Commotion and laughter, tears and much merriment, disorder and distraction: they are all there in our annual family photo.
We use a camera timed-shot: the ten second delay doesn’t help. So the exhortation to stay still and look at the lens invariably produces the opposite result, and not just with our grandchildren. Iris insists on crying, Bella the dog disappears, someone pulls a face, I blink.
Andrew is working on a video to be entitled the making of the Moughtin Christmas photo. It won’t be pretty.
But that’s family life and it is how God has made us. As Desmond Tutu observes “You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.”
Of course, family life was central for Mary and Joseph. They were Jewish. Reading the Old Testament we often come across whole lists of genealogies, sometimes page after page.
People in the Hebrew scriptures are defined by their family: that’s who you are, it’s where you fit in.
And so it is no surprise that the New Testament begins with Jesus’ family tree: “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Then 15 verses of names to give Jesus his context in God’s salvation plan.
Yet something is afoot as Matthew breaks from convention. He includes four women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba. It was contrary to Jewish practice to name women in a genealogy.
The Talmud states, “A mother’s family is not to be called a family.” But this is exactly what Matthew does – and more, he includes four women each with a past. The careful reader is unsettled.
Jesus, of course, grew up within a strong family unit. Luke is careful to point out: “Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. . . And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” (Luke 2:51).
But then, as we say in last week’s blog about Mary, Jesus seemed to redefine family life and in a radical way.
His ministry is now firmly established; he has chosen his twelve disciples. The route to the cross is now marked out. And then Mark tells us “When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’ (Mark 3:21).
“When Jesus is then told that “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you,” he responds with a surprising question. (Jesus always responds with a surprising question).
“‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ he asked.
“Then he looked at those seated in a circle round him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.’” (Mark 3:32f)
Jesus is redefining family life. Anyone and everyone may belong. And that is good news to those who place their trust in him.
So the apostle Paul exhorts “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:10). This is radical stuff, now anyone may come to know God as our loving, attentive Father.
“Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.” (Hebrews 2:11)
Of course, this new status brings responsibilities, not least to love with the love we are loved,
So in the earliest part of the New Testament we read: “And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more. (1 Thessalonians 4:10).
This love means that Christians are different: we do not fall out.
I recall a family Christmas party when I was very young, say nine. Two of my uncles, whom we rarely saw, both turned up. Which was a surprise as they hadn’t spoken, it seemed, for years. They were both Christians.
The memory is very hazy. However, what I recall very vividly is how one uncle entered the room and seeing his brother offered his hand “Good to see you, Tom.” And uncle Tom responded.
This is how the Christian family is to function for the simple reason we are loved, valued and forgiven by our heavenly Father. “For God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 5:5). Christians do not fall out.
So there is commotion all around, the children keep pulling faces, the dog barks and the flash fails to work, that’s family life.
Every blessing for the new year with this verse from Ephesians.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (4:32)