Sermon for Sunday 1 January 2023
Feast of the Naming and Circumcision of Christ 2022
“Mary treasured all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”
“The Liszts make lists. They make lists most usual and lists most unusual. They make lists in winter, spring, summer and fall. They make lists every day except Sundays, which are listless.”
Those are the opening words of a children’s book about the Liszt family. I happened to browse through it in a bookshop the other day.
Every member of the slightly OCD Liszt family lives through lists. Lists of favourite pass-times; lists of things to be done; lists of interesting facts and figures. Their life is ordered, predictable, and under control.
Until suddenly a strange visitor arrives. But he’s not on anyone’s list. He isn’t expected. There’s no room for him in the Lizsts’ lists. So the visitor gradually makes himself part of their life by helping, and challenging, and accompanying and living with the Lizsts.
He dares to suggest by his very presence that something spontaneous or new or unforeseen might actually be possible.
By the end of the story the Liszt family still make lists each day, but there is now always one slot left unfilled at the end of each list – space for something unpredicted, for the unexpected, for the creative and the challenging.
It’s unclear who that strange visitor is who helps the Liszt family experience life in a slightly more adventurous way, but he reminds me very much of the way in which God sometimes works in our settled, controlled lives. Lives in which we like to think we have anything sorted and organized. God lets himself in and gently, mysteriously, but firmly challenges and accompanies us in such a way that our horizons are widened to possibilities we never thought possible.
If ever we needed an image of a group of people who were open to the new possibilities God offers humanity, the Holy Family is it. We celebrate today in this feast of the naming of Jesus a family which was the exact opposite of the compulsive members of the Liszt family. At every point in the gospels when God enters the life of Mary and Joseph, they accept his presence with joy.
God’s requests to Joseph and Mary involve uncertainty, spontaneity, creativity – and sacrifice – but in a way that will lead them closer to God. Mary, will you bear a son? Joseph, will you take Mary as your wife and endure public gossip and ridicule about her pregnancy? Will you both name your Son Jesus – Joshua – a name that means God saves even though that will be at the cost of his own life?
In our Gospel reading today we hear a little mention of Mary kind of making a list in her mind. We are told, “Mary treasured all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” Mary is able to gather up all that God has done in her thoughts and imagination.
Yet, unlike the Liszt family, her gathering up of these things is not an attempt to control, or order, or pacify the unruliness God has injected into her life. No. Her gathering up of these things is to treasure them, to contemplate them, to allow them to bed down in her soul, to change and challenge her.
So as we enter a new year and celebrate the eighth day on which Jesus was named, we would do well to follow Mary and Joseph’s example, and maybe also that of the Liszt family.
As we organise our lives, as we put things in order and try to control the chaos of everyday life, let’s just make sure we leave one slot on our lists each day free – time and space that allows God in, to challenge, and change us.
And if we needed an example of what that looks like in real life, we don’t need to look much further than the figures in that crib over there. For Mary and Joseph lived in a way that was open to God’s possibilities. They were eager to serve him, and excited by the prospect of what God could do in their life – no matter how complicated or unsettling that was – list or no list.