Over the years, I’ve had my share of dreaded family Christmas gatherings. All were times that should have been marked with joy and laughter but instead, were stained by sin and sadness.
Maybe you’re dreading the holidays with your own family this year. The thought of seeing Aunt Peggie or Cousin Jim gives you serious anxiety, so you’re carefully considering a well-timed Disney vacation to escape the madness.
I’ve been there, friend, and I’m here to tell you there’s hope—real hope—for those who dread celebrating Christmas with family. Through Christ, God gives us the peace, love, and joy we need to celebrate Christmas with the ones we love, even when loving them isn’t easy. He alone can change our hearts, bringing us from a state of fearful apprehension to a place of eager anticipation as we gather with our families to celebrate Christ’s birth.
The Gift of Peace
In our lives before Christ, we were at war with God. The Bible says we were “hostile in mind” towards him, “doing evil deeds.” God could have rightfully ended the battle and done away with us for good, but instead, he sent his son Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, to die on the cross and make peace with God on our behalf. Now, as part of his family, we can make peace with those around us. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus said, “for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9).
When we gather with our families this Christmas season, old wounds may start to bleed again and bitterness might bubble up. But as blessed peacemakers, we don’t have to engage in the fight. God instead calls us to cease-fire with those who wage war against us.
Laying down our arms doesn’t mean that we allow others to keep shooting at us without any sort of protection, however. There are situations where we might need to put up healthy boundaries or speak truth in love. It’s worth noting that God does not call us to ignore or excuse egregious sins, but he does say, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). If we do our part to live at peace with our family members and they don’t reciprocate, we can take heart knowing that we are ultimately at peace with God.
The Gift of Love
It’s one thing to lay down your weapons. It’s another thing entirely to invite enemy combatants into your territory and welcome them with open arms of love. But that, dear ones, is exactly what God has done for us through Christ! God sent his only son to take on human flesh not just to save us from certain death, but to save us into everlasting life with the one we once raged against—all because he loves us.
As his beloved children, God commands and equips us to love others as Christ loved us. Through Christ, he provides the love we need to fulfill this command. We can love our families, not out of our own wicked hearts, but out of the abundance of Christ’s love for us.
As we think upon his steadfast love, God will stir our hearts to love our families. His love protects us from bitterness and resentment towards family members who are incapable of or just plain bad at loving us. It also helps us to see difficult family members not through eyes of self-protection or vengeance, but through eyes of mercy and grace. While we might need to occasionally confront sin in love, God’s own love can help us do it from a place of humility.
The Gift of Joy
Your family’s circumstances may be awful this year. Cancer, divorce, unemployment, sickness, heartache, death—whatever you’re suffering from, know that it’s okay to be sad. And to phrase it slightly differently, it’s okay not to be happy.
But even if you’re not happy this Christmas, you can be joyful. As followers of Jesus, we can be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10).
Joy is not the same as happiness, friend. Happiness can change with our circumstances, but our joy is firmly rooted in the unchanging, once-and-for-all, redeeming work of Jesus Christ. True joy doesn’t come from spending time with our earthly families—it comes from knowing that we are a part of God’s family. We are in right relationship with God because of Christ, and that is good news of great joy for all people!
A Coming Christmas
There will come a time when every day will be like Christmas—when we will thoroughly enjoy gathering together with our adopted family to worship Christ our King.
Until that day, let’s not allow our family drama to distract us from our Savior and the maker of every family in heaven and on earth. May we abound in hope as we look to him for peace, joy, and love this Christmas season.
Chelsea Stanley is a wife to Daniel, #boymom of three (plus a goldendoodle), and daughter redeemed by the blood of Christ. She shares God’s heart for women and enjoys writing about what God is teaching her in marriage, motherhood, and life. Chelsea helps fellow daughters of God glean his grace at her blog, Daughter Redeemed. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.