For some, however, this focus on family and friends makes Christmas time difficult for many. For those from an abusive family, single, orphaned or a refugee, family gatherings are an impossibility and Christmas reminds them of the fact. If you don’t have family or don’t get along with them, Christmas is often far from “good” or “merry”. It only serves to remind them of their few or damaged relationships and reinforces their sense of isolation and loneliness.
How should we respond? What might it mean that we are “not of the world” but sent into it?
While there is nothing wrong with family gatherings, for followers of Jesus, this isn’t our primary focus at this time. Christmas is the story of the incarnation, the birth of Jesus when God enters into our world to set things right. The focus is better if Godward and on Christ initially, and then on to our relationships with family and others.
WORSHIP, not family reunions, is the heart of Christmas. And so in the lead up to Christmas we gather often to encourage us to focus our hearts heavenward. This helps us realign our lives to God’s story and to hold out against the world squeezing us into its mould.
But gathering together does more than that, it reminds us we are members of God’s family. Jesus is our brother and we are part of a new family that transcends our biological families. Jesus asked, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” He answered his own question pointing to the disciples saying, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:48-50). Biological families are important but following Jesus is greater.
This is good news for those of us who feel lonely or alone at Christmas. When the church gathers it provides the opportunity for those with broken or non-existent family relationships to be affirmed as a member God’s family. We can easily forget that we gather as church not for ourselves but for each other.
So as we celebrate Christmas this year, let’s not be squeezed into conforming to the world, but allow God’s grace to focus our hearts on him in worship and being there for each other.
Stephen L Baxter