Picture yourself as a resident of a small town outside of Jerusalem around the year A. D. 30 . . .
A popular preacher named John has been drawing crowds of people to him in the Judean wilderness. Some friends have gone to hear him and have returned talking of a new peace in their hearts and healing within their families. Curious and hopeful, you decide to take your family to hear John for yourselves.
The next day, you all trek into the desert. The diversity of those who have come out to John amazes you—prostitutes, gamblers, and thieves mixed with religious leaders, businessmen, and members of Herod’s court. As you look beyond the crowd, you see John himself: a thin man, poorly dressed and unshaven, with a look of great intensity about him.
Then John raises his voice and begins to speak. His message comforts you, yet it is also convicting. “The Messiah is coming, and I have been sent to prepare his way. Turn from your sins! Prepare yourself for the coming of the Lord!” Many people in the crowd—mostly prostitutes, tax collectors, and hardened soldiers—fall to their knees. With tears in their eyes, they rush forward and ask to be baptized.
As he welcomes these people, John says something that pierces your heart: “I have come to turn the hearts of fathers toward their children to prepare them for the Lord.” You are astounded that God would be concerned about your family, that he would want to draw you closer to each other so that you could receive his grace. You look at your children seated on the ground next to you and ask, “O Lord, are we ready for your coming?”
A Family of Believers. As you prepare your family for Jesus this Advent, you can take comfort in knowing that the family is not just a human institution. It was born in the Father-heart of God. From the very beginning, he has blessed marriage and made it a powerful sign of his love for his people (Genesis 1:28). Every child that has come into this world was born “with the help of the “Lord” (4:1). Throughout Israel’s history, it was understood that every family played a vital role in building up the people of God. Finally, when the Son of God entered creation, he himself came as a member of a family.
Do you know that all believers together make up the bride of Christ—that we are all one family? At Christmas, we celebrate both our human family and the family of God, the church. As you continue to pray and prepare for Jesus this Advent, we’d like to offer some guidance on how you can help your family draw closer to the Lord.
The Authority to Serve. Ask yourself: “Am I willing to accept God’s call to love and care for my family?” This is the heart of what it means to exercise parental authority. Recall John’s mission: He will turn the hearts of fathers to their children. God wants to fill our hearts with love for our children. He wants to empower us to change our approach where necessary so that our children will see in us a reflection of God’s Fatherly love for them.
Take some time this week to write out—in just a few sentences-—your view of family authority. Then, compare what you have written with the teaching of scripture. Read Ephesians 5:21–6:4 and Luke 11:5-13 for some guidance. You may also want to look at some of the family stories in the book of Genesis: Jacob and Esau, Cain and Abel, Joseph and his brothers. Ask the Lord to show you how you can more fully embrace the calling he has given you to love your family, bring healing to them, and lead them to Christ.
It doesn’t matter how tired or discouraged you feel, or how old or young your children are. The Holy Spirit is still the power of God within you. Pray to the Spirit: “I am hungry and thirsty for your wisdom. Holy Spirit, show me how to bring healing and strength to my family.” Honest, heart-felt prayer can open wide the floodgates of grace.
Reflecting on Your Family. When he saw Jesus, John the Baptist declared, “He must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3:30). Whatever their situation, all parents should have as their goal that the love of Jesus would increase in their lives and in the life of their family. During this week, examine how deeply your love for your children runs.
1) Write down the name of each of your children and your relationship with them. Is it open and free? Or, is there tension? Is there a healthy amount of respect and affection between you? Or, is the relationship cold and distant?
2) Next, write down two positive qualities that you see in each child and two areas of weakness or need for growth.
3) Seeing each weak area, tell the Lord that you forgive them, and that you want to edify and encourage them from now on. Ask the Spirit to help you to forgive, forget, and love them unconditionally. Ask for a special grace of healing this Advent, and watch the Lord work wonders.
Remember: The goal of this exercise is that you would experience God’s healing love in you, enabling you to bring greater love and healing to your family.
Experiencing the Spirit in You. Having examined your relationship with each member of your family, take some time this week to examine your relationship with the Holy Spirit. How have you experienced his love? His comfort? His power to change your heart? John the Baptist had a relationship with the Spirit deep enough to sustain him during his years in the wilderness and his time in prison. By the power of the Spirit he was able to love everyone who came to him and to direct them to Jesus, the healer of every wound.
Jesus loves you just as you are, despite your weaknesses and sins. Yet he loves you too much to leave you where you are. As you seek the Lord in prayer this week, know that his Spirit can change your heart and mind dramatically. He can give you confidence in God’s healing power and confidence in his grace to enable you to love your family.
Prayer like this can truly change your family. Spend time this week praying for every member of your family—each one specifically, by name. As you pray, consider how much Jesus loves them. He never judges them and will never abandon them. He longs for each one of them to draw close to him so that they don’t have to walk alone in their lives. Pray for a greater outpouring of divine love on each of them. This kind of prayer is one of the greatest gifts that you can give to your children this Christmas.
“BLESS”-ing Your Family. As Christmas day draws near, you will probably have more opportunities to reflect the love of God to your children. Here is an easy way to remember how to “bless” your family when you come together:
Beauty: In your heart, acknowledge that every member of your family is beautiful in God’s eyes. Focus your attention on God’s love for them. Criticism and judgmental thoughts will be dispelled, and God’s love will flow through you more freely.
Love: Can you tell each of your children, “I love you”? This may be especially difficult for fathers and sons. If it is too difficult, make sure at least that your demeanor and the expressions in your face reflect a generous love for them. Don’t assume they know.
Encourage: Make sure your children know that you see and appreciate all that is good in them: their generosity, their strength, their hard work, their compassion. All children—however old they are—want their parents to be proud of them.
Smile: Show your children affection with a warm hug or kiss. An affectionate greeting or a warm smile may be a small gesture, but your children will recall such displays for many years. The practice of showing affection can leave a lasting impression on them and become something that they will pass on to their children.
Serve: When Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, he showed how deeply he wanted to serve them—even to death on a cross. Ask the Spirit how you can serve your family and express the same heart of a servant that Jesus showed. Don’t worry if you are not appreciated. Remember that you are serving Jesus himself and that he sees and blesses every act of love and concern.
Imitating Our Heavenly Father. Through these little ways of loving, we can reveal the Father’s love for all of his children. This Advent begins a year dedicated to the Father’s love. This is the love that Jesus knew throughout his life. It’s the love that moved John the Baptist to proclaim the gospel to all of Israel. At The Word Among Us, our desire and prayer for all of you is that you would come to know the Father’s love for you this Christmas. May God bless you and your family during this Advent season!