The Holy Family and Our Family
Happy third day of Christmas! Did you know it was the third day of Christmas? Many people mistakenly think that the 12 Days of Christmas are the 12 days leading up to Christmas. But actually, they are the days between Christmas and Epiphany, which we will celebrate next Sunday. So even though Christmas Day has already come and gone, we are still in the midst of the 12 Days of Christmas. We're still in the middle of the Christmas season, still singing Christmas carols and enjoying the beautiful decorations.
The beautiful nativity set on our altar today was gifted to our church a few years ago from our church members, Vivian Love and Mark Kyle. I just loved the figures of Mary Joseph and the baby Jesus, the Holy Family, whom we're putting our focus on today. For each year on the first Sunday after Christmas, the Christian Church celebrates what's known as The Feast of the Holy Family.
As we just heard in today's Gospel, reading, the Holy Family journeys to the temple in Jerusalem 40 days after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph, as good practicing Jews, were required by Jewish law and tradition to take their firstborn son to be presented in the temple in Jerusalem. This presentation in the temple was a rite of purification, and it was to take place 40 days after the birth.
Now I've told you before of the significance of the number 40. In the Bible, it appears quite often. And that's no coincidence. For example, the Israelites wandered 40 years in the wilderness. Moses spent 40 days on top of Mount Sinai. Jonah was in Nineveh for 40 days. In the story of Noah, it rained for 40 days and 40 nights. And Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights in the desert. This repetition of the number 40 in the Bible is not by coincidence. It was done on purpose. For in the Jewish tradition, numbers have a tremendous spiritual significance. The biblical writers were not using this number literally, but symbolically. And symbolically, the number 40 represents a time of spiritual purification, and renewal. Jesus's presentation in the temple 40 days after his birth is a spiritual ritual in which Mary and Joseph present the baby Jesus before their family of faith. And at the end of today's Gospel passage, we hear that they became filled with the Holy Spirit and that the favor of God rested upon them.
So today, as we focus on the journey of the Holy Family, I'd like us to also put our focus on our Douglas UCC family. Because today is the 40th Sunday that we've been broadcasting our worship services during the pandemic. When our faith family began this journey 40 weeks ago, we did so with a lot of hesitation, uncertainty, and fear, much like the Holy Family experienced when they set out on their journey. But although the road before us was uncertain, the Holy Spirit was at work, and God's favor was resting upon us. Yes, our church building has been closed for most of this year. But we know that the church is not a building. We are the church and our family of faith has remained as connected and committed to our mission as ever before.
I'm so grateful to all of you for your dedication and your resilience this past year. During the pandemic we donated trunkloads of food and clothing to families in need. Our annual Crop Hunger Walk raised more money this year than ever before. And we donated tens of thousands of dollars to local charities. We continued our social activism, safely wearing masks and social distancing for both the Gay Pride event and a Black Lives Matter March, both of which were organized by members of our church.
Our Congregational Care Team and Stephen Ministers continue to meet people's needs, and our well-attended Sunday morning coffee hours on Zoom each week have been such a great way of keeping us connected. During this time apart, and this year, even with our church building being closed for services, there were still weddings and baptisms and new members joining our church family. And 40 weeks ago, I don't think any of us could have imagined that in less than one year's time, our services would be reaching hundreds of people each week from all over the world. These past 40 weeks, our worship videos have received more than 200,000 views on YouTube. That's absolutely extraordinary for a small, village church in Douglas Michigan.
As we the people of Douglas UCC enter into a new year together, let us remember Scripture's promised to us that God's plans for us are plans of fullness, not of harm, to give us a future and a hope. I'm so very grateful to all of you for your continued dedication and support. And I'm so very thankful to be a part of such an extraordinary family of faith.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
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