Dear friends. The celebration of Christmas over the past few days reminds us once again if ever we needed it, that the life blood of this parish community and every parish community is family life. One of the many reasons why Christmas is special for most of us is because of that togetherness with family members we love, sharing meals, exchanging presents and spending quality time again. One of the reasons why Christmas is sad for some is often because of a bereavement or a broken family situation where the pain of separation is felt more at this time of year. But whether Christmas has been happy or sad for you, one of the great strengths of being part of this community is that we are never on our own. Here in St Aidan’s we try to create a spirit of family in the parish that is a family of families. As it says on the stone on the ground as you enter the Cathedral: ‘We are committed to making our parish a place where each person feels welcomed, accepted and valued’. Yet, this family spirit does not just appear automatically. It isn’t a given but needs to be nurtured by all of us. In order to do that, it requires us to become more like Joseph and less like Herod.
In today’s Gospel, there is a great contrast between Herod and Joseph. Herod was a cruel tyrant who ordered the death of innocent children. Why? Because of his own lust for power and desire to maintain it. Herod was prepared to do anything to protect himself. He had no regard for family or the people he ruled. Only himself. In contrast Joseph understood what God wanted of him. He listened and obeyed. He then committed himself to protect his family, moving them away from danger to safety. Before all the challenges his family faced, he acted honourably, thinking not of himself but of his family.
In many ways, Herod and Joseph are symbols of how we can be in the modern world. Herod represents the one who thinks of himself first, who acts to protect himself, who puts himself at the centre. Pleasure, power, honour and money are his gods. Joseph represents the one who knows God, who listens to God’s will and who dedicates himself to his family. He is the one who thinks of ‘Us’ rather than ‘Me’. He is the one who inspires us to imitate his spirit of service and build up this parish community by our presence, gifts and commitment.
Finally, the last contrast between Herod and Joseph is most important of all. Herod was a pagan. Joseph was a man of God, a man of faith. Both his life and Mary’s life were centred on Jesus. Joseph loved Mary and Mary loved him but both were united in their love for their special son. The Holy Family teach us the importance and value of being united in faith and prayer – something we saw over Christmas when hundreds of people packed into this Cathedral and were united by faith in the Christ child.
So let this be an encouragement to every family to unite in faith around Christ at the centre. Let not the selfish spirit of Herod destroy the unity of our family and all families that we celebrate at the Eucharist.
Today we ask God’s blessing on all our families. We pray for single people, people widowed and lone parents. May they find the support they need in the family of the local parish they belong to and in the kindness of people who make them feel at home. And may the times we pray together as a family be moments when the bonds of communion are made stronger between us as brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus and as beloved children of God the Father.
Happy New Year everyone and may we cross the threshold into 2020 together as a family who prays together and who stays together.