By Michael Kelley
You might remember the scene from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation:
CLARK: So… when did you get the tenement on wheels?
EDDIE: That there – that’s an RV. I borrowed it off a buddy of mine. He took my house, I took the RV. It’s a good looking vehicle, ain’t it?
CLARK: Yeah. Looks so nice parked in the driveway.
EDDIE: It sure does. But don’t you go fallin’ in love with it now, ’cause we’re taking it with us when we leave here next month.
Ah, Cousin Eddie. The most wonderful family member at the most wonderful time of the year. Throughout the movie, we bear witness to the awkwardness of having the whole family in one house at the same time for the holidays. And perhaps you can relate to that.
Maybe you don’t have a cousin that empties the cesspool of the RV into the storm drain on Christmas morning, but for many these annual gatherings bring at least a little bit of angst. You know in your heart that this is your family, for better or for worse, but there are some of them you simply can’t relate to. You don’t seem to have anything in common, conversation is hard, and so you do what you can just to get through another season until the old RV pulls up at the house again next year. But if I could, let me encourage you with a truth about your dysfunctional family that my own pastor encouraged our congregation with a few weeks ago:
Your dysfunctional family is an opportunity to be reminded of the gospel.
How does that work? It works in the sense that the shadows of the gospel are all around for the Christian. It goes like this:
Christmas morning, there will be a gift with your name on it from someone who cared enough to get that thing for you. And so you tear into the paper and as you open the gift, it is indeed a thoughtful one. It’s not that the gift was so expensive, but that it was so thoughtful. The gift is an expression of their deep knowledge of who you are, and so the tears fill your eyes not because of the gift, but because of the one that gave it to you. This is a shadow of the gospel. For the Christian, this is an opportunity to remember that no matter how well this person knows you, God knows you better. And no matter how special this gift is, God’s gift is better. The shadow points you to the reality of the gospel.
Sometimes those shadows are pleasant, as in the case above. But these shadows work the other way, too. Sometimes they’re not pleasant, and when they’re not, you are reminded that everything and everyone in the world eventually disappoints you. That disappointment is an opportunity to reflect back on the only One that truly lives up to their billing, which brings us back to Cousin Eddie.
If you are a Christian, then you have been brought into a new family. It’s a family that goes beyond race, culture, or national origin. It’s a family not divided by economic status or education. It’s a family that testifies by their unity to the greatness of the gospel of Jesus Christ in which they find their commonality. The dysfunction you might feel as a part of your earthly family can point you upward. It can be a moment of reflection and thanksgiving for you, that your true brothers and sisters are those that do the will of the Father.
So don’t despair. Don’t be downcast. Your family, dysfunctional though they may be, are only a shadow of what’s to come in the gospel.
Michael Kelley is the Sr. Vice President of Church Ministries at Lifeway and author of Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life.