Tag Archives: family

Growing Out of the Family Tree

One of my daughters has recently been doing some schoolwork on family trees and family history.  In trying to answer her questions about her ancestors, I have had to do some research of my own.  In fact, I have also been inspired to go beyond the information she needs.  I’ve not gone as far as registering with “Ancestry.co.uk” and I’m not in line to appear on the TV show “Who do you think you are?” but I have to say I am genuinely interested in my family’s history.

I also recognise that you might not be, and that you might be dreading what’s coming next… don’t worry – I’ll keep my stories to myself!  What I would like to share with you is a reflection about the relationship between history and legacy.  A good way to illustrate this is to consider what we know about Jesus.

There are a number of different ways of looking at Jesus’ history.  If we wanted a starter for ten, we could do far worse than the first verse of Matthew’s Gospel: Jesus is “the son of David, the son of Abraham.”  In this sentence, Matthew tells his readers some key facts about Jesus.  Abraham was the founding father of the Jewish nation, and David was the nation’s most celebrated king.  To have both of these in your family tree was a real privilege and Matthew knew that writing this down would cause his readers to sit up and take notice.

As we read on we discover a whole load more interesting stuff.  It’s largely hidden from people with little knowledge of the Old Testament, but Matthew’s first readers would have caught the references very quickly.  There are four women mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy.  The mention of women in such lists is rare – and therefore this is significant.  When we look more closely, we may be startled by the stories we uncover…

As well as Mary, whose story we know well, Jesus’ family tree includes a woman called Tamar who pretended to be a prostitute and slept with her father-in-law in order to trick her way into some kind of inheritance.  Then there’s Rahab, the prostitute from Jericho who betrayed her king and city by hiding the Israelite spies and lying to the police.  There’s also Bathsheba: Matthew’s entry reads simply, “David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah”, but the story behind this note is dark – when his adulterous affair caused Bathsheba to fall pregnant and he couldn’t hide it any longer, David (the King) had Uriah (one of his most loyal soldiers) murdered.

So Jesus’ family tree contains histories of deception, prostitution, treachery, adultery, betrayal and murder.  Yet look at how he turned out… trustworthy, truthful, compassionate and kind, courageous and steadfast; the epitome of selfless love.  His family’s history didn’t prevent him from leaving the most amazing legacy the world has ever seen.  There’s encouragement here for anyone who looks with sadness at their family background; Jesus understands.  Our families may describe us, but they don’t need to define us.  Whatever our past, we should work to leave a positive legacy.

The Easter Mystery

Over the last few years, the Meaningful Chocolate Company has been selling what it calls the Real Easter Egg.  There are a number of features of this egg that set it apart from the others on the market.  First of all, it’s made with FairTrade chocolate.  This means that the people who grow the cocoa beans are being paid a fair wage for their labour.  Furthermore, their communities are being helped because the proceeds of a small premium added to the price of each egg are spent on a community project like a school or a well.  There are other FairTrade eggs, of course, but this is a good selling point for anyone with a conscience.

Secondly, a percentage of the profit is given to charity.  This is very rare, if not completely unique.  From egg sales since 2011, the company has donated over £40,000 to different worthy causes.  For a start, there are regular gifts to Traidcraft Exchange, a development charity which helps small-scale farmers and producers all over the world.  In addition to this, money has been given to Baby Lifeline, The Leprosy Mission, and Christians Against Poverty.  This latter organisation is a national charity working across the UK to lift people out of debt and poverty, offering free debt counselling through a network of 252 debt centres based in local churches.  You might like to know that Christ Church Ware is one of those churches – help really is “at hand” in these financially troubling times.  Buying a Real Easter Egg really does produce all kinds of ripples of good in this country and overseas.

But the third aspect is what makes this egg the Real Easter Egg; it has the Easter story on or in the box.  The company’s founder wrote recently, “When we first revealed the Real Easter Egg, I was asked by a journalist, ‘What’s Easter got to do with the church?’ I had to explain that Easter is in fact a religious festival and not owned by Cadbury!  This year, The Real Easter Egg radio advert was rejected by the radio authority.  They seemed unsure if Easter was Christian and so wanted our advert to say that our eggs had a copy of the ‘Easter Christian story’ in the box.  We argued the point and they have decided that, ‘on balance’, Easter is a well-known Christian festival.” 

But it’s less well known than it was.  In March 2005, the Daily Mail reported that just 48% of British people questioned said that Easter was about the Resurrection of Christ.  Two years later, on 3rd April 2007, a press release from Somerfield supermarket declared, “Brits will on average be enjoying over 3.5 eggs each over the Easter weekend alone.  But over a quarter don’t know why handing them out symbolises the birth of Jesus…” (My emphasis)  This was later corrected to read ‘the rebirth’ of Christ, and then, after consultation with the Church of England, a third version correctly identified that Easter celebrated the resurrection of Christ from the dead.

There’s no doubt about it; ignorance of the world-changing story of Jesus’ death and resurrection is increasing in what has historically been recognised as a Christian country.  Will you be celebrating it this year?  What example does your practice set to your children and grandchildren?  There are plenty of church events, and everyone is most welcome…

Christmas Peace

Christmastime means different things to different people.  To some, it’s precious because the family will all gather together.  To others, it’s a fearful prospect because the family will all gather together!  Some people rejoice in the nostalgia that surrounds Christmas, and remember especially their own happy childhood times.  There’s wonder and joy, feasting and gladness and the giving and receiving of gifts; it is a good season to celebrate with friends and family.  Other people’s experience is tinged with sadness as they remember people with whom they no longer share Christmas because of distance, family rift or death.

Often people see Christmas as “the season of goodwill” where past hurts are laid aside and estranged people are brought together, hopefully not in a “grin-and-bear-it” way, but with real forgiveness which buries the past and looks forward to the future.  The reason for this is rooted in the story of Jesus, the Christ of Christ-mas.  At the most traditional “Carols by Candlelight” services, the Bible readings tell the Bible’s story briefly but well.  It begins with the fall of Adam, the rebellious decision of mankind to disobey God and to attempt to manage God’s world with no reference to its maker.  The healthy relationship between God and people is destroyed; there is no way that imperfect and finite human beings can ever repair their relationship with God who is infinite and perfect.  This is a massive problem.

Centuries later, the prophet Isaiah picks up the story; he says in 9:2, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.”  The people’s sin has led them further and further away from God, and they are in exile, experiencing His judgment, not His favour.  There is no way out.  Suddenly, a great light appears.  And what is that light?  Isaiah tells us in 9:6; “To us a child is born, to us a Son is given … He will be called … Prince of Peace.”

The birth of Jesus that we celebrate at Christmas is the moment when God came to dwell amongst us to bring light into the darkness and to reconcile us to Himself.  God, who we have wronged by our pride, has offered to forgive us and make us His beloved children.  Some people jump at this chance; they recognise their lives are not perfect, they know they need forgiveness and they embrace Jesus with glad hearts like a shipwrecked sailor grasping at a life-ring.  Others are not convinced; the way they see things, they are perfectly good enough for God (if he even exists), so they pay little attention to Jesus, like a shipwrecked sailor hiding from the lifeboat crew as they survey the wreckage of his boat.

We tend to think Christmas is about presents and time with those we love, but it’s actually about reconciliation and forgiveness.  First, it is about God’s reconciliation with and forgiveness of those who have failed to love him.  Following on from and flowing out of that, it becomes a season in which people can be reconciled to one another.  How does our celebration of Christmas bear witness to either of these things?