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Christmas and the unreconciled family

Christmas brings joy—the joy of a born Savior, festive celebration, good meals, and traditions. But for many of us that same joy is accompanied with the pain related to distant and unreconciled family members.

The world wants us to believe that Christmas is a Norman Rockwell painting. We should expect to sit around a table with all of our family in one place sharing a meal, singing carols, and being together, united and happy. That image may be a reality for a few, but not for all.

I know firsthand the pain of separation, and the heartache that comes with it. When I became a Christian at the age of 35, the change in my life was not well received by some members of my family. Some haven’t spoken to me for six years now. We send birthday cards and Christmas cards with no response. Yet, we continue to pray to Jesus to reconcile our family. We continue loving loved ones who don’t love back, and we continue forgiving and asking for forgiveness.

The pain resurfaces vividly during the Christmas season, compelling us to remember several truths:

Our hearts will deceive us.

Jeremiah 17:9 reads, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Our emotions can betray the truth. That’s not to say emotions don’t matter to the Lord, or that they should be stuffed, but a deceitful heart can obscure God’s promises to us. No matter how broken our earthly family may be, we are loved. In Christ, we are accepted.

The world is a broken family.

The ruler of this world brings death and destruction. When sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden, our earthly destiny was forever altered. Until Jesus returns, the enemy wreaks havoc here. When God chooses us for his heavenly family, our earthly family might rebel. In Matthew 10, Jesus reminds us that he came not to bring peace but a sword, and that belief in him would turn son against father, daughter against mother. A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.

We can’t go back.

The commercialization of Christmas and our hearts try to convince us to go back to the way things used to be, when our family was united. As the Bible says, however, “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this” (Ecc. 7:10).

In many ways, an American Christmas no longer worships Jesus; it worships family. I pray every day for family unity. Every time I buy a cup of coffee, I pray for the broken relationships in my family, and I trust that God will bring reconciliation in his time, if that is his will. But I also know that this may never happen. In John 6, Jesus brings a hard teaching, and “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’” (John 6:66–67). Peter knew going back was impossible. “Lord, to whom shall we go?” he responded. “You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know,  that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68–69).

Jesus reconciles us to his family.

While we may not be reconciled with the family of our physical birth, we are reconciled to God with our family of new birth. If we believe in Jesus, we are reconciled to our heavenly Father, and ultimately that reconciliation brings complete joy and perfect peace. We have brothers and sisters that love Jesus and love us. We have unity in him.

Last Christmas, my wife, girls, and I spent a quiet morning at home. The four of us opened presents alone. With extended family halfway across the country, my empty heart began to deceive me with painful thoughts of loss. But a few hours later, we were in church in God’s presence with brothers and sisters in Christ. I looked over to see tears of joy spilling down my wife’s cheeks, and I knew we were home.

Jesus. He made us family.

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