12/19/2014 02:12 pm ET Updated Feb 18, 2015

Holy Family Values

As the countdown to Christmas continues, the preparations shift into high gear for the celebrations and services in my parish. The choirs are rehearsing their music, the preachers are mulling their texts and volunteers are organizing to once again deck the halls for the six services of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

And we will start on Christmas Eve with the three o'clock "Family Candlelight Service" -- which includes the Christmas story retold in pageant form complete with angels, shepherds, wise men/women and (of course) Mary and Joseph with Baby Jesus. And because at All Saints Church we know that families come in many varieties, our holy families have come in many different shapes and sizes over the years - including blended families, multi-racial families and same-sex families -- all part of the wonderful tapestry of telling and retelling the beloved Christmas story.

Yes, families come in many varieties, and sometimes our families don't end up looking like what we expected them to. Joseph, for example, did not get the family he expected. One of the Gospel stories tells us that his first reaction to the "unexpected" news of Jesus' impending arrival was to dismiss his pregnant fiancé -- an act which would fallen firmly within the bounds of the traditional family values of his day and would have made Mary and her child outcasts. Instead of "tradition" Joseph chose love. He did as the angel commanded and took Mary as his wife and named the child Jesus -- and the rest is Holy Family History.

The Christ Child made the Holy Family holy. What made them family were the values that bound them together as an icon of God's love for the whole human family. And those values have absolutely nothing to do with either the gender or the genetics of those who make up a family and everything to do with the inclusive love of the God whose deepest desire is for this human race -- created in God's image -- to become the human family it was meant to be.

As the countdown to Christmas continues, we prepare to welcome again the Prince of Peace into a world challenged by war and violence, racism and partisanship, polarization and division. And we prepare to glimpse once again in that baby in the manger the hope of all humanity for relationships restored, creation fulfilled and God's love so alive and so real we can reach out and touch it -- love described in these words from John Shelby Spong's "Christpower:"

Here in this life we glimpse
that immortal
most blessed
most glorious
almighty life-giving force
of this universe
in startling completeness
in a single person.
Men and women tasted the power that was in him
and they were made whole by it.
They entered a new freedom,
a new being.
They knew resurrection and what it means to live
in the Eternal Now.
So they became agents of that power,
sharing those gifts from generation to generation,
creating and re-creating,
transforming, redeeming,
making all things new.

And so as Christmas looms may our prayer be: O Come, O Come Emmanuel -- make us agents of the power to live in the Eternal Now and give us grace to live your Holy Family Values all the days of our lives. And may the God of hope fill us with joy and peace -- and equip us to be agents of love, justice and compassion. Always.