we gather around the manger and ask BUT WHERE ARE THE OTHERS?
Reflection for Christmas Day 25 December 2014
(Accompanying readings and prayers below, plus link to explanation re Joseph's widowhood & older children)
While Mary and Joseph bump along the Bethlehem Road on donkey back, and settle into temporary accommodation in the downstairs room where the feed's stored and the domestic animals come for milking, do you ever wonder where Joseph's other children are?
In all the dramatis personae of the nativity scene, with angels and shepherds and wise ones from afar, no-one mentions the half-brothers and sisters in Nazareth.
While the inn-keeper's wife and her sisters and the midwife bustle around and lay clean cloths on the straw mattress and tell Joseph to go boil some water, and call their daughters to bring fortified wine and vinegar-water and a clean pottery bowl for the afterbirth;
while the men pace the market, chewing dates and offering Joseph a swig from a wineskin they think's a secret from their wives, and brag about their sons and their prowess, does Joseph remind them he's already a father? That this is not his first time pacing and drinking and joking with brothers-in-law and cousins?
Does he hope, especially here, in his hometown, the city of his ancestor David--with an intensity that shames him, that he'd never even hint at to Mary—that he's seen as man enough to father a son?
When Joseph overhears the panting and straining, when Mary's sobs and groans are almost more than he can bear, does he think of that other woman, the mother of children whose births he wasn't at?
And when tears well in his eyes at the lusty cry of his tiny son, is he remembering and perhaps still grieving for his first wife, for the children re-housed with relatives, missing their mother, missing their father more because they see him from time to time? Does he worry that the boys won't get on, that this newest one—whose conception and paternity is gossiped about by the fostering aunts—might not be welcomed by his first family?
And once they're back in Nazareth, as the young Mary watches her boy growing in wisdom and stature, does she strive, with a perception beyond her years, to involve them in the new family she and Joseph are forming, to nurture their inquisitive interest in their half-brother, to make them feel as loved and as special as he is?
Does Mary foresee that his story, his purpose, will be carried into the future by his half-brothers, by Joseph's other sons?
This liturgical year, St Andrew's Day coincided with the first Sunday in Advent, and we were reminded of Andrew, the quiet disciple, the younger brother overshadowed by boisterous Simon Peter.
Andrew was an observer, a doer; when asked where he lived, his reply was a simple, “Come and see.”
Of all Jesus' followers, Andrew understood manaakitanga, welcome, sharing. His attitude was not, what do you believe, whose side are you on, but make yourself at home. All are welcome here.
Here at St Andrew's, we try to live that way, too—even if it means being at odds with some of our church family, even if it means being prepared to defy some decisions of our national organisation.
Sometimes, Jesus' family thought he was going too far. His mother and brothers tried to get him to tone it down, keep the discussion pleasant and not disturb the peace, They said, “Are you out of your mind? Come home, and calm down a bit.”
And his response? “A prophet's not respected in his own home!” With stunning hyperbole, “You have to hate your parents and desert your family to follow me!”
Shocking, isn't it? Like saying the rich won't get into heaven, or don't waste your pearls of wisdom on these swine. Like turning the tables in the temple and shouting, “You've made the economy more important than human lives!”
It's not comfortable, looking forward from the Bethlehem manger to the streets of Jerusalem, the shores of Galilee, the pubs and whorehouses of Nazareth, the badlands of Samaria. Yet, that's where Jesus found his friends and followers, and in a few years' time, that's where we'll find him.
But, for now, let the future be as it will, and let's focus once more on the family at the heart of our story. And look, we're not alone! Others feel as we do, accepting the challenge to “Come and see”. As we gather around the child of hope, we're joined by a heavenly host; the kin-dom of heaven gathers with us—
But where are the others? The brothers and sisters, the half-brothers and step-sisters, the broken relations, torn-apart siblings, the unblended families, the reconstituted ones.
All the children with bruises on their bodies; fathers with bruises on their psyches; mothers with bruises on their hearts.
Here they are! The jailbird cousin and the crazy aunt. The depressed daughter who's dragged herself out; the edge-of-hysteria, manic sister; the autistic grandson beind a haybale, rocking; the transgendered, the cis-gendered, the queer and the straight, the birth children and adopted children and fostered children; these fragile families of blood and of choice.
All the whanau of Jesus: gathered to celebrate heaven on earth, in the promise of a child.
And in the lower room, with Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus, are brothers Simon and Jude, Joses and James, and the unnamed sisters. There's Anne and Joachim, and Joseph's misidentified parents; Elizabeth, Zacharias and cousin John; the whole extended, overwhelmed and slowly healing family of God.
And here we are, in our tattered rags and party clothes. Whispering or shouting: Love is here! In our land, our city, our home. The news—too good not to share—shines in our eyes: every life is precious, every gift has worth, every day, we can give birth to hope.
Come, says Andrew. Come and see. Come, says Jesus, come follow me—
and year after year, this ordinary miracle draws us together, midwives of change, guests at the feast. This is our story: familiar, sometimes taken for granted, yet each year resounding new.
So for the two thousand and umpteenth time: Shalom! Happy Christmas!
Today and every day until we meet again around the manger: Peace be with you! Joy to the world! Love is born again.
© Bronwyn Angela White, 2014
Prayer for Family - bronwyn angela white
In this season of wonder and magic
this “family” time
we can so easily use familiar words and images
forgetting that for some of us
they may be symbols of pain, not joy.
May we be mindful of each other’s realities:
that we are not all parents;
that not all families are accepting of us, just as we are;
that some of us are separated from loved ones,
or alone in a world of couples;
that we can’t all relate to the image of happy parents by a cradle
surrounded by presents and pets.
Yet we give thanks that in each other’s company,
we can find fulfilment and acceptance.
In a year that's brought tragedy and loss
when to hear or read the news reminds us, over and over again,
of our vulnerable humanity
of the violence so close beneath the skin
overseas and here in this beautiful land,
we are aware that there is still
bullying and homophobia in our schools
families torn by violence we call “domestic”
prejudice against those we don’t understand.
In this year of spectacular acts of terrorism and revenge
and unrecorded, smaller daily acts of discrimination and abuse
we give thanks, that there are also stories of courage and love
if we look for them;
daily acts of bravery, unselfishness and kindness
which give us hope:
the Kingdom of Heaven here, in our hearts and actions.
We give thanks that, in this special place
the way of justice is one we walk together.
We give thanks that we are family
- extended, reconstituted, recreated -
that there is room for us here
in our diversity
These prayers and praises let us offer to the Eternal Spirit.
(All say together Jim Cotter's version of the Lord's Prayer, "Prayer to the Eternal Spirit"
Word in texts for 25 December 2014
Hear words of wisdom from our tradition. The first reading is from John chapter one:
The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
God present to the Word.
The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one.
Everything was created through him;
nothing—not one thing!—came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
the darkness couldn’t put it out.
The Life-Light was the real thing:
Every person entering Life he brings into Light.
He was in the world, the world was there through him,
and yet the world didn’t even notice.
He came to his own people, but they didn’t want him.
But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed
and would do what he said, he made to be their true selves,
their child-of-God selves.
Here is the story of the birth of Jesus, from the Gospel of Luke chapter two:
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.
He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
Our contemporary reading is Nativity by Joy Cowley:
It is happening again!
Love like a high spring tide
is swelling to fullness and overflowing
the banks of our small concerns.
And here again is the star,
that white flame of truth
blazing the way for us
through a desert of tired ways.
Once more comes the music,
angel song that lifts our hearts
and tunes our ears
to the harmony of the universe,
making us wonder how
we ever could have forgotten.
And now the magi within us
gathers up gifts of gold and myrrh,
while that other part of ourselves,
the impulsive, reckless shepherd,
runs helter skelter with arms outstretched
to embrace the wonder of it all.
We have no words
to contain our praise.
We ache with awe,
we tremble with miracle,
as once again,
in the small rough stable of our lives,
Christ is born.
For the Star that shone in the beginning
for the Light reborn in our hearts
for the Word embodied in us
ALL: We give thanks.
About Joseph's age and previous family
The only sources for the age of St. Joseph are the apocryphal accounts previously quoted. They are just as unreliable in this instance too. The apocryphal stories were not meant to portray Joseph as old and senile, but basically to safeguard the universal belief in Mary's virginity in the face of heretical opposition and insinuations. They adopted old age for Joseph to symbolize deadened passions, and to certify Mary's absolute continence with Joseph. Again, they made "brethren of the Lord" children of a former marriage to avoid problems. So they had to give Joseph advanced years to generate these children, then to become a widower, and only after that period to take Mary into his charge as her guardian.
The original gospels never refer to Joseph's age, but the author presents him as an old man chosen by lot (i.e., by God) to watch over the Virgin. Jesus' brothers are presented as Joseph's children by an earlier marriage, and his years and righteousness explain why he has not yet had sex with his wife: "I received her by lot as my wife, and she is not yet my wife, but she has conceived by the Holy Spirit."
The Protoevangelium was extremely popular, but it leaves open the possibility that Joseph might have had relations with Mary after the birth of Jesus ("she is not yet my wife..."). A few centuries later the developing doctrine that Mary was a virgin not only at the time of the conception and birth of Christ, but throughout her life, meant that this possibility had to be excluded. The apocryphal History of Joseph the Carpenter, written in the 5th century and framed as a biography of Joseph dictated by Jesus, describes how Joseph, aged 90 (the Protoevangelium had not given Joseph a specific age), a widower with four sons and two daughters, is given charge of the twelve-year-old Mary, who then lives in his household raising his youngest son James the Less (the supposed author of the Protoevengelium) until she is ready to be married at age 14½. Joseph's death at the age of 111, attended by angels and asserting the perpetual virginity of Mary, takes up approximately half the story.