Thoughts on the Prodigal at Christmas

He was five years old when I first met him. She was four–both of them sweet, adorable, incredibly wounded little kids. All I knew was that I had fallen in love with their Daddy, and they needed a Mother. It was Christmas when he looked up at me with his huge grey eyes and asked me, “Will you be my Mommy?”  And of course, the story unfolded: his Daddy and I married, I got a crash course in parenting which no amount of parenting classes (which we did take on my insistence before we embarked on a life together) could have ever prepared me. Parenting children who have been through tragedy–and divorce is a tragedy–is just plain hard. But I knew the moment I fell in love with him–it was that day when he asked me to fulfill the one thing I knew God had called me to do.

Christmas is hard when one of your children is wayward. He would grow up in many ways a delight–charming, able to talk himself out of many a hard spot, but also with a lack of understanding that his actions had consequences for others and not just himself. He would go on to wreak devastation in our family, causing pain in ways unimaginable to the ones who have never walked through it. He would continue to forge a path of destruction in his own life, marrying too young, fathering a child he would be unable to parent. He would be given opportunity upon opportunity with other people stepping in when he was an adult to complete a job some seemed to think we had not adequately finished. And still, he would make choices that would cause harm–to others, and to  himself most of all.

I read a book a few years ago called Prodigal God by Tim Keller. In it, Keller takes us through a teaching on the parable of the Prodigal Son. He makes so many important teaching points that it would be impossible to discuss them all, but a few really stuck out for me. First, he started with a definition of Prodigal. We all think we know what that word means…I mean, after all, we all have heard of the prodigal child, right?

Prodigal:

adjective: 1) Spending money or resources freely or recklessly; wastefully extravagant

2) having or giving something on a lavish scale

 Keller makes the clear point that BOTH sons of the father in the parable were lost. The younger son was obviously so–he had taken his inheritance, bid his father and all his stuffy living goodbye, and had set out into the world to experience all its pleasures. And he did. Until the money ran out.  The younger son seemed only to want the money–not his father.

 The older son, by contrast, was a good, rule-abiding son. He did everything he was supposed to do. But in the parable his heart is revealed, too. While the father is waiting day after day–watching and hoping his lost younger son would come home, the older son was waiting for the day that all the inheritance would be his. He was not interested in a relationship with his Dad–he just wanted his stuff.

 In the end, we see that both sons were avoiding the father, and both sons wanted the same thing. One son did it by being bad, and the other son did it by being legalistically good.  Both sons were lost. But in the end, it was the younger son who repented of his sins and came home, while the story leaves us with an older son who is bitter over that circumstance. I was an older brother for much of my life–legalistic, thinking if I was “good enough” that God would bless me. I wanted the Father’s blessings, but not necessarily the Father himself.

 And it is in the Father’s actions that we see that really, it was God who is the prodigal. He poured out his most precious son–the One he cherished–in order to redeem…me.  “I am the wretch the song talks about” reads a T-shirt I really want–because it is true. Jesus died on the cross in order to rescue one who was not worthy of rescuing. He died on the cross to save a world of people not worth rescuing. Extravagant love like that can only be found in Jesus. And when you really get that, it changes you. It changed me.

 As we approach Christmas, our hearts ache over the lostness of oldest son. I may not mention him here on my blog, but every day the circumstances of his separation from our family are heavy on my heart. We miss him, and, yet, because of the consequences and legal ramifications of his actions, we cannot be with him.  But even as we ache, we also have hope, because, you see, if Jesus could rescue a wretch like me, then He can also rescue our lost child. And Christmas is the time we remember the miracle of redemption: love wrapped in a tiny bundle laid in a manger, the savior of the world humbly living the life of a poor carpenter’s son.  If our son’s fate rested solely in human hands, it would be a hopeless fate. But it doesn’t. God promises that He uses all things for good for those who are the called according to His purpose. And we pray that that purpose will one day bring our son back into the fold. Because rescuing sinners was the reason for Christmas.

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