Holiday Gatherings and the Philippians 2 Challenge

xmas party

If you spend any amount of time on social media, there is a good chance you have read about someone’s dread of getting together with family for the holidays or you have posted something yourself. It’s a common topic of discussion among those of my generation and younger. Most of the time, it’s said in a joking manner. But often the dread is real.

Now there may be real legitimate reasons for disliking family gatherings at the holidays. There are deep wounds. And it is not hard to imagine hurt feelings over some past slight or forgotten birthday. These are real and need to be acknowledged.

But most of the time, that is not the case. Usually, with contempt on the tip of our tongue, we just find someone annoying or irritating due to their personality or differences of opinion over religion or politics. I live in Alabama so sometimes even college football can be a landmine. And if there are any small children or teenagers in the mix, someone is going to provide advice on how you should raise them between passing the potatoes and the green bean casserole.

Just a few days before Thanksgiving I was reading Philippians and later that morning I saw someone on social media heap contempt on their awful relatives and how they were dreading Thanksgiving dinner. I had two almost simultaneous thoughts. The first was how such an attitude is totally at odds with Phil. 2:3-11. And my second thought was how guilty I have often been on being at odds with that passage.

And then I had the life-giving thought…

What if instead of contempt and dreading our family gatherings, we took a Philippians 2 challenge: consider others more important, look out for the interests of others, and adopt the attitude of Christ Jesus, by being a servant and emptying ourselves of glory?

Can you imagine how this would change us and our family gatherings?

Can you? Because we need to have that kind of an imagination if we are ever going to experience the Philippians 2 challenge lived out.

Let’s imagine what that might look like:

Contempt – Let’s face it, adults look down on younger people and young people are more than willing to take an “OK, boomer!” attitude towards their elders. Our world is so full of contempt…we are like fish swimming around in the stuff.

Dread – Usually there is some fear within the dread. Fear of being known and rejected. Fear of not being accepted for who you are. Or maybe the fear of someone saying something uncomfortable and ruining the meal.

Consider others more important – A lot of the friction around family gatherings is due to more than one person needing to have their way. What if we decided to not have the last word? What if we made the decision beforehand that we will just go with the flow and be content? What if we did not have to have our way? What if we looked for the best in everyone else instead of looking for reasons to disapprove?

Look out for the interests of others – Most of us love to talk about the things we are into and what we are passionate about. But what if we took the time and effort to ask others about their lives and loves? This is an especially good practice for us older folks. What if we cared enough to talk to the young people at our gathering and got to know them without any hint of judgment and condemnation? What if we loved them through listening?

Adopt the attitude of Christ Jesus – Dallas Willard defines a disciple as one who is, “learning from him (Jesus) how to lead their life as he would lead their life if he were they.” In other words, how would Jesus approach this family gathering? (If you are thinking, “Well, Jesus turned over tables once!” you’ve already lost the battle.)

Be a servant – Walking into a room with a goal of loving who is there instead of wondering if they will love us, will do much to drive away fear.

Empty yourself of glory – We evangelicals preach a theology of the cross but far too often we live a theology of glory. What if we walked into our family gatherings and as we passed through the door, we took on an incarnational attitude with the hope of everyone gathered seeing the light of the glory of God in our faces as we have sought to follow Christ in the living room, den, kitchen, and dining room?

The Philippians 2 challenge will not be easy. So I suggest you train yourselves. Practice before the big day. Practice while at home among those you love. Practice at work. Practice while you are out Christmas shopping. Practice at church and in class at school.

Look, if you are uncomfortable with the “practice” language, remember that to do anything well – artistic, athletic, academic, etc. – you must work at it. Think about what what Paul says in Philippians 2:12-13, “Work out your own salvation…for it it is God working in you.” This is the Philippians 2 challenge after all.

This is not legalism. This is seeking the best family gathering possible. This is seeking the kingdom of heaven and doing what you can to bring that kingdom of love, peace, and joy into the homes where you gather. ”On earth as it is in heaven,” right?

Who knows? Maybe you will see that living these practices will put you on the path of not only the best holiday gathering possible but even more, the best life possible.

One Year Ago Today, We Moved Home

One year ago today, we moved home. We have moved a number of times since we left Birmingham in June of 2000. But this was the only one without any real emotional difficulty. We left a church where I was doing youth ministry and was pretty much paid to leave (severance…thankful for that). In my first few months there I had to fire my secretary and was told the lead pastor – the fundamental reason I felt comfortable accepting a call to that church –  was leaving for another position. I’m not bitter.

OK, maybe I’m a little bitter.

We left behind a number of close friends and a city we liked. But there has not been one moment in which we have not been passionately glad to be back in the city where we were raised.

All four seasons have passed through our time here. We have watched them come and go like old friends who we long to see again soon. Though summer can take the long way back and spring should stick around a while longer, we yearn for many more and look forward to watching the seasons turn into years and the years into decades. All here.

Speaking of old friends, we have spent a good bit of time with many. It is incredible that I can now go to lunch with friends who have known me for so long and love me still. What is just as wonderful is all the new friends we now have – so easy to be with, laugh with and rejoice with. We have no money to speak of but are wealthy in friendships to the point of not having the time to spend them all. Our cup runs over daily.

Our family is close. Birthdays are spent with them and our kids can get to know them well. All was out of grasp before. Now, our children beg to spend the day with their grandparents and vice versa.

Only someone from Birmingham will understand. But every turn down a mountain lane and every road climbing out of one of the valleys is a reason for wonder. Right now the trees have burst into the usual colors of Autumn we never really get used to. The morning fog is likely to cut off the tops of the trees and block any hope for a view of the valley below. The air is crisp and bursts with nostalgia.

“Remember when…”

Those who know me well will understand the salvific and noetic effect of my being able to enjoy all my favorite restaurants. Mr. P’s Deli and New China in Bluff Park, both about 3 minutes from where we live. Jim-N-Nick’s and Surin West on Southside. The Purple Onion at the bottom of the mountain. The Fish Market. These are important landmarks in my life. No really, when not eating there, I am dreaming about them.

I love this place. Nothing could induce me to move again. The desire for Emma, Knox and Dylan to grow up here is strong. I know it may sound crazy for a pastor to say but place seems important right now. Especially this place, this place so crammed like a dusty attic full of memories, good and bad – reminders of God’s grace and reminders of my indwelling sin. It’s impossible to explain. But, well, the desire to stay here forever feels like a gift. We were willing to go anywhere for so long. And did. And so this gladness to be here till buried here feels like a gracious present given by a loving Father.

And we are thankful.