Voices > Soul Food

Christmas myths

Must all Christmas letters be Hallmark sweet?

Issue: "The '96 Election," Nov. 16, 1996

This is the time of year when many Americans begin to labor over annual Christmas letters. Some may wish they were fiction writers or could afford to hire good spin-doctors to deliver the family highlights. Some will manage on their own to write portrayals of unblemished and beautiful life in their households.

It is disturbing that often, hidden behind these shining words, stand couples who contemplate leaving one another, parents whose hearts are broken by a wayward child, or those who perpetually live on the brink of financial disaster.

Without airing all our dirty laundry, should there be a better balance in what we present? How damaging is our flawless life-picture to one who struggles hard against sin and doesn't need a carefully groomed image, but encouragement and hope from real people?

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What an interesting twist if Jacob, the son of Isaac, wrote annual letters in our famous up-beat style. After describing in previous years all the rich events of his life--the "education" he received at Uncle Laban's, his successful "genetic research" on livestock, the winning of a wrestling match, and the joy he received from his "enterprising" sons--he might describe the exploits of his son, Joseph, in this way:

Dear friends: I guess our son, Joseph, tops all. This year he's been promoted to a new high even for our family. He moved to Egypt some years ago. Really likes it there. Loves the urban life and has always been a sharp dresser and creative thinker. He now holds the highest political position in the country, second only to the Pharaoh himself. He's never forgotten his roots and has really been generous to us. In fact, you might pray about this; we may be moving to Egypt ourselves! So come visit us anytime and we'll show you the sights.

We really praise God for all his goodness and hope your year has been as fruitful as ours. Blessings. Jacob.

If Jacob had a shred of honesty, however, he might have told about having to flee for his life after he tricked his brother, his anger over Laban's cheating, or the sorrow his wives and sons brought him.

Of Joseph he might say:

I've hesitated to write, as life hasn't gone the way I had hoped it would. My sons have tried me in so many ways, but perhaps the worst is what they did to their brother, Joseph. They've always been jealous of him. I did pamper him a little, but what they did has broken me. My sons sold him into slavery and he was taken down to Egypt. They brought his beautiful coat home stained in blood, claiming he must have been killed by a wild animal. I believed them.

Lately we have suffered from the most severe famine and have lost nearly everything. But with it came the only good news in years. My sons went down to Egypt looking to buy food and learned that Joseph is alive and holding a very influential position there.

I hardly dare hope. They say Joseph wants us to move there and live with him. They say he has forgiven them for what they did. I only pray that this might be so.

Pray for us as I am old and we are packing for a long journey. May God give me strength and show us mercy.

The God of scripture does not spare his people by giving them glittering images. Jacob was a man with clay feet and I am thankful to know it. Despite the sadness and sin in Jacob's life, the book of Hebrews includes him as a man of great faith, one who understood God's promises, and at the end of his life was still worshiping the Lord. Even more compelling is the love God demonstrated in keeping his covenant with Jacob and never shrinking from this very real man whose personal troubles are written down for all the centuries to see.

We look forward to annual reports of joy and good news. But we are also heartened by those who dare to share, appropriately, the sorrow and comfort God has given as we live in this fallen and sinful world. For we are a great company of Jacobs. Who would want us? Our feet are clay and yet God has graciously redeemed us and called us his own. And after all, we still worship our Lord as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

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