Watching “Love Actually” has become a Christmas tradition for many. Why? It mixes the rawly honest – a faithful sister who gives up her chance at love and the unfaithful husband who squanders love – with the improbably wonderful - the Prime Minister of Britain finds love with the tea girl. We love it because it shows the messiness of real family life but leaves us with hope. Each time I watch it there is one line which tears at my heart; Karen, a middle aged married woman carrying the load of family life has realised that her husband has eyes for another. Karen knows he has given a necklace to her and finally says to him; “Would you wait around to find out if it's just a necklace, or if it's sex and a necklace, or if, worst of all, it's a necklace and love? Would you stay, knowing life would always be a little bit worse? Or would you cut and run?”
Even as I type this the tears well a little for me on that line. Why? I belong to a family where our family Christmas celebrations are not what they once were. This year they were filled with many moments which expressed Jesus love – Christmas with one grandparent at an Italian restaurant, another around the pool, another ended with us all around the tv watching a favourite family movie, another on boxing day was laid back and lovely. And yes there were four because both my husband and my parents are divorced. We love them all and yet it is ok for me, even as an adult, to approach this time of year saddened that we couldn’t make it as whole families. Jesus allows me to say this whilst lovingly embracing the family God has given me. Mine is a family where Christmas will always be a little bit worse and sometimes I want to cut and run. It is too hard, too hurtful and I am too tired.
But to cut and run would be to lose out on God’s love actually. I stay held by the strength and power of Jesus. Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1 is not commonly read at Christmas but if you find yourself facing family occasions sometimes with trepidation and weariness it may be just what you need. Paul prays for his friend’s in Ephesus
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” Ephesians 1:18-21
How extraordinary that my heart has eyes. Eyes which need not to see but to know – to know the real hope Jesus offers. Not the improbable hope of romance but the glorious hope of belonging to the people of God. How extraordinary that God is using the same power that raised Jesus from the dead in my life. How extraordinary that as I brokenly celebrate his birth amongst a messy family Jesus is reigning overall and that overall includes our dining table. This same rule beckons me in my life to honour both my parents and the important work of my own marriage. Why do I sometimes want to cut and run? Because on my own I do not have the power to love or forgive. But he has not left me alone. His power is at work for us who believe. God’s love actually is powerful, faithful and forever and it is enough even for messes like mine.
Rev Jenni Stoddart is the Chaplain at Abbotsleigh, an Anglican school for girls. She is an Anglican Deacon who has worked in Sydney Parish's for 20 years focussed on youth, children and families. She loves preaching Gods word whether the hearer is 5, 15, 25 or 75 and even more when the generations are all in together.