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The Holy Family

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The Holy Family

This article was first published as an editorial in the December 15, 1994 issue of the Standard Bearer (vol.71, #6).

Christmas, you see, is about family. Christmas is mainly about family. Christmas is all about family. 

This is the truth of Christmas only inasmuch as Christmas is the birth of the baby Jesus from the virgin. The child had no earthly father. As the angel announced to His mother, in accounting for her conception, "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee" (Luke 1:35). 

The virgin conception establishes that Christmas is about family, because conception by a virgin, without a male, is the sign and means of the incarnation. God the Son became a man in the womb of Mary (John 1:14). The eternal Son of God, who lies in the bosom of the Father, was born in the baby Jesus (John 1:18). 

As the birth of Him who is the Son of God, Christmas is about family. It declares this family to be holy—pure, consecrated, awesome. 

I do not refer to the earthly family. The family that Christmas is all about is not a husband, a wife, and some children enjoying everyday life—roasting chestnuts over an open fire.

It is not even the covenant family of believing husband and wife with their baptized, sanctified children engaged in spiritual life—talking about the birth of their Lord and Savior in the stable in Bethlehem.

Neither is it the family that consisted of Jesus, His mother, and her husband. Popular piety in some circles makes much of this family as "the holy family." Bu Christmas does not center on this family. The proof is that this family, like every other earthly family in the past has been dissolved. It was merely temporal, fleeting, passing. By death, Joseph and Mary are no longer married. By the death of the Christ, expressed in His Word from the cross, "Woman, behold thy Son!... Behold thy mother!" (John 19:26, 27), Mary is no longer the mother of Jesus. Jesus Christ is no longer Mary's son. That family is no more. It has given way to a better one, the real human family.

Besides, Christmas is not mainly about men, women, and children. Christmas is about God. It was His deed. It made Him known. It calls the attention of the believer to Him, in wonder, love, and thanksgiving.

The birth of Jesus Christ is about God the Holy Family. It makes known that there are in God two distinct persons who are Father and Son to each other and that this Father and this Son are bound together in love by a third distinct person, the Holy Spirit.

For the baby of Bethlehem lived before He was born. He lived in (and as) the being of God. He lay in the bosom of the Father. He lay there as the one eternally begotten of the Father, that is, as the Son. The birth of Jesus Christ was not His beginning. He was sent into the world; the Father sent His Son (John 20:21). He cameinto the world; the Son came from His Father (John 16:28).

God is Father and Son in the Holy Spirit in Himself. This is family. The one, true living God, made known as He really is by Jesus Christ, is family. This is the truth about God. This is the most profound, the central, the unique truth about God.

Theologically, this is the doctrine of the Trinity. But the meaning of the Trinity is family, God as family. 

The life of God is family-life. God does not merely exist; God lives. The God revealed in the child conceived in Mary's womb, His Son, is not the Great Hermit in heaven, existing in splendid solitude. Rather, He is the Father living with the Son and the Son living with the Father in the Holy Spirit. He is the Father loving the Son and the Son loving the Father in the Holy Spirit. He is the Father communicating with the Son and the Son communicating with the Father in the Holy Spirit. Father and Son are devoted to each other in the Spirit. Each seeks the other in the Holy Spirit, and not only Himself; each gives Himself to the other freely and fully. 

In one word, the life of God—truly life!—is fellowship. Only, it must insistently be noted, this fellowship isfamily-fellowship. 

Biblically, this family-life of God triune is the source, pattern, and nature of the covenant. The covenant is God's sharing of His own family fellowship with His adopted sons and daughters, in Jesus Christ. 

Christmas is mainly about the divine family. 

But it is not exclusively about the divine family. For God sent His Son into the world in the act of incarnation: the eternal Son took to Him a human nature. The Son of God was conceived and born. 

Family now enlarges. 

There was, importantly, the earthly family made up of the child Jesus, His mother Mary, and her husband Joseph. Added in time were four (half) brothers and at least two (half) sisters of Jesus (Matt. 13:55, 56). God sent His Son into the world, not as a lonely visitor but as a member of a family. God entrusted His dear Son in human flesh to a holy mother and her godly husband. He saw to His rearing in a God-fearing home. 

Evident in the carefully arranged circumstances of Jesus' birth is the importance to God of family. The God who is now at work in redemption upholds and honors the ordinance that He Himself had made fundamental to human life in His work of creation: the earthly family of husband, wife, and children. Not all kinds of superstitious legends about the life of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, not a Christ-denying ascription of saving worth to Mary are the significance of Jesus' earthly family. Its significance is simply the fact itself of a godly family as the sphere in which God's own Son "increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52).

God values family. God values family especially highly when the welfare of His own Son is at stake. He values family, ultimately, because this is who He is in Himself: Holy Family.

Because God is family in Himself, there are also our earthly families: believing husbands, believing wives, and baptized children. Christmas is indeed about the Christian family, even though it is not mainly about this earthly family. The family is holy. It is set apart by God to be consecrated to Him. It reflects His own life. It enables and enriches the life of each member, for it is not good that the man, or the woman, or the children should be alone (see Gen. 2:18). It produces and rears the church by virtue of the promise of the covenant, "I will be the God of your children." 

The foundation of the covenant family is nothing less than the truth of God Himself as family that is revealed in the birth of Jesus. Christmas shows us (and never in history has the church needed the reminder more) that the Protestant Reformed defense of the family is grounded in the being of God. Our condemnation of divorce, our prohibition of all remarriage after divorce, our exhortation to the husband to love and to the wife to submit, our demand to parents to teach their children the truth as it is in Christ—all of this is founded finally in God, in God as family, in God as Father and Son in the Holy Spirit.

Cynical politicians, who have no interest in family whatever, whose own behavior, in fact, is destructive of the family, find it expedient today to speak out for family. A nation reaping the harvest of its undermining of the family, and finding that harvest exceedingly bitter, cries out in alarm for some return to "family values." The Reformed church bases her advocacy of the family, unchangingly and uncompromisingly, upon the God who gave His only begotten Son at Christmas.

Those who attack and weaken the family by divorcing and remarrying and by permitting divorce and remarriage are assaulting God Himself. He takes it personally.

God values family. Christmas proves it, and shows why. Christmas also assures the preservation of the covenant family despite devilish attacks upon it from within and without the church. 

Still, the earthly, covenant family is not the broadest extension of family by the birth of Christ. Nor is it the best. Every earthly family, even the holiest, passes away. 

His own spiritual family was the purpose of God with men and women at Christmas. The Elder Brother came to redeem, renew, and gather into the fellowship of an everlasting family all those eternally predestinated to be sons and daughters of God (Rom. 8:29). 

Christmas is about this family—its fellowship with God and its fellowship among the members themselves. 

This is the church. 

A holy family. 

Engelsma, David J.

Prof.David J. Engelsma (Wife: Ruth)

Ordained: September 1963

Pastorates: Loveland, CO - 1963; South Holland, IL - 1974; Professor in the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1988; Emeritus - 2008

Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof_D._Engelsma

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