Christmas Grafts Us into God’s Nontraditional Household
As a child, I cherished combing via the Christmas playing cards my household obtained every year. Within the days earlier than social media, these annual photos within the mailbox helped me really feel linked to long-distance family and friends.
After my father died, nonetheless, Christmas playing cards served as a reminder of what I’d misplaced. Images of smiling, intact households and their cheerful greetings had been like salt in a wound. Holidays are at all times exhausting for the bereaved. However for me, they added a layer of disgrace to the grief I carried year-round. As a hurting youngster, I intuited: My siblings and I had been not Christmas card materials, as a result of our household was not complete. For that purpose, we by no means despatched one other vacation greeting after my father’s dying.
Our cultural fixation with the nuclear household takes on a non secular tone round Christmas. We conflate Mary, Joseph, and Jesus nestled within the crèche with our personal sentimental notions of household togetherness. We invite households as much as gentle the Introduction candles in church. We collect round prolonged household tables to have a good time. In all of the hype, it’s simple to imagine that “peace on earth” comes solely within the kind of an entire and wholesome household in entrance of a Christmas tree.
To be clear, household is a present from God price celebrating and supporting. God created the household partly to show us how one can love and be cherished. The world must see households doing the exhausting and holy work of togetherness. However as New Testomony scholar Esau McCaulley writes, “Our picture of household at Christmas—well-decorated, rich, glad, and intact—really sits uneasily beside the gospel of the primary [Christmas].”
Jesus’ circle of relatives was not precisely Christmas card materials. His first “Christmas” (his delivery) was not spent in a comfortable house with a standard household however in an outhouse for animals with an unwed mom and an adoptive father. His childhood was marked by the social disgrace of his mom’s being pregnant (Matt. 1:18–19), the fear of his household’s displacement in Egypt (Matt. 2:13–15), and the realities of poverty (Luke 2:24).
Furthermore, Jesus didn’t develop as much as have a standard household himself. He remained single and celibate till his dying.
As somebody who misplaced my dad once I was younger, I’ve discovered nice consolation in the truth that Jesus’ household story is so advanced. From the second of his conception, Emmanuel demonstrates that he’s God with all of us—together with the disenfranchised, the poor, the unwed, and the bereaved. The magic of Christmas, of Christ’s nearness, is that it belongs exactly to those that appear excluded from it. Jesus’ circle of relatives is proof of this reality.
However Jesus and his dad and mom—named in church historical past because the holy household—additionally mannequin for us a brand new, broader framework that Jesus himself inaugurated. When questioned about his familial loyalties, Jesus taught, “Whoever does the need of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mom” (Matt. 12:50). Jesus’ human dad and mom had been the primary characters within the gospels to exhibit this obedience.
Mary’s well-known “sure” to Gabriel’s message is what made her Jesus’ mom. She consented to God’s will and welcomed him in probably the most private, expensive, and embodied method. This makes Mary a singular particular person in salvation historical past in addition to an instance for all Christians.
Equally, Joseph obeyed the angelic command to take Mary as his spouse and welcome her son as his inheritor (Matt. 1:18–25). Joseph’s profound humility and servanthood illustrate God’s countercultural kingdom and stay a prophetic witness for us at present.
Of their collaborative obedience to God, Mary and Joseph lived collectively the best way that Adam and Eve had been supposed to. Their partnership represents the start of redeemed humanity—the household of God. In different phrases, the primary characters within the Christmas story don’t simply give us a mannequin for the nuclear household. They provide us a mannequin for the church.
In my very own childhood, throughout and after my father’s dying from most cancers, the church turned to me a holy household—a group that fathered and mothered me in obedience to God. They surrounded and supported my mother as she realized how one can increase six kids as a widow. Christians fed, clothed, and—for a season—housed my siblings and me. Specifically, a handful of males faithfully discipled us as non secular fathers. Their sustained presence was life-changing for me.
These years later, the affect of these males makes me consider Joseph, a person whose fatherhood was not restricted by biology. As Pope Francis writes of Joseph’s ministry, “Fathers are usually not born, however made. … At any time when a person accepts duty for the lifetime of one other, in a roundabout way he turns into a father to that particular person.”
Jesus didn’t come to abolish the household. However he did come to increase it. He got here in order that we might share in his sonship and sit at his household desk. He got here to show strangers into siblings and childless women and men into non secular fathers and moms. This doesn’t erase the ache of familial estrangement, bereavement, or undesirable singleness. However it does reframe that ache. And it ought to reframe the best way all Christian households perceive the ministry of their widespread life.
In his ebook Habits of the Family, Justin Whitmel Earley challenges nuclear households to embrace hospitality as a type of mission.
“We don’t look after our family as a result of our duty is to our bloodline and nobody else—that may be a cloaked type of tribalism,” he writes. “Reasonably, we look after the household as a result of it’s via the family that God’s blessing to us is prolonged to others.”
As Christmas approaches, we will replicate on the small, nontraditional family that prolonged God’s blessing to the world via the delivery of Christ. And we will marvel at how that family expands to embody every of us.
I marvel at that reality each time I have a look at an icon of the holy household that sits on my desk. It was given to me by a good friend once I was pregnant, and it often conjures up me to wish for my very own ministry as a mom to 3 kids. However sometimes, I consider it as a household portrait during which I’m someway mysteriously current, as properly.
To be clear, Jesus’ human household was and is distinct. However his non secular household consists of those that are born “not of blood nor of the need of the flesh nor of the need of man, however of God” (John 1:12–13, ESV). This household is created from each tribe and language and nation, and its future is everlasting fellowship with the Father (Rev. 7:9–10).
One significantly tough Christmas a couple of years in the past, once I was grieving the sudden lack of my brother, I found one other picture that options the holy household. In a drawing referred to as “Mary and Eve,” Eve is bare, sorrowful, and entangled by the serpent at her toes. Mary is pregnant, wearing white, and stepping on the top of the identical serpent.
That picture has turn out to be a private form of Christmas card. It jogs my memory to not search for final success in any iteration of the nuclear household however to entrust myself and my family members to the Son who makes us all little children.
Within the face of profound loss and enduring loneliness, this unbreakable household lineage sustains us. It teaches us how one can stay collectively as a group of brothers and sisters till the Lord comes. And it embeds our grief in a bigger hope of the reunion—and resurrection—that awaits.
Hannah King is a priest and author within the Anglican Church of North America. She serves as an affiliate pastor at Village Church in Greenville, South Carolina.