Christmas is usually a time spent with family
and close friends who feel like family. Hopefully,
this time is filled with joy. Sometimes, though,
the Christmas season can be filled with tension.
- Maybe family members don't get along, and
you wish you could have picked your own family.
- Maybe family members have recently passed
on or are not able to be with you, leaving you
alone or the "odd man out."
- Maybe your family includes so much diversity,
due to time and distance apart, that getting
together always feels like a chore instead of
- And maybe you're happy with your family and
love them, but wish that some things could be
Regardless of our unique situations, we all can
have a better understanding of what true family
is. We all can improve our relationships with
family members (or with friends who we think of
as family), even if they are already pretty good.
If we, individually, strive to make our interactions
with our family more harmonious, we will have
a positive affect not only at Christmas, but throughout
Identifying what we want from our family is
a starting point. What do we want from our
parents, siblings, relatives, and friends? Don't
we want to feel loved by them, to have a place
where we can be ourselves, to feel encouraged
and appreciated, to be able to talk with them
and be understood? Don't we also want to love
them and give back to them?
Then we must do for them what we want for
ourselves. We must love, appreciate, listen,
and understand our family members. We can't afford
to wait for someone else to make the first move.
If everyone waits, nothing will happen.
Let's determine what really makes a family
successful. Here are some qualities:
- Unconditional love -- love without any strings
or conditions attached to it
- Happiness and harmony that eliminate fighting
- Good communication, which starts with good
listening that enables family members to share
ideas, concerns, dreams, and feelings without
having to feel defensive
- Respect for each other -- respect for parents,
- Encouragement and appreciation, which helps
each one be his or her best self
- Structure and discipline that provide a moral
foundation with guidelines
- A safe environment that allows each member
to explore his or her unique individuality,
to make mistakes, to grow, and to share
- Teamwork, which encourages doing things together
as a family unit and allows the family to get
through challenges together
- Laughter and having fun together
- A spiritual foundation based upon trust in
God, which also gives us a knowledge of what
family truly is
Putting God at the center of our family is
the single most important action we can take to
make our family harmonious and healthy. Trusting
in God completely, even if His directions seem
counterintuitive to us, will help us bring the
rest of these qualities into our experience.
The Christmas story reveals how trust in God
established a family who would change the world.
Joseph, Mary, and Jesus faced and overcame many
significant challenges with grace and confidence
and provided a model for us to follow. (The story
is found in order in the two gospels: Luke 1,
Matt. 1, Luke 2:1-20, Matt.2:1-23, Luke 2:21-38,
Matt. 2:13-23, Luke 2:39-52 which tells of Jesus
in the temple at age 12.)
Listening to God's voice, to His angels, enabled
Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to become a family in
the first place. Mary and Joseph were engaged,
and as moral individuals, had not yet had sex.
So when an angel told Mary she was going to have
a child by the Holy Spirit, Mary was surprised,
to say the least (Luke 1:26-35). While most of
us would flip if we were told that, Mary, who
had devoted her life to God and trusted God, listened
to the angel's words: "Do not be afraid
For with God nothing will be impossible"
(KJV Luke 1:30, 37). These ideas must have given
her courage, for Mary expressed humility and graciously
accepted the responsibility that would go along
with giving birth to a child whose fatherhood
was completely divine.
Joseph also listened to the angels and obeyed
their directions. When Joseph discovered that
his fiancé was pregnant, he knew the child
was not his. Before he took any action to correct
the situation, an angel told Joseph to marry Mary
because her child was conceived by the Holy Ghost.
What trust it took to believe and obey the angel's
Listening to God, being humble, and following
God's directions also protected them and saved
Jesus' life. An angel told Joseph to take
his family to Egypt to save the child from Herod,
who wanted to kill him (Matt. 2:13-15). The family
lived safely in Egypt until Herod died, and an
angel again directed Joseph to take his family
to Nazareth (Matt. 2:19-23). Because Joseph and
Mary put God in the center of their lives and
followed God's guidance without debate or argument,
they were blessed.
How many of us can say that we listen to God
at all times and do what He tells us without any
doubt? Yet, that's exactly what we need to
do, especially if there's a problem communicating
with a family member. When we turn to God, we
need to expect to hear God's message. Then, we
need to do whatever God advises, even if the answer
surprises us. Just as God is communicating to
us, we can trust that God is communicating to
others, too. An angel talked both to Mary and
Joseph separately. There's no reason to limit
God by thinking that God only communicates to
us. Remember that "with God nothing will
In addition to trust, love supported this
family. When Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant,
he had every right, according to the laws of the
time, to make her a "publick example"
(Matt. 1:19). But "Joseph, chagrined
but noble, determined to take care of things quietly
so Mary would not be disgraced" (The Message
Matt. 1:19). Joseph was thoughtful and respectful
of Mary. He was kind. Though he thought his fiancé
had cheated on him, though his pride was hurt,
he would not ruin Mary's reputation. What respect,
what love he had for Mary! Joseph also did not
act rashly. He took time to think things over
carefully. He must have prayed, for the angel
talked with him and guided him. It was a good
thing, too, that he expressed love and respect
and put her needs above his own. Who knows what
would have happened otherwise!
Being willing to put the needs of another
before our own needs is essential in ensuring
happiness and harmony in a family. So many
times someone else in our family needs help. Often
the timing is not the best. We may be right in
the middle of something very important. But it's
probably not as important as our brother, sister,
mom, or dad. Yes, we might miss the end of a TV
show; yes, we may have to hang up the phone or
get off of the computer; yes, we may have to stay
up late to finish homework. But caring for the
needs of family members is really what family
is all about. Love is the lubricant that will
oil any creaky, relational joints. It may take
effort to love our family members, or it may be
quite easy. It's amazing how the littlest things
make a difference! It's also helpful to remember
that expressing love blesses the one who does
The family atmosphere which Joseph and Mary
created was one based upon trust in God and love
for God and each other. They listened to God
and followed His lead. They worked as a team.
They stayed together because they prayed together
and individually. In this God-centered atmosphere,
Jesus and his siblings, grew. Jesus, too, listened
to God's voice and obeyed not only God, but his
parents. At the age of 12, Jesus stopped off at
the Temple by himself while the rest of his family
started to leave for home after Passover so that
he could talk with the religious teachers. When
his rather distressed and worried parents finally
found him, Jesus responded:
"Why were you looking for me? Didn't you
know that I had to be here, dealing with the
things of my Father?" But they had no idea
what he was talking about.
So he went back to Nazareth with them, and
lived obediently with them
. And Jesus
matured, growing up in both body and sprit,
blessed by both God and people."
Message Luke 2:49-52
Obedience played an important role in Mary
and Joseph's lives, and it played an equally important
role in Jesus' life. Jesus knew that God was
his real Father. Joseph, though, had been an incredible
dad. Being obedient to his parents was one way
of showing his love for them and for God. Jesus'
obedience to his parents did not hinder his growth
as an individual. Rather, it gave him practice.
Jesus' obedience to God enabled him to do God's
will, fulfill his mission, and bless the world.
Sometimes it's hard to be obedient to our parents,
especially when we'd rather do something else.
But unless what our parents are asking us to do
is morally wrong, then obedience to them will
make it easier for us to be obedient to God. We
want to be obedient to God, for we know the great
results of listening to God and obeying his direction.
The blessings that have come to the world
as a result of this family -- Mary, Joseph, Jesus,
and some of Jesus' siblings -- are priceless.
Their family was founded on absolute trust in
God. That trust has revealed to countless generations
the power of God's love. When we make the commitment
to express the qualities that make a family successful,
then we will experience the blessings of God's
love and feel His tender care operating daily
in our relationships with our family members.
As a result, our families will be strong units
able to withstand difficult challenges.
When harmony and peace have become important
aspects of our own family, then we can help bring
peace to other families -- to the whole human
family. At this time, our world desperately
needs peace. We can't wait for someone else to
be a peacemaker. We must take the first step to
make our own homes harmonious. The song by Jill
Jackson and Sy Miller sung so often at Christmas
is an active prayer, reminding us that we, as
an individual in God's family, have a vital role
Let there be peace on earth,
and let it begin with me.
With God as our Father,
brothers all are we,
Let me walk with my brother
in perfect harmony.
We can feel the presence of the angels as we
make the commitment to see all of humanity as
one family with one God and to love our family