At the family Christmas dinner, I shared the Polish custom of breaking bread with everyone at the table. The Oplatki looks like Holy Communion, but its rectangle in shape and it has a Christmas image like a picture of the holy family. The husband begins and offers his a piece of the bread and wishes her good health and happiness in the New Year and adds to forgive him for any hurts he caused in the past year. Immediately, my sister-in-law pipes up, don’t forget to ask for forgiveness for any failures in the New Year. The guests at the table go around and break a little piece of the wafer from one another and wish each other good health and happiness in the New Year. Again, my sister-in-law says to her husband “Well, aren’t you going to say anything to me?” Sometimes families can be a tad quirky.
I don’t know what a perfect first-century family looked like, but I’m certain that Joseph and Mary didn’t fit the ideal. Joseph had no money. He had no safe place for his wife to give birth and no plausible explanation for her pregnancy. How scared they must have been. Their family was turned upside down before it even began.
In our country, “unusual” families are everywhere. In increasing numbers, African Americans marry whites, atheists marry Christians, and men marry men. Democrats marry Republicans and single friends live together. We have blended families, same-sex families, adoptive families, and single parent families.
Whenever we insist that we are strong, nearly perfect, and able to make our own way, we hold God off at a distance. We don’t need him. He’s just a notion floating in the ether or a comfort arrested in the past. He isn’t someone we desperately need to lean on or collapse into. If we blindly believe that we are making it on our own, we will never become the person we were born to be. Our illusion of perfection, whether real or as fake all the Christmas advertising happiness, won’t allow God to come into our life.
It’s no coincidence that Christ was born into a shaky, uncertain family. God goes where he’s needed. Joseph and Mary find themselves trembling on December 24. Joseph and Mary are confused, baffled, and needy—and then they find God right in their laps. Right in the middle of their imperfection, as if their imperfection called out to him, “Come, we need you, come be born among us.”
Is your family imperfect? Take heart. So was Christ’s. In his humble family Christ learned to become humble. In his imperfect family Christ learned to become merciful. That’s what we do in our families. We hurt each other and then we forgive one another.
Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends in 2015 that are broken families. It may be the lucky family whose “imperfections” won’t let them deny that fact. that we need to lean on You more often. That’s quite OK! It certainly the wise families who embrace this desire, and call Your name: “O come, O come, Emmanuel, into all our holy families.”