Advent 2: Matthew 1

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Today, Christmas is seen, more than anything else, as a time for family. That time of year when Mum, Dad, Granny, Granddad and all the kids come together to spend time together eating, drinking, playing and, quite probably, arguing. We do it because we know that family is important. Politicians spend much of their time talking about families (especially “hard working” ones) because they know it speaks to a central part of our being, of our collective and individual consciousness.

The New Testament, the story of Jesus and those who followed him in the beginning, starts with two very different images of family.

Firstly we have the genealogy of Jesus. The messianic family tree starting with Abraham, the father of nations, through King David and on to Jesus Himself. It show Jesus’ pedigree as a Jew, but also as Messiah as the scriptures stated that He would come from David’s bloodline. This idea of family has great importance for this reason. It establishes that He is of the right stock, has the right blood coursing through His veins.

But then we see a different side. A man torn between his love for his fiancée and his honour as a man. Joseph is engaged, but his bride to be is pregnant. It seems like an impossible situation, but would actually have been very easy for a man of the time; ditch the woman in disgrace and retain your own honour. Joseph, though, has a dream. This is no disgrace, but a gift from God. Joseph chooses to believe, whether due to faith in God or love of Mary or a combination of the two. He doesn’t have to do this, but Mary and this baby are his family now. Not through genealogy, but by love.

Jesus himself gives another view of family,

“While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘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 ‭12‬:‭46-50‬ NIVUK)

Family is not necessarily even defined by blood or marriage relationships. It is those whom you love and who love you back. Those for whom you would do anything, and know they would do the same. This is Jesus’ new definition of family. It is one of love, respect and understanding.

So, whoever we see as our family, whether it be our immediate relatives or something wider than that, then cherish that. Hold on to what that means to you, because it defines you as much as you define it. It is a gift from God, one which no law, politician or outside influence can take from you.

Lent Day 24: Luke 13-14

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I love my family. From my wife and three teenaged kids to my mum, sister and her two small children who I don’t see as often, I love them all. They are all incredibly important to me and make me happy simply by being around.

Many of us are taught about family values from a very young age. Sadly, this isn’t the case for everyone. There are many for whom the word “family” represents pain, sadness, anger, loss and a whole load of other negative emotions. Either they have no family, have fallen out with them or have suffered in some way at their hands.

We all hear, however, from government, media and social experts that the traditional family unit is a good thing. As long as the environment is a caring, loving, responsible one then it can bring balance and stability to people’s lives. Very often you may hear this described as “Christian family values”. It’s all very happy, safe and secure.

So why, then, do we read this from Jesus,

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26 NIV)

Whoa, there! Hate your family? Really? That doesn’t sound very… Well, Christian, does it?

It’s a tough one to fathom. Why would Jesus say this? The Man who teaches us to love our neighbour wants us to hate our family? It doesn’t seem to make sense. I certainly took a  step back when I read this. I can’t imagine for a second hating any of my family, for any reason. Maybe I’m not capable of following Jesus, if this is the case. Maybe, with this, he’s asking too much of me.

Maybe not, though. Maybe he isn’t asking what I think he’s asking. Maybe I’m missing the point.

Jesus doesn’t teach us to hate. He hasn’t said here that we need to hate anyone to enter the Kingdom of God. In fact, some other translations put it in a way which seem much more compatible with his other teachings,

“Those who come to me cannot be my disciples unless they love me more than they love father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and themselves as well. (Luke 14:26 GNT)

“Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25-27 MSG)

What were being asked to do isn’t to hate, but to be prepared to give up for him because we put him first. He’s telling us that there is a cost to following him. It isn’t a monetary cost or the requirement to follow a set of laws which are impossible to keep. The cost is that we may be asked to give up everything which is important to us here on Earth, our friends, families and even our lives. If we are asked, we must be prepared to do it, because his way is good and because we love him more than our family or ourselves.

I’ll be honest. That’s still an incredibly difficult thing to deal with. I’ve never been asked to do it and I couldn’t say with 100% certainty that I could if the time came. What I have to do, though, is prepare myself for the possibility and train myself, with his help, into being able to meet any challenges I’m given. I’d like to think I’d do it. That I’d drop everything to follow God’s call. It wouldn’t mean that I love my family any less. Far from it, if it did mean that then there wouldn’t be much in the way of a cost. His cost, though, was far greater than I will ever be asked to pay.

What it does mean is that Jesus’ idea of family goes beyond the traditional family unit and is extended to those who give their lives to follow him. Those who are all prepared to say goodbye to those we love to serve the one we should love the most.

“Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.” He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”” (Luke 8:19-21 NIV)

This is what the Christian family is, those who hear God’s word and put it into practice. A family distinct from blood relations, but still a family. It’s a family which loves and cares, celebrates your joy, shares your pain and is as dysfunctional as any other. It is a family which has no exclusions, you come as you are; married or single, parent or childless, happy or sad, healthy or sick, rich or poor, black or white, stable or broken. Everyone has their place in it.

I hope I never need to give my own family up, it would be unbearably difficult and painful, but I must be ready for it happening. And I pray that if it ever came to it that they would understand and support me. Or, if any of my family were put in that position that they’d be ready and so would I.

Just in case. We all must.