by DANI TREWEEK
Last Christmas I watched my 18 month old nephew open his Christmas presents via FaceTime. It was 9.30pm on Christmas Eve and I was sitting in a friend’s guest bedroom in London. My family were back home in Sydney having recently woken up to an already sweltering Christmas morning. I watched my nephew rip off the wrapping paper with ever more vigour. My mum, who was pointing the phone camera towards him, kept asking if I could see him OK. My brother in law pulled faces at me each time the camera caught him. My dad complained about how hot it already was. My sister took the phone outside to show me the expansive blue Aussie sky.
It was not only my first ever winter Christmas, but my first ever Christmas not spent celebrating with my loved ones. When I made my plans to be overseas for Christmas I knew that I would miss them. However, I’m not sure I had anticipated just how foreign it would feel to not be with them at Christmas. And so, on Christmas Day last year I found myself preoccupied with thoughts of family. Stuffed to the gills with Christmas goose (I still can’t understand how it taste like lamb and not turkey… but I digress), I found myself mulling over the connection between family and Christmas.
Because that’s what we’re told Christmas is all about, isn’t it? Being with those we love and who love us. It’s not only the Christmas movies, and TV ads and the magazines that tell us that. It’s also what we Christians tell each other. We advertise our church Christmas services as “family services”. Christmas is the one day of the year when we feel confident in asking our non-Christian loved ones to come along to church with us “as a family”. We do our Christian duty by making it a priority to get to church on Christmas Day, before hurriedly returning home so we can prepare for the main event – Christmas lunch “with the family”.
Christmas is a time for family.
But is it? And if it is, what family is it a time for?
Those were the questions I found myself mulling over this Christmas past. As I did, I found myself thinking of Christmas future.
I suspect that it is not often that you read a Christmas article based on the book of Revelation! But bear with me for just a moment, because I think the vision of Christmas future helps us better understand how family fits into the purpose of Christmas present.
Christmas is the one day of the year that we Christians set aside to commemorate Christ’s coming into this world. It’s the day on which we remember the incarnation of Immanuel, literally “God with us”. Two millennia ago, Jesus was born on a specific day, in a specific place, amongst specific people. He came, and so we celebrate!
But our celebration isn’t simply an act of remembrance. It is also a celebration of promise. Though Jesus only lived amongst his people on this earth for a short time, he has promised that a day will come when he will dwell among his people once more, but for time without end. Revelation 21:3 speaks of that new day, a day in which ‘God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God’. The future on heaven is one that truly belongs to Immanuel, to “God with us”
But Revelation 7:9-10 helps us understand even more about the magnificence of that day of Immanuel. It describes ‘a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’. Isn’t it a wonderful picture? A multitude beyond number, clothed in the purest of white, standing in the very presence of God and, with one voice, singing his praises.
The picture we see here in Revelation is a picture of celebration. But it is not a celebration of remembrance. After all, what would be the purpose of celebrating a mere memory when one is standing in the presence of its ultimate fulfillment? . In the new creation, God will truly dwell amongst his people. Face to face. Finally. Forever. He will be there, and so, we will celebrate!
And that, right there, is where we see the genuine connection between Christmas and family in the present.
You see, Christmas Day in the present is a day for remembering something glorious that happened in the past. However, it is also a day on which we look towards something that has been promised for the future… for our future. Each and every Christmas Day, that innumerable number from every nation and tribe and people and language together anticipate the future everlasting day of Immanuel, when God will be with us and we with him. Each and every Christmas Day that great multitude from all around the world rejoice together that the one who was born in a lowly stable is also the saviour of the world in whom we have been wonderfully united for all eternity. Each and every Christmas day those who are married join with those who are single; those with children of their own join with those without; those who enjoy strong relationships with loved ones join with those who are estranged; those who are celebrating the gift of new life join with those who are in the midst of grief; those who have been married for decades join with those whose marriages have ended by death or divorce, and together we all foreshadow that great and glorious day when we will stand shoulder to shoulder before the throne of the majesty in heaven.
Yes, there is great joy to be taken in spending Christmas day with those we love and who love us. That’s exactly why I so missed my own family last Christmas. It is also a reason why Christmas Day can be particularly painful for those who are grieving or estranged from their family.
But ultimately, the family which celebrates Christmas—the family that is celebrated at Christmas—is the family of God. At Christmas we don’t simply recognise that we have been made into a new family. We invite others to also become part of that family. At Christmas we don’t simply remember that Christ was born into an earthly family. We rejoice that, in him, we have been made into a heavenly family. At Christmas we don’t simply gather that family together. We celebrate that we have been gathered together. At Christmas we don’t simply enjoy the notion of family. We bow our knees before the Father from whom every family on heaven and earth is named (Ephesians 3:14-15)
And that is why, for God’s people, Christmas truly is a family celebration.
Dani is from Sydney, Australia. She is an Anglican deacon who is currently completing PhD research into a theology of singleness for the contemporary church through St Mark’s Theological Centre/Charles Sturt University. Dani is part of the Erskineville Village Anglican Church family, and chairs the www.singlemindedconference.com ministry. She rejoices in being an aunt to three precious little ones (one of whom is already safe with Jesus and another whom she can’t wait to meet in March) and is completely unashamed about her obsession with the musical Les Miserables.
Part of this article was drawn from a previous article Dani wrote for The Gospel Coalition Australia.