Add to your altar either Holy Family figurines from a Christmas Nativity set, or a picture of the Holy Family. Include a card saying, “The Word is fostered by Silence and comes to birth through Prophecy”.
In her book Into the Heart of Advent, Penelope Wilcock takes us on a journey through the themes of Advent by a series of imagined conversations with Jesus.
During the Advent season, and even more at Christmas, the Holy Family comes to our attention. Mary and Joseph were real people of course, but they have striking characteristics that make them iconic of spiritual principles.
Joseph embodies the qualities of silence. Though his presence in the gospel story is important and significant, he never actually speaks. He shows extraordinary humility in receiving the counsel of God received in a dream, to take Mary as his wife even though she is bearing a child who is not his own. Jesus is born in Bethlehem, the City of David, because it is Joseph’s ancestral home, where he must return with his betrothed because of the census. When Herod begins his sweeping infanticide to eliminate the King of the Jews he heard about from the Magi, Joseph takes Jesus and Mary away to safety. In the formation of Christian spirituality, Joseph’s life speaks to us of the relationship between silence and the Word. He shows us the role of becoming humble listeners in receiving and embracing the Word; he demonstrates that the Word developing within us is fostered by silence, protected by silence and trained by silence.
Mary embodies the prophetic spirit. She is honourable, bold and courageous. Her life is conditioned by faith. She receives the Word as an act of faith for which she is willing to sacrifice her reputation and her standing within her family and wider society. She bears the Word within her, bringing him into every place she goes. She proclaims the good news of God in poetry and song, announcing liberty to the captive and hope for the destitute and oppressed.
For the first thirty years of his life, Jesus is enfolded in the humble and formative silence of Joseph. When he steps forth into his teaching ministry in Luke 4, his words (and the scripture that inspires them) resonate strikingly with the Song of Mary:
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:Luke 4:16-22 RSV
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”
When Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his own country he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?” And they took offence at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour except in his own country and in his own house.”Matthew 13:53-57
Into the Heart of Advent explores the theme of the Holy Family (and the Nativity), especially in chapters 1, 15, 21, 22 and 23 — as follows:
Ch.1, The Holy Family, considers what it meant for Jesus to be born as part of a human family — with its challenges and limitations as well as its solidarity and love. It looks at the cost of being part of the family of Jesus, and proposes that what holds together all who belong to him is simply the willingness to say “Yes”.
Ch.15, Joseph, explores the character of Joseph, particularly his silence and his absolute trust in God; proposing that though he had plenty to worry about, he chose faith instead.
Ch. 21, The Manger, is the first of a pair of chapters re-shaping the conventional wisdom that has developed around the nativity stories. It explores the symbolism of the manger and explains how the shepherds knew where to find the baby.
Ch. 22, Room at the Inn, reframes our understanding of what is meant by “no room at the inn”. It’s all there in the Greek.
Ch.23, Mary, focuses on the character of Our Lady, and how her influence shaped the life of Jesus just as who he was shaped her life in turn. Their lives grew together.
Reading these chapters in advance may help your home group prepare.
Father God, we receive your word to us, that you set the solitary in families. So we pray for all who are lonely. Into the light of your love we lift refugees, who have left behind everything familiar in search of sanctuary and hope; prisoners, especially those in solitary confinement and those awaiting execution; people in quarantine and isolation because of the dangers of viral infection; those who are trapped in abusive situations where they are bullied or rejected. We know you love them all, and we feel your heart break with the loneliness of their sufferings. Give us courage and kindness, loving Lord, to change this broken world. In tiny ways, through what we can do, may healing come, and peace. May your gospel of reconciliation touch your world through our lives and choices. In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen.