I had a grandmother who was quite formidable. We were rather afraid of her as youngsters and were always told to be on our best behaviour when visiting. I later learned that her own children were just as afraid of her as we were. Although we were in awe of her we used to like visiting. She had a habit of saying some old fashioned words which we were always waiting to hear her say. Of course we would wait for the moment she would say them and would explode with laughter when we hear them. We used to get a scowl fired in our direction from both our mother and grandmother, not quite sure what we were laughing at.
I had an aunt who was of a nervous disposition. One of the things I always remember about her was that she was always taking beachams powders or askits. It always sticks with me, her asking my mother if she had one. She would get milk on a spoon dissolve the powder in the milk and knock it back. Even as a child I knew this didn’t quite look right. Nobody should be knocking back medicine like that.
I had another aunt, my sisters mother who liked to brag about her children and the things she had. I am not sure she was conscious of doing it, but the conversation was always directed to something that they had did, some exam they had passed, some new job or promotion they had.
I had an uncle who liked a drink. Always on social occasions he was expected to take too much. He would be first to sing, first to joke, first to cause a row. It never really seemed to bother him too much.
My own paternal grandparents, we never knew so well. My father had died early in life and there was obviously some distance between us and them, perhaps some fall out in the past, which meant they never had much to do with us. They had been hawkers, selling things and had been well off. The story goes that they had bank books in different names and when they died the money couldn’t be re-claimed because it was in these false names. If there was ever a tale about the folly of money and spending your whole life gathering it up and it meaning nothing, it is that one.
That some of the members of my family. A motley crew.
Today at Mass we are introduced to members of the family of Jesus to his mother and his mother’s cousin.
We get to know about his mother’s cousin, Elizabeth. An elderly woman, perhaps too elderly for having children. She seems, from what the new testament says, to be despondent that she has not had a child. But we will hear that she, like other woman in the bible is to have a miraculous child who is to turn the hearts of men and woman to God.
We know also about this woman that she is like the prophets of the Old Testament, she speaks a word, announces a moment, says how things are to be. It is a word greater than any other, namely, that this woman before her, in front of her, is blessed and she carries within her, a child which is blessed by God.
Likewise, the woman Mary, who is the mother of Jesus although young turns out to be prophetic too. Very few of her words are recorded but she turns out to be a towering presence. Nothing can happen in this story unless she says yes to it. Nothing can come to pass unless she gives her permission. She prophesies what the moment will mean, kingdoms will fall, the lowly will be raised up. The promise to Abraham will be fulfilled. Even the generations will call her blessed. Her word become a great prophecy, a great word from God that says how things shall be, how things are to be, how things will come to pass.
The new testament remains silent on these woman. These women are a as great as the greatest prophets of the Old Testament. Yet humanly we know that this mysterious silence allows for a rich speculation. Their part in this story of how the Messiah comes to be born is essential, they are not ‘but parts’ or ‘walk on’ ‘walk off players’. Their part in how Christs comes to be born and their care, the attention, the guidance, the spirituality and prayer with which they guide the child Jesus must be immense.
We know that the family life that we come from shapes us. Our grandparents, our mother and father, those aunts and cousins shape our life. So must Jesus’ close relatives shape the life of Jesus.
The son of God obeys the rules of creation and the world and enters the human family with all of the relationships that go with it. But there must, there must be something special about this family because of the persons within it – Joseph and Mary, Elizabeth and Zechariah, John the Baptist an many others not known to us.
How rich must their religious life have been, their relationships with each, the tenderness and love that was in that home and amongst their family.
When we look at our own family life it can sometimes seem like a dog’s breakfast. People not talking. Jealousies. Illness. Deceptions. People behaving strangely. Bu sometimes we realise that this is exactly the place where our life and our salvations is being worked out and resolved. In those relationships, in those difficult moments, this is our life and this is were salvation is to be won.
There is not some oasis, safe and guarded from all harm to come. ~This is the place where our life takes place and where our salvation is one, in the here and now, in the messiness of life, in the hurl and burly of the day. God is in it as he was in every life and in every family when he came into the world.