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How the Holy Family Gives Laser Focus to Ministry

Posted by Dr. Greg Austen on Dec 20, 2017 6:00:00 AM

In my current vocational role at Care Net, the Christmas story is especially significant, as it deals with the most famous “unplanned” pregnancy in history.

Earlier this year, my wife and I went to Orlando to celebrate my mom’s birthday. While there, she gave me a figurine of the Holy Family. It was originally my grandparents’, and my mom thought I would appreciate it given my life’s work to strengthen fathers and families.

holy family_mary and joseph_nativity_christmas.jpg

The representation of Joseph as a significant presence and guide in the family is uncommon. He and Mary are united in love and marriage and their child is safe.

Now a cherished fixture in my office, this visual is a daily reminder of eternal priorities and perspective. It gives laser focus to my efforts to equip churches and pregnancy centers in offering compassion, hope, help, and discipleship to men and women facing unplanned pregnancies.

Here’s how:

1. The Holy Family is an “icon” that invites unity from all three branches of Christianity. I’ve written more about this here, but all churches—Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant—use and love the nativity story. Further, the Christmas traditions of most Christian families include setting up a manger scene. Children grow up playing with and being fascinated by it. Baby Jesus gets carried around and many of us have even seen baby Jesus’, cows, donkeys, etc. with broken arms or legs because they’ve been played with so much!

Children adore the story and, for many, it’s their first introductory glimpse into the gospel described in John 1:14: “The Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father's one and only Son.” (NLT) Again, whatever our Christian expression, the crèche has played and continues to play a significant role in our spiritual formation. As we mature in our faith and through the lens of the cross, we come to identify with lyrics like these from Julie Miller’s, Manger Throne: “That dirty manger was my heart, too. I’ll make it a royal throne for you.”

2. The Holy Family is an image that presents and preserves the ideal of the nuclear family. The nuclear family is a mom, dad, and their child(ren) living in the same home. It’s an idea—even for some Christians—that’s considered passé or something that never existed until the 1800’s. Consider this attempt from The New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology to give clarity on whether or not the nuclear family is rooted in Scripture:

“Parenting itself was clearly shared within the extended family or household, possibly with servants. There is no description of the nuclear family, considered so desirable recently in the West. Perhaps Christians adopted the model as it seemed a practical outworking of the NT teaching on sexual continence within marriage, as well as honoring the teaching codes of conduct and respect between parents and children (1 Cor 7 and Eph 6:1–4). The criticism of muddled families often springs from that teaching…

The family of Jesus himself is the only clear NT model [of the nuclear family]: the son of Joseph and Mary, he is known to have brothers and sisters (Matt 13:55–56). The only extended family member referred to is Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin (Luke 1:36), and she was not local. Christians, therefore, may well also have tended to adopt this pattern as supporting the idea that the nuclear family is the norm in present times. They have generally paid less attention to the extended family, though worldwide there are, of course, cultural variations.”

Despite intentions, the authors above leave the waters muddy regarding whether the nuclear family is biblically supported and should be championed and protected, or not. Notice the contradictory statements I placed in bold above:

  • “there is no description of the nuclear family”
  • “the family of Jesus himself is the only clear NT model”

It’s an all-too-common example of the unwarranted hesitancy—again, even in the Christian community—to acknowledge the nuclear family’s existence and extol its virtues.

Yes, the extended family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.) is also important in raising children and should be valued and affirmed. This is no reason, however, to dismantle the nuclear family or denigrate the model in which Jesus himself was born into and raised. Indeed, you can’t have an extended family without a nucleus. Moreover, many individuals and social workers today have no choice but to focus on extended kin because the nuclear family is weak, fragmented, or non-existent.

3. The Holy Family is a picture that focuses us on gospel potential. Helen Keller famously said, “The saddest thing in the world is a person who can see but has no vision.” Here’s how this applies, for example, in ministry to the abortion-vulnerable: When a client comes into a pregnancy center considering abortion, or a pregnant mom comes to us for help, what should we see? Certainly, we should see the vulnerable life of an unborn infant. Life-affirming work, however, isn’t just about saving a baby; it’s about raising a child. If this is true, we should see dads as potential Josephs who have unique and irreplaceable roles.

And if we are in synch with Jesus’ vision for the world, we’ll recognize idols of the heart, too: convenience, a woman’s body elevated over the that of a baby, adult plans and potential held as more important than a child’s, etc.

We’ll also see and share hope—the message of the cross and the forgiveness of sins. Bottom line, we’ll have an eternal vision for all as those that need to become disciples of Jesus Christ. The pregnant mom, her baby, and the boyfriend/father—are all potential “holy families.”

Friend, God has blessed us more than we know with the biblical story of Christmas. It’s a primary way to pass on the Christian faith. As a mom, dad, ministry worker, family member, or friend, you are a storyteller of a nativity narrative. What’s more, in dependence on God, you can become an intentional conduit to see that story played out in the lives of all those who receive him (John 1:12).

May the joy and peace of Christ be with you in fullest measure this season. Merry Christmas!

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