Silent night, holy night,
all is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin, mother and child
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.
It’s been almost six months since we sang those words on Christmas Eve. At Christmas our focus was on the joy of a newborn baby. Our imaginations at Christmas led us toward those things which we crave in this life but which remain elusive: calmness, rest and peace.
Fast forward six months after Christmas and we’ve fast forwarded thirty years in the life of Jesus. The little baby is all grown up. He’s become a man. And the scene of Christmas—mother and child, holy infant so tender and mild—has been replaced by something very different.
Our reading from Mark this morning begins with these three words: Jesus went home. We don’t think of Jesus as having a home. The baby of Christmas was born in a barn or a cave. After that his family were refugees for a time in a foreign land. And after he grew up, we think of him as a man on the road, in the fields, on the hillsides, in the synagogue, teaching, preaching, and healing. But one day, Jesus went home. This was right after he’d chosen his twelve disciples and was being followed by huge crowds. Mark recalls that when Jesus got home to Nazareth, the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He’s gone out of his mind.”
This was the hometown boy everybody in Nazareth thought they knew. We don’t know why they thought he was suddenly different. But we understand the response: “He’s crazy!” or “That’s insane!” It’s what we often say even today when we’re afraid, or faced with something new and unfamiliar that threatens to turn our world upside down. But what’s interesting to me is not so much the response of people who think Jesus is crazy. It’s the response of his family that gets my attention.
We don’t think much about that, either, do we—that Jesus had a family? Well, according to today’s readings, in addition to dad and mom he had at least two brothers and two sisters. And what do they do when Jesus comes home? What do they do when people start calling him crazy? Do they come to his defense? Do they speak up for him? No, they do not! Mark tells us they tried to restrain him, to control him, to shut him up.
The very people you might think would be most supportive are not there when he needs them. His family is worried. What if people are right?- -maybe Jesus really is crazy! For example, he keeps breaking down barriers and seems determined to include and welcome everyone. This for them is at least a little bit embarrassing because it draws attention to the family and they don’t want to stick out, especially if it means facing criticism. They just want to blend in, to have peace and quiet. They just want a normal life.
No doubt Jesus wanted that for himself, too. Like any normal human being he just longed for peace and a happy, normal life. But turns out that he wanted something even more than that. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother. More than happiness, more than peace, more than security, Jesus wanted to do the will of God.
No wonder his family was upset. For him there was something more important than loyalty to friends and family and his own kind. Something more than a quiet, peaceful life. For Jesus the most important thing in life is love. To do the will of his Father is to practice love. And love crosses all kinds of barriers that human beings put up.
What if the world got the idea that that’s what we’re about? What if the world got the idea that love is the most important thing to us Christians, right here in this neighborhood? More important than beliefs or doctrines. More important than going to church. More important than friends or family or race or nation or church or religion—or any other category that separates us from others and distracts us from the practice of loving our neighbor? What if we were known not as the people who claimed to be right or to have the truth or who are a bit too concerned with judging others or going to heaven? What if we were known simply for one thing: for attempting to practice love at every opportunity and pointing to love wherever we see it? What if we were able to celebrate the presence of God in our Muslim, or Jewish, or Hindu or even atheist brothers and sisters? If we did that maybe people would call us crazy, too! But better to be called crazy because we recognize love and attempt to practice love than to be called sensible for setting up barriers that set us above or apart from other people.
Imagine a world in which Christians spent less time building walls that separate us from those whom Christ himself has called our brothers and sisters? Imagine what kind of crowds might follow us–as they followed Jesus–if we spent most of our time and energy pointing to God’s grace and God’s love wherever we see it, and practicing God’s love whenever we can? For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.
We profess that Jesus is God’s revelation of love to the world and for the world. And we are the Body of Christ. May the Holy Spirit fill us with the grace to follow Jesus’ example, to overcome our desire for personal comfort, peace, and security, in order to be Christ to the world! AMEN