This Saturday, we’ll load up our minivan with kids and presents and head down to my sister’s house for the first of several family Christmas gatherings. ‘Tis the season, right?
I’m looking forward to this weekend, but what do you do when the idea of gathering with family fills you with dread?
Over the years, I’ve had my share of dreaded family gatherings–the first Christmas after my parents divorced, the Christmas after my father in-law’s death, the Christmas when our baby was sick, Christmases when relationships have been strained.
I could offer you a list of life hacks to get you through the dreaded gatherings, but what if I told you that you could do more than “just get through”? What if it was possible for you to feel real peace, joy, and love in the midst of family strife?
Friends, there is hope–real hope–for our dreaded family gatherings in Jesus. Through Christ, we receive what we need to celebrate Christmas with the ones we love, even when it’s hard to love them. His gifts of peace, joy, and love move us from a place of dread to a place of hopeful confidence.
The Gift of Peace
In our B.C. (Before Christ) lives, we were at war with God. The Bible says we were “hostile in mind” towards him, “doing evil deeds” (Colossians 1:19).
God could have rightfully ended the battle and done away with us for good, but instead, he sent us a Great Rescuer–the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ his son.
“Glory to God in the highest,” the angels sang on the night of his birth, “and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14).
This angelic proclamation truly is good news for those who believe in Christ–not because we have done anything to please God, but because he is fully pleased with us through his son. Colossians 1:19 says, “For in him (Christ!) all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
When Jesus died on the cross, he made peace with God on our behalf. If we believe in Him, God has laid down his arms against us.
As part of his family, we, too, can make peace with those around us. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus said, “for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).
As we gather with our families this Christmas season, old wounds may start to bleed again and bitterness might bubble up. The holidays have a way of bringing conflict to the surface, but as blessed peacemakers, we can choose to cease fire with those who war against us.
Sister, because you have peace through Christ, you don’t have to get the last word in.
Because you have peace through Christ, you don’t have to defend yourself.
Because you have peace though Christ, you don’t have to put up a fight.
Just as Christ laid down his rights for you, you can lay down yours for others this Christmas. Your family members may not reciprocate, but you are at peace with God, and that is enough.
The Gift of Love
It’s one thing to lay down your weapons. It’s another thing entirely to invite enemy combatants into your territory and welcome them with open arms of love.
But that, dear ones, is exactly what God has done for us through Christ!
John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
God sent his only son to take on human flesh not just to save us from certain death, but to save us into everlasting life with the one we once raged against. All because He loves us. Pretty amazing, right?
And you know what else is amazing? As those who have been so loved by God, we have both the means and motivation to love others as Christ has loved us.
1 John 4:7 tells us to “love one another, for love is from God.”
Oh, the freedom I have found in this verse, friends! The same God who commands me to love others has provided the very love I need to fulfill his command through Christ. I don’t have to make a withdrawal from my own measly love account in order to love others because Christ has already lavished his own love upon me.
As we think about his steadfast love, we can’t help but want to love others how Christ has loved us. Suddenly, we see difficult family members not through eyes of self-protection or vengeance, but through eyes of mercy and grace.
When we’re looking to Christ to fill our love cups, we are protected against bitterness and resentment towards family members who are incapable of or just plain bad at loving us. We don’t need the love or approval of family because we have been deeply loved by God. We can love our families not out of our own wicked hearts, but out of the abundance of Christ’s love for us.
The Gift of Joy
Maybe your family has experienced a devastating loss this year. Maybe your relationships are strained or even broken. How are you supposed to find joy in the midst of such sorrow?
Are you ready for some good news, friends? Joy isn’t something you have to chase after–it’s a gift.
On the night of Jesus’s birth, the angel brought the shepherds “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” That means he brought good news of great joy for us too! What is this good news exactly? “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10).
Our pastor, Mike Bullmore, reminded us last week that true joy “comes through being in a right relationship with God through Jesus.” It’s not the same as happiness. “Joy comes from being in Christ, which doesn’t change with your circumstances.”
Your family’s circumstances may be just awful this year. Cancer, divorce, unemployment, sickness, heartache, death–whatever you’re suffering from, know that it’s okay to be sad. And to phrase it slightly differently, it’s okay not to be happy.
While you may not be happy this Christmas, you can be joyful. As Paul says, the Christian can be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).
In his letter to the Romans, Paul prays that God would fill his brothers and sisters with joy as they trust in Christ (Romans 15:13). This is my prayer for you as well this Christmas, dear ones. May God fill you with his joy as you trust in Him.
A Coming Christmas
There will come a time when every day will be Christmas–when we will gather together with our adopted family to celebrate and sing praises to King Jesus!
Until then, don’t let your own family drama distract you from the baby at the center of the Christmas story. Keep your eyes on the savior–looking to him for peace, love, and joy this holiday season. He is the giver of every good thing and the maker of every family in heaven and on earth.
Merry Christmas to each of you, my sisters in Christ!
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