This week I’m at the long anticipated Smoak Family Reunion of 2016. My father’s six children and their spouses and offspring (no great grands yet) have gathered at a small resort in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley to tell stories, play games, look at old movies and eat good food prepared by all of us.
Conspicuously missing, is my mother who went to heaven 20 years ago. It was she who planned our very first family reunion, so planning it without her always makes us miss her.
But I look forward to seeing her in all of us. Before she left, she planted pieces of herself in each of us, giving us her gifts and preferences, mannerisms and abilities. When we get together she’s among us.
That’s what Jesus did at Christmas. He birthed himself of Mary not just to show us how to live. That would just have frustrated us. He became a seed that would die through the crucifixion, rise in the resurrection and plant itself in each of us by His indwelling Spirit. He is really among us now using our bodies as His temple of prayer, proclamation and liberating love for all nations.
Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus said, “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you” (John 20:21, ESV). Not only does he incarnate himself into history and geography once at Christmas, He desires to do it over and over again through us, His people. He sends us to be born into the lost lives and neighborhoods and cultures of our world as agents of reconciliation so he can fill everything in every way through the church (Ephesians 1:22, 23 and 3:10).
On Christmas Eve, 1997, our family decided to visit a grandmother we had been helping in São Paulo. It was 11:00 p.m., but Brazilians celebrate at midnight on December 24th with a full Christmas dinner. We arrived just in time for dinner and to find Fran, the mother of the seven children who lived in the house. She lived in a crack house but had escaped just long enough to hug her children at Christmas before her absence was discovered by the drug lord.
As the night wore on she kept saying she needed to leave because they would begin looking for her. But her family held on to her and didn’t let her go back. After a while she got scared to return for fear of the consequences and decided to stay.
What followed was a long string of rehabilitation centers and prayer that finally discipled her into freedom in Christ. But every Christmas Eve for the past 18 years her family and ours (including Grandma until she passed away) have celebrated Christmas dinner together.
Now we’re in Wheaton. We’ll miss her, but she’s planning to bless someone else this Christmas Eve. The Gospel planted in us by God’s grace planted itself in her and now she will imitate us as we imitated Jesus. He is filling everything in every way like yeast in a lump of dough.
May His incarnation inspire us this Christmas to enter stories all around us, dying to self and living His life for others to His Glory.
Joy to the world!
Thomas and Susanna Smoak served the Lord among the abandoned children of Brazil from 1995 to 2016. They have six children and live in Wheaton, Illinois.