Reflection for Sunday – December 26, 2021

Readings: 1 Samuel 1: 20-22, 24-28; Colossians 3: 12-21; Luke 2: 41-52 
Preacher: Susan Howard

The interconnection between making our voices heard and the loosening of the Holy Spirit to act in the world is the key to the dynamics of change.

From a cursory reading of today’s texts one might imagine that the purpose of the Feast of the Holy Family is to help us see that if we keep God, our Father, as the center of our family all will be well. We can live in blissful peace like the scene in the stable and our sons and daughters will grow up to be holy and pious, faith-filled persons.

Nothing could be further from the truth. As we have witnessed with our own eyes, our adult children do not always embrace the faith that we raised them with, or should I say they don’t practice a religion. In fact we see a continuing decline in religious practice over the past 10 years in all the mainline churches. Our own Diocese has lost 60 percent of our worshipers from about 72,000 people down to 29,000 people.

There is good news however! Pope Francis has sent out an invitation to the world wide family of believers for us to examine this problem through the process of a World-Wide Synod. The main process of this Synod is one of listening to the believers. Those who attend Church and those who don’t. The challenge is going to be in the Listening.

We have three great examples of what can happen when we take listening as a serious endeavor.

First we have Hannah. She was a groundbreaker in her day. She dared to pray for herself and her needs in the Temple. She had been ostracized by her family and community for not being able to bear children. This weighed on her heart as a tremendous burden and desire to be made whole, to be made valuable, to be redeemed as a complete woman. Her husband didn’t understand her desires and concerns. He didn’t listen to the aching of her heart.

Thankfully, due to her persistence to stand up for herself she took her needs to God. Even when the Temple Priest, Eli, threatened to throw her out, thinking she was drunk, she persisted in letting her voice be heard. Eli finally listened and backed down from his original stance. He was able to humble himself and even added his own blessing to her prayer.

God heard her prayer and gave her a son. Her prayer changed the course of history. Her son became a leader and spiritual guide.

The letter from St. Paul to the Colossians offers us a holiness code for families to live by. Namely: “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 must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.” This code of conduct for Christian living is at the core of the graces we need to truly and humbly listen to each other. If we can allow ourselves to be open to the desires of people’s hearts we might see the Holy Spirit loosed in our Churches and the world and we would benefit from God’s outpouring of the life-giving power of love.

The Gospel reading opens up another avenue for access to the workings of the Holy Spirit. The young man Jesus makes his stand at the Temple. He is coming into his own and asserting his place in the world. He is not deterred by the desire of his family to return home. He does not seem affected by their anger or anxiety about his being missing for three days—a reference to his future death and resurrection. And his family listens to him. His self-assurance and righteousness is evident in his determination to make His Father’s House the focal point of his life. I have to ask myself, how often and how diligently do we listen to 12-year-olds? You can ask any youth minister and they will tell you that the insights about fair judgment and unconditional love are alive and well in the young. Their faith is tender and open to the workings of the Holy Spirit.

If we can take the invitation of the Pope seriously and open up our ears to hear the desires of people’s hearts we may actually have a chance to save our Churches from the destruction that awaits if we close ourselves off. Take your time, think about the desires of your own heart, pray big, pray with conviction and make your voice heard.

Sue Howard
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