Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love's pure light,
Radiant beams from
thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

Grace is a gift. It’s not earned, not owed. It is a present, given willingly and lovingly. Grace is the cousin of mercy. But where mercy spares us from getting what we deserve, grace is itself an undeserved gift.

Grace and Christmas

For Christians, Christmas is the celebration not only of the birth of Christ, but of the grace made available through Him. When we accept grace through Christ, we must love honestly and hate evil, overcoming it with good; when people hate and persecute us, we are called to give up our desire for vengeance. We are to be hopeful, patient, sincere, hardworking, and hospitable to strangers. We should overflow with thanksgiving and be compelled to rejoice, for grace is the enemy of bitterness. Grace helps us overcome weakness. Grace gives us comfort in our time of need. Grace spurs us to serve one another according to our strengths and talents. Grace works through humility and teaches us to live dutiful, self-controlled, upright, and godly lives.*

Christmas marks the turning point in history when God became man and grace was made available to all who accept it and follow Christ. Christians are called to respond to the grace they have received with a love that is evident in all aspects of their lives.

Grace and Family

One week from today, millions of families and friends will gather together to celebrate Christmas. Loved ones will joyfully reunite after spending years apart. Beloved and familiar faces will seem more beautiful under soft, twinkling lights on a tree. Anticipation will make it hard to sleep. Normally late risers will awake at dawn. Generosity will abound as presents are exchanged. Small gestures will take on deep meaning. Children will leap for joy. Parents will remember once again why it is better to give than to receive. Good cheer will become infectious. Cheeks will be sore from so much smiling. Families and friends will eat together, sip cocoa together, laugh and be merry together.

This Christmas, a resurgence of grace will envelope the lives of those who allow it to do its mysterious and wondrous work. Estranged family members will make peace. Cold and shrunken hearts—like the Grinch’s—will be made whole again by expressions of love and mercy. Benevolence and charity will beget gratitude. Gracious acts will lift spirits. Debts will be canceled. Those made tired by resentment will find rest in forgiveness. The hurt will be comforted by the kindness of friends. The desperate will find hope in the love and life of Christ.

Christ and Christmas

The birth of Christ turned the world on its end. The first became last and the last became first. The poor and meek became blessed. Wealth was no longer defined by material possessions, but by the condition of the soul. Loving enemies became an order and being charitable an obligation. Forgiveness was made available to all those who ask for it. The first Christmas truly was “the dawn of redeeming grace.”*

Merry Christmas

I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and happy holiday season. This time of year brings joy to so many and I am grateful for the opportunity to remember the birth of Christ and to spend time with family. My hope for all of you is that you will have a loving, generous, and peaceful holiday. 

No. 4: Family

"Now, we'll start this band of robbers and call it Tom Sawyer's Gang. Everybody that wants to join has got to take an oath, and write his name in blood." Everybody was willing. So Tom got out a sheet of paper that he had wrote the oath on, and read it. It swore every boy to stick to the band, and never tell any of the secrets; and if anybody done anything to any boy in the band, whichever boy was ordered to kill that person and his family must do it, and he mustn't eat and he mustn't sleep till he had killed them and hacked a cross in their breasts, which was the sign of the band. And nobody that didn't belong to the band could use that mark, and if he did he must be sued; and if he done it again he must be killed. And if anybody that belonged to the band told the secrets, he must have his throat cut, and then have his carcass burnt up and the ashes scattered all around, and his name blotted off the list with blood and never mentioned again by the gang, but have a curse put on it and be forgot forever.

Everybody said it was a real beautiful oath, and asked Tom if he got it out of his own head. He said some of it, but the rest was out of pirate-books and robber-books, and every gang that was high-toned had it.

Some thought it would be good to kill the families of boys that told the secrets. Tom said it was a good idea, so he took a pencil and wrote it in. Then Ben Rogers says:

"Here's Huck Finn, he hain't got no family; what you going
to do 'bout him?"

"Well, hain't he got a father?" says Tom Sawyer.

"Yes, he's got a father, but you can't never find him these days. He used to lay drunk with the hogs in the tanyard, but he hain't been seen in these parts for a year or more."

They talked it over, and they was going to rule me out, because they said every boy must have a family or somebody to kill, or else it wouldn't be fair and square for the others. Well, nobody could think of anything to do—everybody was stumped, and set still. I was most ready to cry; but all at once I thought of a way, and so I offered them Miss Watson—they could kill her. Everybody said:

"Oh, she'll do. That's all right. Huck can come in."

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Family is a loaded word. Family can be loving, loyal, caring. Family can be cruel, distant, apathetic. Family can define us. Family can confuse us. For better or worse, our families are inescapable.

Who’s in Your Family?

It was a good thing for Huck and his wish to join Sawyer’s gang that his friends defined family broadly enough to include Miss Watson, a woman not related to him by blood who, along with her sister, took him under their care. Huck and his friends are just one example of how deciding who is family isn’t always easy. Family definitions vary from person to person and from culture to culture.

Family of Origin

All of us have a family of origin. We all come from somewhere and are shaped in part by the genes we inherited and the people who raised us. We don’t choose our family of origin; it is thrust upon us through blood, marriage, and our environment.

The experiences we have with our family of origin span the emotional gamut. Our happiest moments and most hurtful memories often involve the same cast of family members.

The ties that bind us to our family of origin are immeasurable. They span time, borders, language, religion, and culture. The connection we have with our family of origin stays with us from conception to the grave and its degree of influence affects each individual differently and profoundly.

Family of Choice

As we grow older, our family tends to evolve. Instead of our family being limited to the members of our family of origin, it is reshaped by the addition of a spouse, in-laws, and friends. Family systems, like fingerprints, are as unique as the individuals within them.

Understanding Your Family

It is important for us to understand the role family has played in shaping who we are and how we live. If we grew up in a loving, healthy, stable family, we need to know what made it that way so we can continue to nurture our family system as we take on new roles such as spouse, parent, and grandparent. If we grew up in a family defined by conflict and chaos, it is critical that we make sense of where things went wrong before we can break the negative cycle and do our part to make our family stronger.

It is not easy to move past a painful family history; yet, with help, we can learn from our family’s mistakes instead of repeating them. Memories of difficult family experiences will never completely go away but we can change the meaning we ascribe to them (see Martinson et al., 2010). This requires us to grieve the loss of what could have been and open ourselves up for a different future. We need to act in ways that disrupt family patterns of destructive behavior. When we do this by responding to difficult family experiences with forgiveness instead of vengeance, we take away an opportunity for misery to take hold of our life. When we set boundaries by removing ourselves from hostile situations, we refuse to contribute to the crippling effects of family aggression. When we commit to being more loving, kind, peaceful, and self-controlled, we are being a much needed spark in the darkness that is a dysfunctional family system.