Merry Christmas, from my messy family to yours

President Rebecca Stoltzfus and her family in 2017: (Left to right) daughter Lydia, husband Kevin and son Gabe.

Christmas includes heavenly angels and stars but at its heart, the story is earthy and human. God in the flesh. And as today’s Scripture (Luke 2:41-52) reminds us, God in a family.

We all come from a family, of one sort or another. And we all go through periods when our family loses us — either literally or otherwise. They don’t understand who we are, or are surprised to discover what we truly love, confused by who we were meant to be.

And that is what we see in the story of the 12-year-old Jesus lingering in Jerusalem and hanging out at the temple. He was drawn to what he loved, learning about spiritual matters and about God. His mother, like all mothers in their not-so-great moments, takes it personally and thinks it’s about her: “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

However, my favorite line from the story is this: “But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.” This is a family story of loss and fear and anger, and then reunion. Yes, a treasure.

As you are with your family this season – or not, as the case may be – remember that Jesus also grew up in a family, full of love and commitment, but also misunderstandings and wrong assumptions and crossed signals. Maybe this is part of your experience too, even on Christmas.

The spiritual writer Karen Armstrong describes families as “schools of compassion.” Being in a family means that we mess up and get messed up, but we also hope to give one another enough love and big-heartedness that we find our home and grow in wisdom.

Greetings and love, from my messy family to yours. Merry Christmas!

Rebecca Stoltzfus

President Stoltzfus wrote this reflection for the college’s 2021 Advent devotions, also published today.