Family resemblances can be fun. We watch for them in movies or plays that we go to see (do the “family members” really look like they could be from the same family?). Computer programs have been made to try to predict what the babies of a couple will look like. And when we see newborn babies, we try to tell from which parent the various features come. And in each child, the blend is different. At my parents’ 30th anniversary party, someone asked my mother where I got my blonde hair, correctly deducing that Mom used to have blonde hair when she was younger.

We are not always proud of our inherited features. We may be embarassed at inheriting the big nose from our dad’s side or the strangely long middle toe. And it’s no fun to realize that you gain weight in the same places your other family members gain it! Sometimes a family resemblance can be painful, too, especially when there’s fear and heartache attached with it: a history of heart disease; a battered and abused woman fears she will look at her child and see the man who abused her; other examples could be given. There’s one family resemblance that is rarely talked about. No one is proud of it. Everyone would rather forget it, but everyone has it. I look like you in this way; you look like me. We have a common ancestor, and we look just like him. Not sure who I am talking about? The Bible gives us his name, and genetics reveals that we all have descended from him. His name is Adam. No last name. Just Adam. The father of all human beings.

The resemblance? Well, like noses and ear lobes, it comes in different shapes and sizes, but everyone has it. Its official name is “sin,” and it trips us up, discourages us, and fascinates us all. It is that desire to look out for oneself over others; it is that tendency to do lie to ourselves and others; and it is responsible for ALL the pain and suffering going on around us. Although it’s far easier to spot in others than to spot it in ourselves, it devastates us when we find it within us and realize that no power on earth can tear it from our hearts. We can get plastic surgery or liposuction to change our physical inheritance, but our spiritual one will haunt us to our graves. Within our souls, we resemble all the evil ever to have plagued the planet.

“Adam’s Family Album”

Are those dark spots
Real? or is something
Wrong with my eyes
As I look through the
Family photos?
So many sad eyes behind
Merry faces;
So many sin-discolored
Pictures, the tell-tale
Color of iniquity soaking
Through the pasted smiles.
Do You have an almighty pen
That will remove
The spots?
Sponge away
The tears behind sad eyes?
What white-out can erase
The captions I see
As I view these people?
How can I look
At those around me
With love-colored glasses,
Unafraid to find the sin behind
All the pretty faces?
How can I dare
To look at my own portrait
In the mirror?
Has Black Death disfigured us all?

~JMC

It has. Unmistakably. Go ahead. Look around. Uncover your eyes, and see the disfigurement. We match. We are related. What a family to be a part of!

All but one.

He had only one biological parent. No scientist will ever be able to explain the virgin birth of Christ, but Jesus Christ was born fully human, yet fully divine. And because God is His father, He did not inherit that evil we are all heirs to. Here begins the strangest exchange in all of history: God became a part of the human race so that humans could become part of His family. The Bible calls Jesus Christ the “second Adam” because He came to reverse the damage done by Adam’s sin. No power on earth could remove that tell-tale resemblance, but Jesus brings power from Heaven to do it. John 1:12 says “As many as received Him [Jesus], to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believed on His name.” Belief in Christ and in His power to save us from our sins re-births us into a new family. A new family with different features. Charles Wesley’s familiar Christmas carol puts it this way:

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild–
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic hosts proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ, by highest heav’n adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord:
Late in time behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail th’incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Come, Desire of Naitons, come!
Fix in us Thy humble home:
Rise the woman’s conq’ring seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Adam’s likeness now efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

~ Charles Wesley

Did you catch that last line? “Adam’s likeness now efface,/ Stamp Thine image in its place:/ Second Adam from above,/ Reinstate us in Thy love.” The idea of stamping reminds me of my favorite cookie of all time–Scottish Shortbread Cookies. My mother got the recipe from an old Scottish lady in the church I grew up in. The recipe is relatively simple and oh! so good and buttery and sweet! The last part of the process before baking involves molding the cookies with a special cookie mold. Mom has a wooden mold for “stamping” large cakes of shortbread, and she has several smaller molds for “stamping” shortbread cookies. Shortbread is funny, though: it holds the shape stamped onto it in a quiet, almost subtle way. As the shortbread bakes, the sharp edges smooth out a little as the cookie spreads. But when the cookies are done, the image is still visible, just softer. When we are born again into God’s family, He stamps the image on us of Himself. This stamp is not like a cookie-cutter making everyone exactly the same and boring; no, it’s a softer image that looks a little different on each individual. Still, we all bear that same family resemblance, a better one than the one we come into this world bearing. And, like a baked shortbread cookie, the image cannot be changed. Once we have His image stamped onto us, it is permanently ours. Because Jesus was born into Humanity’s family, because He died to pay for Humanity’s sin, any human being who chooses to may be born into His family. And with that birth comes a new family resemblance: His. The miracle is that God can take us and re-bake us. With His power, the old image of Adam does not have to be permanent. It’s a miracle beyond our total comprehension. But isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

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