Genesis 2:18-23, 4:1-2; Luke 3:23-38
November 29, 2020
— The Foundation of Family and Connections
Mark Twain once remarked, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
George Burns’ reflection on family was a little different, “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.”
I appreciate the wisdom in Marge Kennedy’s thought that “The informality of family life is a blessed condition that allows us all to become our best while looking our worst.” I need to remember this more often.
My favorite thought about family, though, may be Robert Brault’s anecdote that “Family life is a bit like a runny peach pie – not perfect but who’s complaining?” I am a peach pie aficionado, so this makes sense.
Family is perhaps the most difficult, blessed thing in all creation. We need it, can’t live without it, but it is enough to drive us past bonkers to someplace near “let me off of this crazy train.” Of course, this is a time of the year when we are more acutely aware of the strengths and limitations of family grace. Hopefully, there is more good to outweigh anything else, but there is no guarantee of that. Sadly, there are plenty of people for whom family is a real heartache.
For whatever family means to you, however, it is where we learn some of the most basic attributes of life itself, namely that everything is about connections and relationships. Life is about connections and relationships, both good and not so good ones. The Bible is also about connections and relationships because it is about life. It is no accident that we tend to begin our lives in families, that families tend to stay with us throughout our lives, that we create new families as grow up, and that dignity in older age tends to reflect the care of our families. It is also no accident that we speak of the people of God as God’s family, ourselves as sisters and brothers as reflected in Scripture and churches as family. It is clear that family does not require blood relation or covenants like marriage. It is the determination to be in life together, and whether we like it or not, family is at the foundation of our shared life in this world.
Through Advent, I thought I would delve into family and share a little about how the idea of family impacts us as a family of faith in Christ Jesus, our Emmanuel. Today, it is about the beginning of family or the thing we can call “sweet as fudge with a few nuts thrown in, too.”
Back, back, back in the beginning before there was anything resembling human family, there was Adam and a llama. I’m being a little tongue-in-cheek here, but this story in Genesis has always fascinated me. God rightly points out that it is not good for man to be alone. This is a key ontological fact of human existence – it cuts to our very core. We are not meant to be alone. This is the very first thing in the creation that is named “not good,” so God hatches this scheme to find a suitable partner for the man. It sounds like all the different animals are parading by – the man Adam names the creatures as they wander past. The scene seems to indicate that perhaps we might end up with a “creature” as a partner, perhaps the mighty llama. But thankfully, God’s red buzzer goes off with every animal, even the beloved llama, signaling that each and every animal is not suitable as a partner in life and work. “Sorry, thank you for coming out. You are not the one,” not even Fido makes the cut.
So God makes what God needs, something suitable and relatable and similar – complementary. This Adam person recognizes the ingenuity of the Eve person. They share the same basic substance, form, and personhood. There it is: family is born. Partnership, marriage, couplehood, ball and chain, whatever you want to call it – there it is. The beauty of a God who is living relationship – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, made us in God’s image with the capacity to connect lives, to live in relationship, and to love others.
But why? This is where it gets more interesting and a little problematic. This where it gets messy because we do not hold connections and relationships and love in the same way that God does. Not too long after this story, Cain kills his brother, his family member, and is himself sent off to wander the world. The world’s first family seems to fall apart almost as soon as it gets going. Of course, this is an oversimplification. The brothers seem to be young men, at least, before they had their horrible demise. Adam and Eve are nowhere in this part of the story and seem to have no part in Cain’s future. All they can do is grow the family. They have another son, Seth, and other unnamed children. Someone has to get the world going.
But we are left with the hurt and brokenness and confusion and failure of this part of the story. Does that sound like anything you have ever known? I bet it does… in our own families and in our own stories. Here in the creation of family, we have the honesty of the struggle that that creation brings. Even in Adam’s recognition of Eve as someone from him, like him, we see the fact that we are drawn to what it similar. Whatever is like us is good. That which looks like us or acts like us or thinks like us or speaks like us or marries like us or lives in family like us is naturally good. We are much more comfortable with what is similar. We are predisposed to favor that which is like us.
Connections in our God are much bigger than that, however, because to take this idea too far would be to reclaim the practice of finding spouses in our families, or even worse, the demonization and persecution of people who are NOT like us. God created us with the innate need to be connected to others but not just the people who are like us. In this great mix of people in the world, something amazing happens. The grace of God happens; Jesus happens. We find greater, wider, deeper connections.
Yes, we need to see that it would have been very easy for God to just have Jesus pop up one day on the Judean countryside or descend from heaven as a celestial being. The infinite God could have brought Jesus into being on earth in any number of ways as a heavenly gift to humanity, something to marvel at or behold. Jesus could have made the biggest splash the world has ever seen and left no one room for doubt. I will get back to this on Christmas Eve, but for now, we need to see that God, instead, brought Jesus into the world through family. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob brought Jesus into the world through Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and his collection of wives. This is what Luke points to in his genealogy of Jesus.
For those of you who love to do genealogy, you already get this, but for the rest of us, you need to know that the two genealogies of Jesus are actually some of the most interesting passages in the gospels. Do not skip past them in a rush to the “good” parts or you will miss the good parts here. In Luke’s genealogy, Jesus is born out of the gift of family and connections that is traced back through the generations, through the centuries, back to that first family, Adam and Eve. Luke’s description of Jesus’ family even connects our family to God’s own self. To say we are part of God’s family makes literal sense in Luke’s gospel. Not only is Jesus directly linked to God, but we are, too. This is fantastic and wonderful and beautiful. Our connected, family lives come from God. They are not just a gift from God, but they are actually connecting us to God, both through the very first human family and through Jesus who makes us his family, too.
This is a world that needs more connections, not less. We need to be able to see past the differences and find room for grace that shares life and love in bigger and deeper ways. The other person is not the enemy; the different person is actually part of our family. We may not recognize that sister or brother just yet, but if we give time and room and grace and love, we just might be able to see how we can be connected with all the people whom we meet. This is God’s grand design. We cannot just say we are God’s family and treat each other like dirt. That is how the world works. The world’s ways uses people and seeks its own success. We may know of families that work this way, without the real, life-giving love that makes families the blessings they are meant to be as reflections of God’s family. There will always be problems between us. We will have fallings-out. We will fail and disappoint each other. Yes, that happens in family, even God’s family, but the connections are still there beneath the hurts and disappointments for us to rediscover when it is appropriate, when we are ready.
Friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, where is our family? Where is our Lord? Where are the ones connected to us in God? Where is Jesus doing something beautiful between us, between God’s children? That’s where we need to be, even if that family looks different, because the family of God is where life in the Spirit is taking us, now and forever. To God be the glory. Amen.