Curse you, Madison Avenue. Your perfect little family Christmas…you know, with all the smiles and hugs, the busy kitchen and cozy fireplace, the beautiful and bountiful presents under the tree and sons and daughters and grandchildren filling up the spacious and tastefully appointed living room. Do you have any idea how depressing that can be?
It seems every day I’m confronted with the reality of brokenness in families, enough to make me believe that the kinds of warm and cozy, homey holiday scenes used to sell everything from automobiles to power tools are quite rare. How difficult this season must be for those who have strained family relationships, feel ostracized and disregarded, or have no family at all expecting them on Christmas Day.
But how more wonderful for them is the knowledge that through faith in Jesus they are adopted into God’s family, and have brothers and sisters all over the world. Belonging…being loved and accepted as part of a real family…is one of the indescribably fantastic gifts we receive when we believe and trust in Christ.
One often hears, “we’re all God’s children,” but that’s not true. At least not in the sense that most people understand it…that we all belong to his family. He is the Father of all in that each of us proceeded from his creative activity. But as the apostle John says in the first chapter of his gospel, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”1 So believing in and receiving Jesus distinguish those who belong from those who choose not to.
Is this belonging like being a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars or some other club where they’re happy to see you at functions but if you were to fall off the face of the earth no one would miss you? Hardly. God loves those who are his better than any good father loves his children. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”2 He is the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son who has been so diligently watching and waiting for his son to return that he saw him “while he was still a long way off” and didn’t wait for his son to come to him but “ran and embraced him and kissed him.”3 Our relationship with him as his children is such that we are invited to address him as “Abba, Father”4 which is akin to our familiar “Daddy.”
And what’s more, God arranged it so that we will always be together…not just at holidays and not only as a guarantee for eternal life, but every moment of every day. Because when we believe he gives us his Spirit (that’s another gift I’ll expound on in a separate post) to indwell, empower, and enlighten us, meaning we actually become partakers of his divine nature.5 Listen to how Jesus put it: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”6 Can there be any more definitive proof of God’s commitment and care, of his incorporating believers into his family and his total and complete acceptance of us, than that he comes to live with and in us?
That perfect family Christmas may be an elusive ideal in this life, but those of us who belong to God now and forever have a family celebration awaiting us that Madison Avenue would be clueless on how to adequately portray.7 Neither do I have the words to describe it. Let’s just say, I’ll see you there.