Advent is a really beautiful opportunity for Christian families. One to celebrate the birth of our Savior together. To gather around the dinner table. Everyone together. Right? That’s the theory? The goal? That is unless that goal actually involves getting family together at all or navigating how to possibly see every family member and/or exchange presents without any hurt feelings.
The reality is ALL of our families are marred in some way over the years: divorce, death, resentment, greed, disagreement, and plain mean spiritedness creep in. Some wounds are petty and others are real and deep.
Christmas, a holiday about something joyful, often becomes a spotlight on the pain we are agile enough dodge the rest of the year. Instead of a complete family gathering a seat is left empty. December becomes marked by hurt feelings, upsetting phone calls, or passive aggressive silence; and what was once intended to be a time of celebration becomes damage control.
Growing up, I was a passive participant along for the ride to family events. Traipsing from house to house to exchange gifts. I was not privy to everything that went on in the whispered kitchen conversations or heated debates after bedtime.
Now I have my own little family. One I want to protect. One for which I want Christmas to be the happy and joyful celebration that this season deserves. I catch myself daydreaming about the perfectly planned Christmas and wondering if it is possible to bubble wrap my house and keep everything painful out. But then I realize, there would still be a broken family inside it… and, well, it’s too hot in Mississippi for that kind of insulation.
Perhaps the answer isn’t creating a perfect Christmas or hiding from it all, and maybe those efforts just further complicate the situation. I think there is a better way. I believe it is possible to show up, to enter the messiness of our families and truly find joy, peace, and kindness.
First we need to mourn. To love our families well we have to stop hiding and ignoring and acknowledge that things aren’t as they should be. Our families are ALL messy and broken and that stinks.
As we mourn, we also need to allow ourselves to be comforted in our mourning. We don’t just look past all of the messy, remove ourselves and hope for heaven. We are equipped by Christ to love and live well within these families. Hoping for reconciliation and redemption.
God sent Jesus to fix the brokenness. He is our High Priest who is able to empathize,
He isn’t surprised at the brokenness of my family. Even my “perfect” little family. He knows. And He loves. That His specialty; He loves the broken and messy, the hurting and the awkward. Jesus came into this broken, messy, awkward world and into a broken, messy, and awkward family. And He did it to save His loved ones.
Second, we (I) need to recognize that we are (I am) part of the problem. As hard as it is to admit, I am a part of this whole messy family thing. My selfishness, arrogance, and lack forgiveness has left a trail of not-so-proud moments and strained relationships.
But there is good news, I am (you are) just the type of person Jesus came to save. He was born so that he could live the perfect life and die as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Because of Him, we can be ultimately and supremely forgiven and loved.
I wish all of this could take place as quickly as it takes to read, but it probably won’t. Resentment, avoidance, and numbing seem a lot easier and who has time to deal with all these feelings when there are a million presents to buy, decorations to put up, and cards to address? But my prayer for you and me is that by the power of the Holy Spirit we might be brave enough to face some of the hurt. Because if we allow ourselves to be comforted we can comfort the hurting members of our families. If we stop trying to perfect (or excuse) ourselves and accept forgiveness, we will able to forgive our families because we are just as screwed up and in need of saving as they are. I may be wrong, but I think that is the Christmas we are looking for: repentance, reconciliation, and restoration.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION/ APPLICATION:
1. How do you usually look forward to family gatherings? Who or what is difficult about your particular family?
2. How does the coming of Christ cause you to be free to admit your own fault in the dynamic of your family? Spend some time asking God to reveal what you have to repent of and ask Him to give you the grace to change.
2. How does the truth of the gospel cause us to view repentance, reconciliation, and restoration as goals of family gatherings?
April Johnson lives in Jackson, Mississippi. She is the wife of Joe, a third year student at Reformed Theological Seminary. She is also mama to Anna, a 15 month old whose life is thoroughly documented on April’s Instagram feed. She currently works as the the virtual Executive Assistant for Invision Events. April enjoys writing and once started a blog that can still be found with only its inaugural post.