I have celebrated a lot of Thanksgivings, but I must say that this year was special. We got together with my wife’s mother and sister, as well as our children. Such a gathering hasn’t happened on a Thanksgiving Day for about 35 years. Family is something to be especially thankful for.
I realize getting together for Thanksgiving has become increasingly difficult as our society has become more and more mobile, branching out farther and farther across this great nation. In some ways it may give us more indelible memories as such gatherings on special days are not as achievable.
The same is true for Christmas. The first 40 years of my life, we were often able to get together with one side or other of our family, although occasionally we enjoyed a “quiet” Christmas with just the children. But those earlier times were so enjoyable that about 12 years ago, when my wife and I were responsible for hosting our bi-annual family reunion, decided that the gathering would be around the theme “Christmas in August.” It was a wonderful Christmas celebration, complete with a Christmas tree and presents, despite the fact that it was in August at Newport Beach, California.
As I turn to look toward Christmas, I’m mindful that most of our large family, people we were blessed to be with at our summer family reunion and over Thanksgiving, will not be with us. But we will be blessed with our recent memories, with texting, and with some phone calls. Even though that is not all that we would like to have, it will have to do — for now.
I say for now because I am looking toward Christmas, and as I do, I am mindful of what Christmas is all about. No, I am not thinking of “Happy Holidays,” nor am I thinking about Christmas trees, mistletoe, and eggnog, all of which I enjoy.
Rather, I am thinking about Christ.
Christmas is a combination of two words: Christ and mass, which gives us the general meaning of the “celebration of Christ.” While many in the world celebrate Christmas around secular traditions, my focus is on the Advent of God the Son coming into the world to do for us what we could never do for ourselves.
Christ lived a perfect life of righteousness, doing all that the Father required of Him. Having lived out that perfect life, the only human being who ever has or ever will do so, He was then qualified to be our substitute, and suffered and died in our place. To do so, He took upon Himself all our sins, and after tasting death for us, He rose victorious over sin and death at the Resurrection.
Jesus is God’s gift to us, a gift that is intended to offer each of us a way into God’s family. In fact, faith in the Person and finished work of Christ is the only way into God’s family.
As I said earlier, family is important, and is something to be thankful for, most especially when family can be forever. I am speaking of God’s family.
I consider myself to be a very blessed person because most of my wife’s and my family members are Christians. They have come to faith in Christ as their Savior. That makes our gatherings wonderful in that although they may be less and less frequent, they are but a foretaste of being able to celebrate with them for all eternity around the throne of Christ. At that time there won’t be any frustrations about overcooked dinners, or a lack of time with the ones you love. There will simply be great fellowship and unending appreciation for those we have in Christ.
But as thankful as I am for those who are in the family of God, I desire for God’s family to continue to grow. I cannot think of being a part of God’s family without also desiring that those I know and love now would also be a part of God’s family some day.
I am sure that you have experienced family gatherings where someone is missing, and you just wish they could be there with you. As you consider God’s family, do what you can to love and pray for those who do not yet know Christ, that they might hear the Gospel message in a new way, with an open heart and mind, allowing the Holy Spirit to open their eyes as to who Jesus truly is, and that they would come to put their faith in Jesus, just as you did.
I excitedly look forward to being with all of God’s family, but it is my fervent hope and prayer that all of my family come to put their faith in Christ and become a part of His family. Family is important, and is something to be thankful for and to pray for.
Jon McCartney is pastor of First Baptist Church of Tooele.