Often times our "yes" becomes closed (and if you've ever felt the need to go to confession, then your "yes" has become closed). If so, go and make a good confession and open your "yes" to God once again. God sent his Son to bring us life! And this life is found when we keep our "yes" open to God.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, pray for us!
Homily: The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph – Cycle B
A few years ago, at the end of one of my summer breaks as a seminarian, I was invited to a vocations awareness dinner in the Diocese of Joliet (which is where I grew up). The vocations director from that diocese was aware that I was a “son of the diocese” and so, even though I was affiliated with this diocese here in Indiana, he invited my parents and I to this dinner. We were happy to accept.
At this dinner, the (at that time) newly installed bishop of the diocese, Bishop Peter Sartain, was scheduled to speak. In his talk during that dinner, he spoke of his experience of leaving his home diocese of Memphis to become bishop of the diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas; and then of leaving the diocese of Little Rock for the diocese of Joliet. He said that, in both cases, he had to hearken back to the day of his ordination as a priest. He said that he realized that on that day (the day of his ordination) he had said “yes” to God and that this “yes” was open ended. In other words, he knew that his “yes” was a “yes” for whatever God, through his Church, would call him to do in the future, even if that would move him away from family and his beloved flock. Thus, although he felt deep sadness to leave his home diocese and then his first diocese as a bishop, he trustingly accepted the call of the Church; for in his heart, he knew that he had already said “yes” to it all on the day of his ordination to the priesthood.
In our Scriptures today, we encounter another man whose “yes” to God was open-ended, and which took him to places and experiences he never dreamed of. Abraham (who, initially, was called simply “Abram”) was a man blessed by God and to whom God revealed himself in visions. God had a plan for Abraham: a plan that would take him far from his native land, with only the vague assurance of prosperity when he arrived. Abraham placed his faith in God who had revealed himself to him and set out from the land of Ur of the Chaldeans for an unknown land that he was to receive as an inheritance.
This, of course, not only affected him, but his whole household. His wife, Sarah, and their entire household (including his livestock) would move with him; and the hardship that they endured throughout the journey was great. Abraham’s faith was tested—as was his relationship with his wife—but he persevered and settled in the land that God had promised him.
Having settled in the land that God had promised to him, God promised Abraham prosperity and protection. Abraham, however, questioned God’s promise: asking “What good will your gifts be if I keep on being childless?” You see, these ancient peoples had not yet developed the notion of the immortal soul and so they believed that “eternal life” came from having children, in which your name—and, thus, your heritage—lived on. Abraham didn’t want material prosperity; rather, he wanted eternal life. Thus, God would make another promise: the promise of descendents more numerous than the stars in the sky. /// It would be many years, however, before God would fulfill this promise and grant to Abraham and his wife Sarah a son. This was another test of Abraham’s faith: a test that, once again, affected his whole family.
As difficult as this test might have been, there would still be one final test for Abraham. After fulfilling his promise to give Abraham an heir, God then calls Abraham to offer his son Isaac back to him as a sacrifice. At this point, I imagine that Abraham felt like he had had enough; and I imagine that he had to pray long and hard about whether or not he should obey. In the end, I imagine that he thought back to that first revelation that God had given to him back in his homeland of Ur of the Chaldeans. I imagine that he looked to that first “yes” that he had given to God and then realized that, to say “no” now, would be to negate all of the blessings that he had received by saying “yes” to everything that had come before. In other words, he knew that his first “yes” was an open-ended one: a yes not only to God’s first command to leave his land for a land unknown to him, but also to everything that would come after; and so he said “yes” to God once again and brought his son to be offered as a sacrifice to him. /// We, of course, know the rest of this story: that God stopped Abraham from completing the sacrifice and, as the Letter to the Hebrews relates, Abraham “received Isaac back” and with it the promise of innumerable descendents.
The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is also a family whose life was affected by an open-ended “yes” by its members. Mary was confronted by the archangel Gabriel, who appeared to her and announced God’s incredible plan for her life. She, however, had made a secret consecration of virginity to God and so could not comprehend how it would be possible for her to conceive the child that the angel was promising to her. Nevertheless, she trusted in God and said “yes”: a “yes” that she would have to return to over and over again as more revelations would be made to her about who her son would be and the difficulties that he would face (and she through him)—revelations such as the one she received from the Temple prophet, Simeon.
Joseph, too, would have to say “yes” to an angel—the one that appeared to him in a dream. When he found that his supposedly virgin wife had become pregnant before they had consummated their marriage, he had decided to divorce her, because, as the Scriptures tell us, he was a righteous man and that was what the Mosaic Law demanded. He, too, however, trusted in God and said “yes”: a “yes” that he, too, would have to return to in the future—such as when he was forced to flee with his family into Egypt to avoid Herod’s persecution. His and Mary’s “yeses” to God were open-ended. Although they could not foresee all that these would demand of them, yet they trusted in God and gave them anyway; and for this, they have already received their reward.
To this day, faithful families in the land of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac—of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph—find themselves in similarly difficult situations. Christians throughout the Middle East, and especially today in Syria and Iraq, are being severely persecuted by highly-organized religious extremists and they are being forced to face their “yes” that they had given to God: the “yes” to put their faith in God’s complete revelation of himself in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came to save us from our sin and to win for us eternal life. They are being forced to acknowledge that their “yeses” were open-ended ones: for they could not foresee that the endurance of such persecution would be demanded of them.
Believe it or not, we are not far from this experience, either. Although we in this country are not subject to the violent persecutions that Christians are facing in the Middle East, we are, nonetheless, suffering from a persecution no less hostile. Instead of confronting us with the threat of death—thus forcing us to renew our “yes” to God or to abandon it all together—we are being bombarded by a cacophony of confusion, in which our modern culture seeks to twist truths so that there are no longer absolutes and then push forward secular values which must be accepted. Refusal results in persecution: not for being Christian, per se, but rather for being “intolerant” and “bigoted”. It has so many of us confused that we’re not sure what we’ve said “yes” to, anymore. This confusion has disrupted our families and has even caused division within them.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, this feast today is calling us back to our first “yes”: the “yes” that we proclaimed at our baptism (or at our confirmation, if we were only infants at our baptism). The “yes” to trust in God through his Son, Jesus. The “yes” to have faith his Church, the Body of Christ, who we are, and who, guided by the Holy Spirit, cannot err to provide for us clarity in the midst of confusion. Like Abraham and his family, Sarah and Isaac, and like the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and like Archbishop Sartain and the persecuted Christians in Syria and Iraq, we must remember that our “yes” was never to an idea, but to a person—Jesus, our Savior—and to his promise that, in spite of whatever difficulties we might face, we will not die, but rather will have eternal life—that is, happiness—forever with him in heaven. God is calling us today to put our faith in his promises: the promises that are fulfilled even here in this Eucharist as we offer Emmanuel, God with us, back to him on this altar. Come, then, let us receive the fulfillment of these promises, so that, strengthened by them, we may go forth to bring the light of this truth to a dark world, so desperately in need of it.
Let us pray, then, that the Holy Family may guide our families through this night and into the light of the fulfillment of God’s promises; and thus go forward in faith: for our God, who alone has the power to save us, is trustworthy. He has promised and he will do it. Amen. Alleluia!
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – December 28th, 2014