IN THE BEGINNING of our great, good Story, a Triune, relational God, crafted Creation and pronounced it to be ‘good’. He declared this goodness over everything He made with one exception: He said it was not good that man should be alone. He then created a female counterpart for him and declared that they should form families, multiply, and populate the Earth.
The Story continues and this good God separates a people for Himself so that they can show the nations what the He is like. One way this nation, Israel, was to do this was by gathering to celebrate festivals during the year: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. These sacred, festive gatherings were a remembrance to Israel and a testimony to the nations of God’s protection and provision. Though these gatherings were joyous occasions where people saw family and friends who lived at a distance, they still involved risk and cost. Yet the God of Scripture required this festive praise from His people for His glory.
In the New Testament, Christians find themselves with two families. The first is the family they get from God as Creator: their natural family. The second is the family of faith (the Church). As to the second family, Christ and the apostles call us to gather to break bread, share wine, baptise newcomers, lay hands on one another, and greet each other with a holy kiss. We do this at our Sunday worship and at holiday times such as Easter and Christmas.
But Christ gives us instructions for our natural family too. God, through Moses, gave us the Fifth Commandment (Honour thy father and thy mother) for a reason: sin inclines us to not honour them. In Jesus’ day, people found a way to not honour their parents while appearing moral and altruistic. It was called ‘Corban’. People could give a big public gift to God and be released from the burden of having to care for their parents. Hey, we can avoid our obnoxious parents and appear virtuous! Great deal, eh? But Jesus rebuked them for this. He said ‘You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God!’ (Mark 7.9)
Jesus challenged what was seen to be ethical by bringing people back to God’s commands. He wants to be honoured in a specific way and He has instructed us how. This is both for His glory and for our good. God understands what is best for the world in a way that the world does not. We cannot love our neighbour well if we do not know what they ultimately need.
The people of God have been challenged in 2020 and this challenge is more pronounced in light of the Christmas season. On the one hand, we have secular morality that is based on a materialist view of humanity. It exalts the physical and temporal over the emotional, psychological, relational, and spiritual. This is what we’re tempted to conform to. The Biblical view of humanity, on the other hand, is more relational and focuses more on what is unseen than what is seen.
Different views result in different actions. In 2020, we’ve witnessed society pay any and every cost to preserve temporal, biological life—because, in their view, there’s nothing after death. As Christians, we are not surprised that such a short-sighted project has resulted in increased suicides, depression, loneliness, abuse and divorce. For Christians, we have a different set of values and therefore we assess risk differently. We are called to live well more than just to survive. Our ultimate goal is not to reach 95 years, but to honour and enjoy God in time and eternity.
When my 93-year-old grandmother asks me if I can bring my children over to her house for Christmas, I do so. She doesn’t have much time left on Earth, and she wants to spend them receiving hugs from her great-grandchildren. Who am I to dishonour her? She knows the risks. It would be dishonouring of me to let her final years on Earth to be in isolation—if she is asking to be with her family instead.
How can I claim to ‘love my neighbour’ in the abstract when I can’t even love my grandmother in the concrete?
It wasn’t good for man to be alone in Eden and it’s not good now. Society avoids a possible, physical sickness at all costs. But, for those who belong to our celebrating, relational God, there are countervailing considerations to weigh. We count the cost, take the risk, and honour God by celebrating with both our spiritual and natural families with moral and spiritual freedom.
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