comes first, discipleship comes later.  We are all accepted by Christ as we are. We all have unconditional acceptance from Him and He expects us to give to others what He gives to us. And you know what, folks,  it’s a better way to live, it’s an easier way to live, it’s a more successful way to live, and it’s all about simply living in the hope God wants us to have.  So instead of trying to change all those crazy people God put around you; accept them, and you will have hope. By the way, I think I can say that I have learned something else. Acceptance not only leads to hope, it also paves the way to influence. We can influence others if we first accept them. So now let’s go back to Joseph who is at center stage as the simple miracle of Christmas continues to unfold. Here I would like to suggest that the crucial point of this passage goes along exactly with what we have been saying and we find it in the last line of last week’s Gospel: “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.”  Joseph accepted Mary as she was, including her incredibly unbelievable story.  His simple obedience helped to change the course of history. What if he did not receive her into his home? And this week he continues to accept the plan that God has for him and to do what it takes to protect his family. Because of his acceptance, he became the one who taught the Son of God to walk like a man. Talk about living simply!  Joseph did what he was supposed to do. So, maybe you find yourselves living in what you think is a very complex and dysfunctional family situation and believe there is no simple solution for you or your family. Well, here’s some advice for you, straight from St. Paul and St. Joseph: try simply accepting and forgiving the faults of those who Christ has given to you as He has accepted and forgiven you and maybe, just maybe you will see the path to the simplicity of the Lord, which is hope once again. Remember, the simplicity of Christmas is meant for all of us all year round and it comes to those who accept those who God has given them as they are.

AuthorCathy Remick