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FIRST-PERSON: The calling of family

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–Christmas is an occasion for reflection upon gifts and giving. It is the season in which Christians recollect the good news of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, who is the “Gift of gifts.”

This Christmas I traveled with my wife and children to see my parents, my siblings and their families. It has been several years since we have all been together for the celebration of our Lord’s birth. My parents, both well past 70, are frail and in failing health, and we felt a sense of urgency to be with them this season.

So, the Nelson clan gathered and my parents were surrounded by their four children and nine of their dozen grandchildren. At the conclusion of the holiday one of my siblings commented that we should get together like this more often.

That comment caused me to think about what my parents gave to us this Christmas. I don’t mean the Barnes & Noble gift card they gave me, though I am always grateful for a gift that involves books. Instead, I thought of the illnesses from which Mom and Dad suffer, and the end of days they both face, and the way in which their frailty has drawn our family together again.

Like many families, we children (and now some of the grandchildren) are kept very busy doing the many things we do. We have established our own homes, we nurture our respective families, and we pursue our own vocations. And along the way we have done what so many families do -– we have spent far less time together than we should.

But our Lord, through our parents’ illnesses, has called us together again. Years ago my parents, by God’s grace, gave me life. And now God, by my parents’ difficulties, is giving us a renewed calling to family.

This calling is a “vocation.” By vocation I do not mean a “job” in the mundane sense that we Americans have come to use the term. I mean vocation in the sense of “vocatio” -– a “calling” in the biblical sense.

Too often we think of vocation purely in the sense of ministerial employment. But the biblical sense of vocatio is much richer and broader than this. And biblical vocatio includes the calling of family. God has called me, as he has called each one of us, to be a part of a family, both in the home and in the church. To this God has called us. It is not an option –- it is a God-given vocation.

Several months ago, realizing that he had not too many days left in this life, my Dad asked a favor of me. He asked that when he is gone if I would “tell everyone that Jesus died for our sins, that I have asked Him to forgive me, and that I am ready to go home when He is ready to take me.”

To be faithful to my family vocatio I will gladly fulfill my Dad’s request. Mom and Dad have given to us a Gospel heritage, a calling to first things, to that which matters most. It is an honor to answer such a calling from my heavenly Father given through my earthly father.

This Christmas my parents gave to their children and grandchildren a wonderful gift. Mom and Dad were God’s messengers to us to hear again the calling of God to be a faithful family and to be faithful stewards of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. My parents, in their dying, are reminding us all of the Gift of gifts and the vocatio of family that is ours in Christ. Such a calling is, indeed, very good news and an occasion for great joy.
David Nelson is senior vice president for academic administration, dean of the faculty and professor of theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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  • David Nelson