Hope marks the Christmas season as Christians celebrate the humility of God in the incarnation of Jesus. But let’s be realistic: The pervasive hope afforded in the gospel won’t be the basis of every family gathering in December.
The holiday gathers a cross section of bloodlines and legal relatives alike. Some we might like more than others, sharing space and unorthodox amounts of time. A season built to celebrate the “others-centered” love of Christ can be choked by unresolved tension that exists within families. Christmas has a way of spotlighting hearts through the family dynamic. Blemishes are exposed. Annoyances and resentments are inclined to bubble over, viewing others by past indiscretions. Conflict can trump celebration among us. With this potential for family strife around the corner, how might we prepare ourselves to exhibit the true hope for Christmas?
The practical book of James is timely as we consider interacting with our families over the holidays. “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you” (Jas. 4:1). James’ reminder is that the problems among us begin within us. Our presumptions dictate the way we expect others to act. This isn’t to say that every strain in your family falls squarely on your shoulders, as legitimate suffering is often the result of another’s sin toward us. But James warns us that we can be more of a contributing component to broken relationships than we realize.
The crafty serpent loves us to settle on our problems being everyone else’s fault. But the tension in your family dynamic, things you write off as others’ shortcomings, might actually originate within you. Think about this. Passion is derived from the word “hedonon,” from which we get hedonism – the philosophical systems where personal pleasure is the chief end. Our flesh fights for primacy, to control people to be and act a certain way. Are you prone toward annoyance when you’re with family? Ask the Lord for clarity so that you’re not explaining away your dysfunctional family only by their faults. A posture of only seeing the problems of others and being bothered by them misses the profound implications of Jesus’ incarnation – our truest reason to celebrate Christmas with those we love.
Hope persists in the Scriptures amid the incriminating exposure of human motivation. He saw the finger-pointing and self-righteousness in the garden. He sees us, too. Even with the knowledge of every wayward thought in human history, Jesus still comes to rescue us. He overcomes the severed relationship brought on by our own resentment and selfish, blatant disregard toward Him. He breaks through in full divinity and humanity, giving all of Himself to redeem us. He initiates the unmerited favor that saves us from the worst of ourselves.
May the hope of the gospel – the forgiving love of Christ – flow vertically from the heavens and horizontally out of your heart. May those most likely to annoy you be captivated by God’s grace through you.
Ask the Lord to do more in these long hours with your family than you ever thought possible. James reminds us that we don’t have because we don’t ask, or we ask for the wrong reasons (Jas. 4:3). Ask the Lord for help in seeing yourself and others rightly. Ask Him to bless you and keep you in any hardship. He is an eternally good Father, and we are forever His children.
Remember the purpose of the Incarnation – that God Himself would renew all things, including annoying family members with really bad histories. May the Lord change hearts, starting with ours.