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"The holidays can bring out the worst in family relationships, which means they provide a unique opportunity to bring out the best in you: Christ. Christlike love, patience, joy, kindness, and self-control can revolutionize family gatherings, especially Christmas."
As it is now the week leading up to Christmas, let’s talk about one common Christmas tradition: gathering with family. Some of you might not be with family this Christmas. You may be with friends, or working, or with your church family. But the vast majority of us will spend at least some kind of time with family during (or around) Christmas. This is such a strong tradition in most families that you don’t even really have a choice in the matter. People end up eating two, three, or even four Christmas dinners just so that this tradition can be kept up with each different iteration of one’s family.
For some, gathering with family is the best part of Christmas. For others, it’s the most difficult. But why do we do it? Why not take the money and the time off and take a vacation? Why make the effort of traveling on some of the busiest travel days of the year?
First, spending time with family at Christmas is often a unique opportunity to honor your parents. When a child grows up and leaves the house, that child is filled with visions of opportunity, adventures, and a newfound sense of independence. Her parents, however, are oftentimes left feeling lonely: a central part of their life and household for decades is no longer there on a daily basis. Gathering together to celebrate Christmas provides an opportunity for those children, who are no longer obligated to obey their parents, to fulfill their biblical instruction to honor their parents. Even if your family dynamic is different than what I described, continuing traditions that your parents began (even if it’s just showing up at the same house and eating a meal together) is an important way to honor and bless them to the extent you are able.
Spending time with family at Christmas also provides a unique opportunity for spiritual conversations. Very few of our families are full of Christians. And none of our families are full of people who have no need for truth to be spoken to them in love. Familial relationships are unique. There’s no relationship you have that is quite like the one you have with your sibling, child, parent, cousin, aunt, uncle, or grandparent. Many times these relationships are uniquely complicated. However, the uniqueness of these relationships caries with it a unique opportunity to lovingly speak truth into the lives of your family members, or to simply love them and care for them in times of suffering or pain. The holidays can bring out the worst in family relationships, which means they provide a unique opportunity to bring out the best in you: Christ. Christlike love, patience, joy, kindness, and self-control can revolutionize family gatherings, especially Christmas.
For some of you, gathering with your family this Christmas is something you’ve been looking forward to for a long time. Maybe it’s been a few years since you’ve had the chance. Maybe it’s been longer than normal since you’ve seen them. Maybe you have been blessed with a special family that truly enjoys being together whenever you get the chance. This leads us to the third reason we keep the tradition of gathering with family at Christmas: when family reflects what God designed it to reflect, it is a great joy to gather together. Close relationships, mutual care, unfading loyalty, consistent love, shared memories—this is what God designed families to be. In the instances in this life when we get to experience even imperfect shadows of that design, it is a great joy to experience and reminds us of what he has prepared for us as a part of His eternal family.
In a fallen world, most people’s families are, unfortunately, not like that. And those that are, don’t stay that way forever. But that is the exact reason Jesus came! That is why Christmas is so worth celebrating! Into this fallen and broken world, the Son of God came as a baby. The baby, Jesus, would grow up, become a man, and give himself as the ransom for us all. He took upon himself the wrath of God for all of our sin, that we might be redeemed. That we might be washed clean. That we might be brought into a family whose close relationships, mutual care, unfading loyalty, consistent love, and shared memories will continue forever. This is, ultimately, what we celebrate at Christmas.
So we gather with our families (or friends or neighbors), regardless of the shape they are in, that we might both be reminded of the heavenly family we are a part of in Christ and so that we might bless those whom God has made our earthly family. We exchange gifts, enjoy the decorations, and hum along with the music, all that we might be reminded again of the love of God, and how it has changed everything.
Scott serves the church by overseeing leadership, development, global ministries, and counseling/discipleship.
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