From time to time we all experience big events in our lives that change things…that change everything. We might call them “Before and After” events. They are the experiences that we refer to like “Before we had children” or “After Mom died.” “Before the car” accident or “After graduation.” When I was a little kid it was always “Before and after the divorce of my parents.” Just today at church I heard people talking about “After the shooting” and “Before Covid.”

These before and after moments define the beginning and end of certain eras of our lives. They are game changers that make us reevaluate everything we have known up to this point through the lens of this one, new, big, life event.

I imagine that Jesus going missing for three days was one of these “before and after moments” for the Holy Family, whose feast we celebrate today.

This was no doubt a terrifying experience for Mary and Joseph. It would be for any parent. Three days is an extraordinarily long time to not know where your  child is. Even ten minutes can seem like ten hours.

It’s significant that our tradition holds that Jesus was twelve years old. Rarely do we think of Jesus as a lumbering tween, but as the last sentence of our gospel today affirms, he was fully human – so he “grew in wisdom and knowledge” just like the rest of us.

And 12 is a formative year. There is a reason why we celebrate confirmation and bar/beth mitzvahs around this age. It is a significant threshold, a “before and after moment” that heads us in the direction of the adult we are to become.

It’s also telling that they find Jesus in the temple. I don’t know about you, but church wouldn’t be the first place I went looking for my missing 12-year old. But, there he was, sitting among the rabbis, listening to them, asking questions…and what was even more eye-opening is that everyone was amazed at his understanding.

Before this temple experience, his parents may not have fully realized his uniqueness.

But After this experience, everyone – including maybe even Jesus himself for the first time – was aware that he was indeed coming into his own; having deep realizations about his calling and mission in life.

This whole temple experience was a very big game changer for the Holy Family, something that “Mary pondered in her heart,” no doubt for many years to come.

The big Before/After life event that I always ponder in my heart, especially this time of year, is what my family simply calls “the fire.” Back in 2010 we had a defective dryer with an electrical short that sparked a fire in our home and in the blink of an eye we found ourselves in a hotel room two days before Christmas, dazed and smelling of smoke – without a change of clothes, a toothbrush or a single wrapped gift for our three daughters, who were at the time ages 1, 5 & 8 years old.

We left our soot covered, flooded house in such haste, that my Lauren (our oldest daughter) had on only one boot in the snow. Our entire world was flipped upside down and we were displaced for over 8 months. 

Like a mighty rushing wind our friends from church blew into my family’s life at this time of crisis and fear and gave us hope. Within 24 hours we had a decorated tree and our hotel room was bursting with wrapped Christmas presents for the girls to open on Christmas morning.

Our extended community did for us what no one person, no one family, could have ever done. What no insurance company could ever provide. Every prayer, every hug, was an outpouring of God’s love that genuinely healed us. Every card, email and kind word, embodied God for us. Embodied love for us.

For me this experience is not only Before/After the Fire but Before/After I realized the concrete significance of being church. 

It’s like your parent is a doctor, and you know this your whole life, but then one day a real emergency happens and you see your parent do something amazing to save a patient – and you are simply blown away! You always knew your parent was a great doctor, but you had never seen them in action! I knew in theory that we, the church, the Body of Christ – was the healing, generous, restorative presence of God but I had never seen it in action….at least not from the receiving end. It was for me a great moment of clarity of the great power we hold and wield.  

My kids may not know the creed by heart, but they will never forget that experience of church.

Jesus’ mission was to birth a community of genuine sharing rooted in the love, lavishness and mercy of God. The early church did as a collective what no one person or one family could do and they understood that a non-negotiable, essential aspect of the gospel was insuring that everyone had enough food, clothing, and medical care; that everyone felt safe and cared for – had all their basic needs met.

The early disciples knew that church wasn’t set of beliefs that you talked AT people but rather a living, breathing community of believers in the vision that Jesus entrusted to us, believers in his promise that compassion can change the world and who know that our togetherness is the greatest remedy for all that fills us with fear. 

What binds us as church is our shared vision of all that could be! Of all we can be for one another. And it propels us. It missions us. It forms us as disciples. 

Ron Rolheiser writes “Community is not, first of all, nor necessarily at all, a shared roof, a shared city, a shared task, or even an explicitly shared friendship. It’s a shared spirit, a shared way of life.”

Before the pandemic, we were all physically together under one roof, sharing our ancient prayer and meal of the Mass together each week. But during this time of Covid we have had to adjust, and I think we are all wondering if we will ever be together in the same way again, but we remain and will always be community.

Because family, Intimacy and community are first and foremost constituted by living in the same spirit – Christ’s spirit as our second reading so beautifully spells out; that of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness.

“When we (do our best to) live within these, we are in deep intimacy with all others who are also (striving to live) within them, regardless of the separation that distance and time can cause. We know that true community need not be lost when death, distance, commitments, or even pandemics break us apart.” (Rolheiser) May we let nothing rob us of this beautiful vision and hope. Let’s keep showing up for one another no matter what challenges lie ahead. I suspect this was Jesus’ dream for us.

As John Lennon once said “A dream you dream alone is just a dream…a dream you dream together is a reality.”

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