by Susan Russell
Last week we heard Mary’s “back story” on the unfolding Christmas Story. This week we hear Joseph’s. The Gospel according to Matthew tells us that his first reaction to the “good news of great joy that shall be for all people” was to dismiss his pregnant fiancé … an act which would fallen firmly within the bounds of the traditional family values of his day – and would have made Mary and her child outcasts. Instead, Joseph did as the angel commanded and took Mary as his wife and named the child Jesus – and the rest is Holy Family History.
The Christ Child made the Holy Family holy – what made them a family were the values that bound them together as an icon of God’s love for the whole human family. Those values have nothing to do with either the gender or the genetics of those who make up a family and everything to do with the inclusive love of the God whose deepest desire is for this human race – created in God’s image – to become the human family it was meant to be.
Sadly, one of the things that has far too often gotten in the way of proclaiming that love to all people is the very thing that was created in order to proclaim that love to all people – and that thing would be The Church.
A case in point this is this story from the blog of a young Florida man who wrote, “I was kicked out of the church when I was 16 for coming out. The pastor and youth minister both called me the devil and said I wasn’t welcome and my parents and family all used religion as a weapon against me … saying I was going to hell.”
Not surprisingly he ended up with what he describes as “… a negative view of religion in general and Christians in particular. I found them to be disingenuous, non-thinking sheep at best and hate-filled, bigoted extremists at worst. That is, he says … until I found the Episcopal Church and met Bishop Gene Robinson.”
As we enter this last week of Advent and turn the corner toward Christmas, we are surrounded by people — like this young man — who think they know enough about being a Christian not to want to be one. What they’ve heard falsely represented as the Christian Gospel is all about judgment and condemnation — and we are the ones who have the chance to offer them the alternative of the “holy family values” of justice and compassion.
And so we will light the fourth candle on the Advent wreath — the Candle of Love — knowing from the visitors cards that filled on Sundays over the last few weeks that the candle of love we work to light 24/7 as we make God’s love tangible in the world is doing its work.
It is drawing those who had either given up on Christianity — or never given it a try — to All Saints to see what this Good News is all about. To see what it might be like to be a part of a spiritual community. To see if this is actually a place where they could raise their kids with family values that have nothing to do with either the gender or the genetics of those who make up a family and everything to do with the inclusive love of the God whose deepest desire is for this human race – created in God’s image – to become the human family it was meant to be.
May the One who has given us the will to do this work give us the grace, power, energy and stamina to continue it as we move forward together into God’s future.
Susan Russell is the Senior Associate for Communication at All Saints Church