December 22, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – 1 John 2:10 (NRSV)
Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling.
Charles Dickens, in A Christmas Carol, reminds us that we celebrate the holiday most fully with others, especially our families. In the midst of a pandemic, many of us will not be able to gather as we would prefer. So, may we be creative in using technology to connect meaningfully with others. May we be particularly aware of our brothers and sisters in Christ who are isolated, reaching out to them with the love of Christ. Even in this challenging time, may we find ways to celebrate Christmas as members of God’s family.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Keeping Christmas Well.
In the opening stave (chapter) of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Ebenezer Scrooge received a visit from his nephew, Fred, on Christmas Eve. Fred wished his uncle a merry Christmas, to which Scrooge responded with the classic phrase, “Bah! Humbug!” This led to a debate between Fred and Scrooge over the value of Christmas. Even though Scrooge treated his nephew poorly throughout their interaction, Fred invited him to dinner. Scrooge responded by saying that he’d see Fred “in that extremity first,” which was a polite way of saying, “I’ll see you in Hell first.”
As we read on in A Christmas Carol, we learn a bit more about why Scrooge has no room in his heart for family. As a boy, he was sent away to a dreary boarding school by his cruel father. Scrooge’s sister, Fan, once visited her brother at school, bringing the good news that Ebenezer was coming home for Christmas because their father was “so much kinder than he used to be.” The boy was quite fond of his sister, who was physically delicate but strong in heart. She died as a young woman, after marrying and giving birth to Fred.
Scrooge, it turns out, had once been engaged to be married. But his fiancée, seeing how Ebenezer had been changed for the worse by his love of money, broke off their engagement. Denied a happy family life while growing up, Scrooge’s greed now denied him the blessings of family and left him a solitary, irritable man.
Yet, after he was transformed through the visits of the spirits, Scrooge’s disdain for family was replaced by new appreciation and desire. He actually dropped in on the Christmas celebration of his nephew, Fred, asking if he might join the party for dinner. That evening, Scrooge delighted in the goodness of family: “Wonderful party, wonderful games, wonderful unanimity, won-der-ful happiness!”
The example of Scrooge reminds us that keeping Christmas well happens in families. For many of us, this idea is intuitive because our holiday traditions involve families reuniting. Perhaps my favorite part of Christmas is having my two children home for the holidays and gathering with our extended family. (Yes, it will be different this year in COVIDtime.) Yet, if we’re to live in light of the coming of Christ not just during the holidays but all the time, then we will value family life throughout the year. This can be difficult for a variety of reasons, including the demands of work, the distractions of technology, and the tendency for families to struggle with conflict. But the birth of Jesus into a family encourages us to make time for our own families and, if needed, to seek healing and reconciliation.
But what about those who don’t have kindred families nearby? How can they keep Christmas well with family? The biblical answer points to the Christian community, which is a family of brothers and sisters. As John points out in his first letter, “Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light” (1 John 2:10). Every single follower of Jesus, whether married or single, whether near to their kindred family or far away, is a beloved member of God’s family. We will keep Christmas well if we share the love of Christ with others, with our literal relatives as well as with our sisters and brothers in Christ.
When you think of family gatherings at Christmas, what comes to mind? Do you have happy memories? Sad memories? Why does being with family matter so much at Christmas time?
Have you experienced the church as a family? When? How? Are there ways you might be more deeply engaged with your brothers and sisters in Christ, not just at Christmas, but throughout the year?
Make a point this Christmas to share your love for members of your family, your kindred family and your church family. This year, you may need to do this virtually, with a phone call or a Zoom meeting, or perhaps an email or text.
Heavenly Father, thank you for our families and for the chance to be together in the season of Christmas.
Many of us, especially this year, won’t be able to be physically present with our families, both our kindred families and our church families. Give us special grace, Lord, as we connect virtually. Help us to share your love together even if we aren’t together in a literal sense.
Give us special care for those who are isolated because of the pandemic or other limitations. May we reach out to them with love in this season and throughout the year.
Thank you, Lord, for adopting us as your sons and daughters. Thank you for inviting us into your family. Thank you for the brothers and sisters we have in Christ. Help us to live as engaged members of your family, so that we might live in your light. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: 1 John: Walking in the Light
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.