“When they had finished everything required by 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 favour of God was upon him.” – Luke 2:39-40
These two short verses are all we have to describe the child Jesus between eight days old and tweenage 12 years. They set a virtuous and intimate scene: the modest Mary, kind Joseph, the A+ child growing up, all wrapped in a rosy glow.
Honestly, Luke, this is humble-bragging at its worst, and it makes me bitter. Where does it leave our very human and flawed family, halfway through another wonky Christmas vacation that started so promisingly but is devolving into relentless sibling rivalry, spiking cabin fever, and boredom as a blood sport.
But then there is the jigsaw puzzle. Every year, my spouse buys a group gift for our family: a jigsaw puzzle just hard enough to be interesting for the aces among us, but easy enough to engage the amateurs.
We clear the dining room table and spread out the pieces. And for days on end, we take turns, sometimes solo, sometimes in pairs, and for a few magnificent moments, all four of us, putting the puzzle together. We work in early morning light and deep into the night. And when we finish, we let it live there for a few days more—a sign of what we can do, together, in spite of our flaws and frailties.
Families are a puzzle. Finding the way we fit together takes time and patience, and sometimes eludes us all together. I don’t know if Luke was showing us a cleaned-up Holy Family, or if Jesus, Mary and Joseph were really like that, but honestly, how could they be? Maybe two verses is all that was left after the editors got to the script.
God, thank you for the small-h holy family you’ve given me, just as we are, unedited, and as we are becoming. Amen.
Molly Baskette is Senior Minister of the First Church of Berkeley, California, and the author of the best-selling Real Good Church and Standing Naked Before God.