FIRST READING Genesis 15:1-6; 21:1-3
The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying: “Fear not, Abram! I am your shield; I will make your reward very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what good will your gifts be, if I keep on being childless and have as my heir the steward of my house, Eliezer?” Abram continued, “See, you have given me no offspring, and so one of my servants will be my heir.” Then the word of the Lord came to him: “No, that one shall not be your heir; your own issue shall be your heir.” The Lord took Abram outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so, ” he added, “shall your descendants be.” Abram put his faith in the Lord, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness. The Lord took note of Sarah as he had said he would; he did for her as he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time that God had stated. Abraham gave the name Isaac to this son of his whom Sarah bore him.
SECOND READING Hebrews 11:8, 11-12, 17-19
Brothers and sisters: By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he received power to generate, even though he was past the normal age—and Sarah herself was sterile—for he thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy. So it was that there came forth from one man, himself as good as dead, descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sands on the seashore. By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac descendants shall bear your name.” He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead, and he received Isaac back as a symbol.
GOSPEL Luke 2:22-40
When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, They took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, and to offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord. Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted—and you yourself a sword will pierce—so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem. When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
My sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus,
God calls us as family. We begin our life in family. We form families, either biological or in other ways. This basic relationship of the biological family with mother, father and children is given to us throughout our Scriptures and is the basic of civil society.
Today this relationship of family is being challenged on all sides and the divine rate is high and many people spend their life in multiple relationships without every marrying. Our civil society is losing entirely the meaning of family as we find it in Sacred Scripture.
We must not be distracted! Instead, we are challenged to continue to encourage the basic reality of a family with mother, father and children. We are invited to encourage marriage between a man and a woman—but always as a sacrament, a sacred bond lived out in Jesus Christ and in His Church.
The first reading today is from the Book of Genesis and gives us an insight into the life of Abraham. Abraham left his own country to follow the Lord. The Lord promised him descendants so many that they would be equal to the number of the stars. Abraham and Sarah get old without ever having a child. Abraham still trusts in God but wonders how God might bring about the fulfillment of His promise. Finally Isaac is born—after it was really impossible—and then Abraham is asked to sacrifice him. Abraham is put to the test in so many ways!
The focus of the reading, however, is not so much the trials of Abraham but the faith of Abraham that never wavered. Modern Christians face many challenges today and one of them is believing in the family as given to us in the Scriptures and not wavering from that idea of the family, no matter what civil society tells us. Embracing a scriptural view of the family never means rejecting those who don’t accept Scriptures. It does mean, however, being strong enough in faith to insist that there is a God and that God calls us in certain ways and that our Scriptures clearly teach about family and family life.
The second reading comes from the Letter to the Hebrews and again emphasizes the faith of Abraham and the challenge to remain faithful when everything else looks crazy! We are invited to cling to the Lord and to trust in the Word of the Lord. This will mean that, like Abraham, we will look crazy sometimes. Imagine the friends of Abraham over the many years when he kept saying that God would give him descendants! They must have given him a bad time! Or surely they thought of him as simply a crazy old man—perhaps a good man but still not living in reality and accepting that he and his wife would never have a child.
The Gospel is from Saint Luke today and is about the presentation of Jesus in the temple. Here we gave Mary and Joseph presenting their child and two old people in the temple, Simeon and Anna, who were waiting for salvation, were able to see in Jesus the fulfillment of the prophecies. Incredible.
So from the three readings today, we can commit ourselves to defending the scriptural understanding of family. We don’t need to attack anyone, only live this mystery clearly in our own lives and speak clearly when asked. We can also commit ourselves to understanding Scripture so that, like Anna and Simeon, we won’t miss the fulfillment of Scripture when it happens.
Your brother in the Lord,
Abbot Philip can capture the essence of these readings in just a few sentences with depth and humanity and tie them all together divinely! Superb!
We are indeed blessed to have Abbot Phillip’s reflections each week. A very Happy and blessed New Year to you Mary.
A very fine sermon. Thank you.
Gertrude, thank you and hope your 2018 is blessed also. Appreciate so many of the articles you post. Keeps me in-the-know.