This season I’ve heard an excessive emphasis, in various Christian circles, on spending time with family at Christmas. We should all be with family on Christmas – period. That is what it is all about! Much of this has come across (to me at least) as potentially alienating or could actually make some people feel lonely, isolated, or guilty. The church unfortunately seems to excel at alienating people. I wish it would stop. Could we stop assuming everyone fits in the same little box or life situation?
What do I mean exactly? Of course, I am not opposed to spending time with family at Christmas. It certainly is a time to connect with loved ones. But is it necessary to word it in such a way that implies everyone must be exclusively with family? We should encourage people to look around themselves. This is not the time to be cliquey and focus inward on our little family. Look outward. Who out there might appreciate being included? Who can you welcome to the table? Or how about a group of friends gathering to celebrate, rather than asking someone to join your family gathering? We can idolize family.
Indeed, I attended a Christmas church service where the primary message was that Christmas was about family. The birth of Jesus seemed a lesser focus!
An important part of the Christmas message is that Jesus came to bring salvation to all people. The faith was expanded to include “gentiles” or those of all nationalities or cultures. The angels that appeared to the shepherds proclaimed (Luke 2:10):
“I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.“
Or the older man Simeon in the temple, who took infant Jesus in his arms, and proclaimed (Luke 2:30-32):
“For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
Or consider the magi or wise men from the east (Matthew 2) who came from afar to visit Jesus. They were foreigners come to worship our Lord Jesus.
On a practical note, please consider some reasons that people may not be with family at Christmas. Here is a sampling:
- Not everyone has local family. Our country is large, and job transfers or other life situations can move people a distance away. Traveling at Christmas may not be realistic for everyone. If you are in NY and your family is in Arizona, that is limiting. Practical and financial considerations may make a family Christmas visit possible only every few years.
- Some places of employment never close, even on major holidays. Like hospitals. Health care workers may not be able to travel at Christmas. At the hospital my spouse works at, it is actually forbidden to take more than 1-2 days off in the 3 week period surrounding Christmas and New Years. This rules out any travels of a distance.
- Not everyone has family, or their family may be small. A friend told me about someone she met who had no family. Apparently, they were an only child and both their parents were only children as well. They grew up with no siblings, cousins, or aunts and uncles. And when their parents died young, they were quite alone in this world family wise. Of course, that may be an extreme case – but not everyone has multiple siblings or large extended families.
- People can be alienated from their families for various reasons, for “faults” of their own or for no “fault” of their own. (Note my putting “fault” in quotes. I am not placing blame here, but valid reasons may make someone choose to keep their distance and avoid family at Christmas.) Abuse, addictions, dysfunction – can sadly split families apart.
- What about the “foreigner” in your midst? Some of you know that I work with international students who are typically alone in this country pursuing an education. Flying home to be with their family may not be possible. While they may not be Christian, there are other holidays celebrated this time of year and the student may feel particularly lonely. Many students enjoy being welcomed into an American home and observing Christmas traditions.
In the spirit of Jesus and the Christmas season,
who might you include this season?