- The Washington Times - Monday, December 27, 1999

Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. It allows us to continue to look at our Christmas celebration of John's Gospel, where he says the incarnation, in Jesus' birth, is a sign of love for us. It foretells for us the experience of God's love. Love coming upon love.
Our experience of God's love is not isolated from our human experience. If a person had no encounter with love, and had been totally isolated from that human aspect, he would not understand what you mean by "God's love." You'd probably get a blank stare.
Love begins for us in the context of our family. From the very beginning, it is parents who nurture. It is parents who give us the experience of love. Children who did not experience that love will have difficulty understanding its meaning. Love is not born with us. It is a gift that is given and a gift that needs to be received, and only then can it be given away to somebody else.
We need to experience what it means to be cared for, to be nurtured, to be understood, to be affirmed. We need to experience it in that setting of the nuclear family. We need to experience compassion, forgiveness, and what mercy is. We need to experience that in a relatively safe environment.
Very often we look at this and, while hoping for a perfect family, we know it is almost never to be found. We may have had a good family, but not a perfect one, and we don't see them in our neighborhoods or around the world. Families are not perfect. By our very nature, we are dysfunctional. We don't always get it right. But we work at getting it right.
Today, our feast invites us to look beyond that nuclear family. We realize we belong to many different kinds of families. There is our extended family, and then the church as the family of God. We talk about the family at our workplace. In all of these experiences, we have been enabled in some way to continue the good things learned in the nuclear family.
If the family had been a bad experience for someone, then what God invites us to do, being in full membership in the human family, is to offer to others the things they may had missed at home.
We read in the newspapers and hear on the news every day that families can be irresponsible. We know there is suffering, abuse, separation. All kinds of things happen to the family. We can be part of the healing of this in our world when we understand our responsibility as God's people. We can extend what we learn in our family. To share with others love, compassion, forgiveness, mercy. That's the challenge for us.
It is easy for us to go off and say, "Society is such a mess." The adult generation always says, "Look at our children," and the young generation always says, "Look at our parents." And we don't ever seem to get it exactly right. That is part of the process. Every generation, hopefully, will be actively trying to move closer to the fulness of perfection. Our challenge is to do what God has asked us in the gift of His Son, to live and express love following on love. Through our life, it does not get any easier. We can trace that through our own families. I grew up in a loving family, but now the roles are very much reversed. Now I am taking care of my mother, and I am learning a whole new aspect of what love is about. It allows me to offer to her something in abundance that she gave to me.
Each of us in our own history has a unique way of experiencing God's love and giving that to others. That's what it means to be in the family of God. To allow all of those who fall through the cracks, who are on the fringe, who had no one to love them, to know that we are committed to making that experience for them. We can call them into the love of God. We have received those gifts, and we can offer them to others.

Next week: A sermon by Rabbi Fred Dobb at Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Rockville, Md.

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