Today it seems as if those who determined the cycle of readings for the lectionary could not make up their minds. There are occasionally two choices for one of the readings on a Sunday, often a longer and a shorter version of the gospel. Today, however, we have two choices from the Hebrew Scriptures for the first reading (SIR 3:2-6, 12-14 or 1 SM 1:20-28), two Psalm responses (PS 128: 1-5 or PS 84:2-10), three choices for the second reading (COL 3:12-21 or the shorter COL 3:12-17 as well as 1 JN 3:1-2, 21-24), two gospel acclamations (COL 3:15-16 or ACTS 16:14) but only one gospel, about the finding of the child Jesus in the temple when he is 12 years old (LK 2:41-52).
Today, as always on the Sunday following the celebration of Christmas, the Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary and Joseph). That certainly makes sense as a recognition that Jesus was born not only for the entire world but also into a family. I wonder, though, if perhaps there wasn’t some thought given when the cycle of the Church year was set up liturgically to the fact that Christmas is a gathering time for families and it might be a good idea to have some advice given in church as to how to be and act as families. I can attest to that as an effective rationale (in a rather playful way) from the many Christmases that my siblings and I leaned forward shooting knowing glances at my father as the lector proclaimed, “Husbands, love your wives,” and at my brother when hearing, “My son, take care of your father when he is old…” It was all light-hearted posturing, as all of us consider ourselves lucky to have been blessed with our family, but this morning it got me thinking when I saw all the reading choices. “Family” has become a word that today describes myriad gatherings of individuals, not always what in the 1950s in the USA was considered the norm: two parents, two children (a boy and a girl) and a dog – a gross misrepresentation even then. Diversity reigns now more than ever. (I often speak of my Polish family, my Italian family – both love-based “adoptions” of long-standing – and my Sisters of St. Joseph family as well as my Irish family of origin.) No matter our ways of bonding I think Paul’s letter to the Colossians wins the day today for good advice to all for the way we should consider and treat one another.
Brothers and sisters: Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another. If one has a grievance against another, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also do. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds the rest together. Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts since as members of one body, you were called to this peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ, rich as it is, dwell in you, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish each other, singing psalms and hymns and inspired songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.