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Family Time at Christmas

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

In our hyper-partisan age, it seems every newspaper and magazine writes columns on dealing with crazy uncles at holiday parties and their crazy conspiracies. But it is true. Every family has members they prefer were not part of the family at times. The family most in focus this Christmas season was no different. It was, in its own way, dysfunctional.

The man we call Christ had four brothers and at least two sisters. Some Christians believe they were actually first cousins in a close-knit family. But they were a family nonetheless. Scripture tells us in Matthew 13:53-57 that Jesus' brothers were James, Joseph, Simon and Jude. Keeping with naming conventions of the day, families would name the first son after the father's father and the second son after the father. This suggests these were Joseph's children, as Joseph's father was Jacob, which also translates to James, and the convention holds.

Mark 3 tells us Jesus' siblings were less than enamored with him. He was not the crazy uncle, but the crazy brother. In Mark 3, they staged what we would refer to today as an intervention. (They) "went out to seize him, for they were saying, 'He is out of his mind.'... And his mother and brothers came, and standing outside, they sent to him and called him."

Note that Mary is there and she is part of this intervention. Perhaps the brothers dragged her there. After all, this is a woman who had an angel appear to announce she would give birth to the Messiah. She clearly knew he was capable of great things. At the wedding in Cana in John 2, Mary tells the servants to "do whatever he tells you." Yet there she was, at the start of his ministry, with family members declaring Jesus was out of his mind.

In John 7, Jesus' family is celebrating the Jewish holiday of Sukkot and his brothers have finally had enough of him. John, an eyewitness of the events and Jesus' best friend, tells us the brothers told Jesus to get out of town. "Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world," they told him. The implication was that if Jesus really thought he was all that, he should be bold and proud and show everyone. The subtle implication is they knew he would get himself killed if he did that. But they were so over their crazy brother and his antics.

Sure enough, he got himself killed. There are four gospel accounts of Jesus' execution, and in not one of them do his brothers appear. In fact, according to John 19, Jesus tells his best friend, the Apostle John, to take care of his mother, presumably because none of his actual siblings (or first cousins, if they were that) bothered to show up. He died on a cross with his mother there and no immediate family around to comfort her. His brothers and sisters were nowhere to be seen. The crazy brother who talked religion at the table instead of politics finally got what was coming to him.

If that were all there was to the story, we probably would not have Christmas. There is more to it. Scripture tells us Jesus rose from the grave and appeared to his siblings who had rejected him. His brother James became a leader of the early church, killed for proclaiming his brother was God. Both James and Jude have books included in the Bible.

If the God of all creation could be tortured and crucified and still use his dying breaths to say "Father, forgive them," you can forgive, too. And if the risen Lord, whose own family wanted nothing to do with him could still build meaningful relationships with them, you can do it in your family, too. Do not let Christmas pass without showing grace and forgiveness to your family and those around you. The world is too divided as it is.

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