Family Portrait

A Christmas Eve reflection prepared for a family Christmas Eve worship service.

I love Christmas Cards and Christmas Letters. Mostly because we have many friends who send their cards with pictures in them.  Some are just the kids, some are just candid shots, and some send a more formal family portrait.  It’s fun to pull out last year’s cards to see how much the children (especially) have changed.  And it’s fun to see how the kids take after their parents, grandparents or cousins – and not just physically.  You can kind of get an idea of what the children might grow up to be like.

Thinking about those shepherds who arrived at the stable that night, I wondered if they looked to see if the baby favored his mother, Mary.  And then I wondered if he had any of Joseph’s mannerisms- maybe his laugh or the way he held his head when listening closely.

We can’t look back at any of his family pictures.  Because, well, it’s not like they had cameras back then.  But… we can look at this a little differently…  Let’s build a little bit of a picture here, and then we’ll see what we can learn about Jesus through his family.

Let’s recap the story we just read…(I placed figures into a tableau as they are mentioned including sheep, donkey and camel, of course.)

Mary and Joseph had to travel all the way to Bethlehem, even though Mary was about to have her baby.  Because so many people were there, they had to stay in the stable with the animals, and that’s where the baby was born.  Nearby, there were shepherds out watching over their sheep.  The angel came and said, “Don’t be afraid.  We’re here to tell you the good news!” And they sent the shepherds to look for the baby.  Matthew’s gospel tells us that later, three wise men came to see the baby, bringing gifts from their homes far away.  They had seen a star that told them a great king was born.  Mary and Joseph never expected all this company, but they were thankful, because they realized that everything the angels told them had come true.

This little scene is what most of us think of as the Nativity Scene.  If we were to snap a picture of the scene, it would be a family portrait.  Now, let’s take a look at what the members of this extended family tell us about Jesus.

We can start with Joseph.   Joseph was a carpenter.  And you might know that Jesus learned how to build things from Joseph- he was learning how to be a carpenter until it was time for him to go teach others about God.   So from Joseph, we can see that Jesus will be a person who makes things, not destroy them.  God sent Jesus to start building God’s kingdom.

Next, Mary.  Mary was a wife and a mother.  Now, Jesus was a man, and nothing in our Bible tells us that he married or had children.  But we do know that Jesus loved children.  And we know that Jesus cared deeply for the people who were sick or sad or lonely.  When Jesus was a little boy, Mary would have done those things for him.  So when we look at Mary, we can see Jesus will be a person who helps people, not hurt them.  God sent Jesus to heal and to love.

Shepherd.   Was Jesus ever a shepherd?  Not for sheep, but he is sometimes called the “Great Shepherd” because of the way he cared for and led the people who followed him, especially his closest friends.  Just like a shepherd; he looked for people who were lost or in danger.  If someone wandered off and started doing things that were wrong, he corrected them and made them part of the group again.  So when we look at the Shepherd, we can see Jesus will be a person who leads because he cares about his people, not because he wants to be the boss.  God sent Jesus to watch over us.

Kings.  Jesus was born in a stable and he grew up learning to be a carpenter.  But do you remember why the Kings traveled far to see him?  Because the star they saw was a sign that a great king was born.  The stories that had been passed down to them said it was a sign that the greatest king was born.  But Jesus wasn’t a king in a palace wearing fancy clothes.  Jesus is the King because he is God’s son.  God is the King of all Creation and Jesus rules with Him in the Kingdom of Heaven.  When we look at the Kings with their gifts, we see that Jesus will be a ruler who is giving and will be sure His people have all they need.  God sent Jesus to be a good king.

And finally – The Angel.  Jesus isn’t an angel.  But they do some things in common.  In Greek, the word for Angel is the same word as Messenger.  Jesus grew up to be the best messenger ever!  While the angels brought good news, Jesus WAS the good news.  He taught all sorts of people using all sorts of stories and healings and miracles.

And you know the very best message he brought us?  That God loves us so much that He wants us to know him and be close to him forever.  That’s why Jesus came to be born.  To be God with us, so that we could really understand God’s love for us.  When we look at the angel, we see that Jesus was God’s messenger of Good News.  God sent Jesus to live and teach and die as a man, so that when he rose from the grave we would understand God’s powerful love for all of us.

Here we are two thousand years later, and we put up nativity sets in church and at home so we can remember this little family.  But it’s not a complete picture any more.  That would be like using my wedding picture for my family picture.   It’s not just me and Paul any more.  We have our child.  And my mom is at our house, as well as one of our son’s friends who needed a family to live with for a while.  And our dog Fred who adopted us a couple of years ago.  And for Christmas, we get to include my two sisters.

That’s 7 people (and a dog) just at my house.  I have family in Texas, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, too.  If we got all of them together, it’d be over 100 people.  That’s a big photo.

So imagine…  If we were to include all the people who are part of Jesus’ family today, it would be a GINORMOUS photo.  We’d have to include all of us here.  And all the others around the world who have come to know and love God.

You see, we are all brothers and sisters together in God’s family.  When we say “Yes we love you” to God, we each become God’s children. We are adopted and just as much a part of the picture as Mary, Joseph- because we that tiny baby in the photo is our brother.

Now, here’s the thing.  We can’t show someone a picture of this giant family as proof that we are part of God’s family. Partly because it would be way too big to fold up and carry around.  But also because even if we did, a family filled with people of every color, shape and size, speaking hundreds of different languages might not look like it is one family.

 The best way to show our connection to God’s family is in the way we love.

 Like Joseph, we can build people up instead of hurting and destroying them.  Like Mary, we can care for and nurture the people we meet who are in need.  Like the shepherds, we can watch for those losing their way, forgetting how much God loves them and wandering in the darkness.  And like the angels, we get to carry the message to others that the love and grace Jesus has to offer is good news.

We get to tell everyone that there is nothing they can do, or say, or think or experience that will keep God from loving them and wanting them to know it.  We get to be proof of that love in the things we say and things we do for people.

Maybe what we need is a video – because instead of one big photo of lots of people smiling and trying to hold still, we are part of the action when millions of people show God’s love to their friends and neighbors.

No matter how big or small your family celebration is this week.  Whether you gather with people who look just like you or you stand out because of your hair color, height or funny toes. There is one family that you can choose to resemble.  All it takes is receiving, trusting and sharing God’s love.

May we all look a little bit more like Jesus today and in the days to come.


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