A Sermon for Sunday: The Most Holy Family & Sunday in the Epiphany Octave | Revd Dr Robert Wilson

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. This feast falls on the Sunday within the Octave of the Epiphany. The theme of the Feast of the Epiphany is the showing forth or making known of the divinity of Christ to the world. On the feast day itself we hear the story of the Visitation of the Magi, the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. On the Octave day of the Epiphany we celebrate the Baptism of the Saviour, the manifestation of the three Persons of the Trinity. The Gospel for next Sunday will be the changing of water into wine, the first of the signs of Jesus in which he manifested his glory and his disciples put their faith in him.

The Gospel for today’s feast (which is also the Gospel for the Sunday within the Octave of the Epiphany) is another example of this theme of Epiphany, of manifestation. It is the story of Jesus’ visit with his parents to the Temple at Jerusalem when he was twelve years old. What happened on this occasion was a foretaste of what was to come in his later public ministry. We have recently celebrated the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, as one born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those that are under the law, that they might obtain the adoption of sons. In today’s Gospel we hear how Jesus was subject to his family and observed the custom of the Jewish Law. Yet there will be a sign of what was to come. When his parents returned, Jesus remained in Jerusalem without their knowing it. When they had come a day’s journey they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. When they did not find him they returned to Jerusalem and sought for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them and asking them questions “And all that heard him were astonished at his wisdom and answers. And seeing him they wondered. And his mother said to him “Son, why hast thou done so to us? Behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said to them: How is it that ye sought me. Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” Though his parents did not fully understand this at the time it was an early intimation of the remarkable authority which would later be the basis of Jesus’ public ministry. It was an early moment of epiphany, of manifestation. It was a foretaste of things to come.

Whereas the Gospel gives us a scene from the life of the Holy Family, the epistle points us to the great family of the Church. We hear St. Paul’s words to the Colossians to put on “as the elect of God, holy and beloved, the bowels of mercy, benignity, humility, modesty, patience: bearing one another and forgiving one another if any have a complaint against another.” As God has forgiven them in Christ, so they too must forgive. But above all they must have charity, which is the bond of perfection. The peace of Christ should rule their hearts. His word should dwell in them abundantly, in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing them in psalms, hymns and spiritual canticles. All things, whether in word or work, should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

St. Paul wrote to the Colossians in order to combat an early version of the Gnostic heresy, the belief in salvation by superior knowledge. While it is clear that this heresy had not reached as fully developed a form as it did later in the second century certain tendencies were already moving in this direction. The Colossians clearly took great pride in their spiritual experience and mystical insights and this came to take a more important role in their faith than the message of redemption through the blood of Christ. St. Paul therefore wrote to them to clarify that their redemption came from the blood of Christ, who had triumphed over the principalities and powers on the cross. It was this that had delivered them from the dominion of darkness and translated them into the kingdom of his beloved Son. They had no need to seek further enlightenment from esoteric mystical knowledge. Rather they should seek to model themselves on Christ, who alone had given them salvation from their sins.

Hence, much of the second part of the epistle is made up of exhortations for the Colossians to become what they are. Since they had already been redeemed by the blood of Christ, they should manifest this truth in their lives by dying to the old self and modelling themselves on Christ. Since they had been forgiven they too must forgive and live lives of modesty, humility and patience. Above all they should show charity to one another, the divine charity that suffereth long and is kind, that vaunteth not itself, seeketh not her own, rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth. It could not be achieved by their own strength, but only by divine grace.

It is right to esteem knowledge as a virtue that is essential to understanding the nature of the truth. But it is all too easy to make knowledge an end in itself and imagine that salvation comes through superior knowledge rather than through the blood of Christ. It is easy to trust in ourselves that we are righteous and despise others. Now we only see through a glass darkly. If we think we know something our knowledge is still not as complete as it ought to be. The more we come to know the more, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we realise how little we know. It is the divine charity that truly builds us up and edifies us.

Let us look to the life of the Holy Family as a model example of the divine charity and then seek to realise this in the life of the family of the Church. Each of us has a distinct role to play in the life of the Church and have received gifts which we have been given which others do not have. But it is important that this should not be an occasion of pride and self seeking on our part, for we also need to recognise that others have been given gifts that we do not have.

Let us seek to make our own the prayer for this Sunday within the Octave of the Epiphany (which we are commemorating today),

O Lord, we beseech thee, mercifully hear the prayers of thy people who call upon thee; and grant that they may both perceive and know what they ought to do, and may have grace and strength to fulfil the same.

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