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For many people Christmas is a blend of both joy and sadness. Unpacking the Christmas decorations box each year provokes some powerful memories. I was putting our own tree up with my son and my mother this week and she said, “You know I still remember vividly putting the tree up with my father”. I was reflecting upon this and many of my own early memories of putting up the tree with my dad came to mind. Equally I have also chatted to friends for whom even these early memories are inaccessible because their fathers were absent from their lives from a young age. It has struck me that regardless of the specific nature of our experience; many many people suffer what I call a ‘Father Wound’.
Whist pondering this Advent passage Matthew 1:1-17 passage and also completing Paul Scanlon's great book, “I am not my father”. I really felt led to approach this really sensitive subject today as possibly the most important Christmas message I have ever prepared. I want to apologise for being more script dependent today, that is because of the sensitivity of the material and my desire to get the phrasing absolutely right. I also anticipate some strong reactions. That is really fine. Sometimes bringing these things to light can uncover disconnected anger or sadness. Please give permission to whatever emotions may come to the surface.
A couple of caveats before we continue:
Firstly I am going to use the language of father and son relationship today, but it is purely because the text is loaded that way and I would want all women read that phrase father daughter; being fully included.
Secondly some parents may feel guilt about broken relationships which mean that their own children don’t have a full relationship with their fathers. Please don’t listen to this guilt. The resolution of this talk demonstrates precisely why you don’t have to.
Thirdly you can deeply love and adore your father (as I do) and still carry a father wound. This is not about attributing blame or dishonouring our fathers, it is about recognising what God has come to restore us.
If you look with me the text 1 v 1 says, “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of Abraham:” Some people argue that John’s Gospel is the one that makes the purposes of God clear at the beginning. But I want to argue that this single verse is even plainer about the work of God in Christ. John’s opening passage it’s titled, ‘The word became flesh’, but look here in Matthew and that fleshliness is not an ethereal concept it is a concrete reality. This is the account of the physical son-ship of Jesus.
Matthew gives v2-17 with the abbreviated headline that his fathers were both Abraham and David. For a Jewish audience this was a central indication of his messiahship by being the fulfilment of core Old Testament Prophesy. But this passage is much more than simply affirming that Jesus was the real Messiah of God, it actually speaks of the work of redemption that he had come to perform. Remember that the Israel anticipated a militaristic Messiah from the line of David who would overthrow the Romans and create a perfect state. Many of Jesus followers anticipated that work even in the final days before his crucifixion.
But look here…In verse 1v1 of Matthews Gospel, God becomes man and enters into the broken ladder of father and son history. God is born into the very thing that needs fixing.
Let’s take a look at the different Father Wounds that I illustrate from the first half of the list.
1) The wound of fear of violence: In V2 Isaac was nearly the subject of Child sacrifice at the hands of his own father, and whilst he was spared by God’s provision of a ram, this experience of trauma doubtless marked his life.
Many sons and daughters have suffered a range of violent or threatening experiences at the hands of their fathers. This typical manifests itself in anxiety, rage and even violence within the next generation.
2) The wound of deception: In V3 we meet the mother of Perez; Tamar. She was actually Judah’s daughter in law but seduced him in disguise as a prostitute.
Many of the father wounds we carry come in the form of deceptions from the past. Perhaps there were things that have been withheld from you, which you subsequently found out which altered the whole father image you carried. Father Wounds like these can cause a real crisis of confidence as sons and daughters ask, if he can do that…who am I?
3) The wound of the absence. In V4 we see the great warrior Nahshon, celebrated soldier of Judah but also absent father to Salmon who marries the prostitute of Jericho Rahab (v5).
Some people carry this father wound manifest with an angry core because their father chose to opt out of life, effectively rejecting them in a knowing way. Others carry the same wound in a more bitter or disappointed skin because their father died or was separated from them against his will.
People who suffer from this wound can try to find their identity in the eyes of others or just shy away from ever being fully known.
4) The wound of shame. In V6 we see David’s fatherhood of Solomon. Interestingly here Bathsheba is not even named; she is simply referred to as the woman who ‘has been Uriah’s wife’. In fact she had been married to Uriah when David had seduced her and David subsequently murdered Uriah.
Shame is such a powerful emotion which can stain generations of a family. The omission of Bathsheba’s name is so telling of the ‘if you don’t talk about it, maybe it will go away”. Sadly with shame, the less you talk about it, the less likely it is to go away.
Many people carry shame over their fathers, feeling that their values, actions or words are an embarrassment.
Is it surprising that Salomon lived what he learnt, believing than no woman was out of his reach?….having 700 wives and 300 concubines.
5) The wound of control. The 2 kings that followed Solomon in v7; his son, Rehoboam and Grandson Abijah have their controlling lives recorded for posterity in the book of 1Kings if you want to read further.
Many sons and daughters carry the wounds of having been subject to controlling, manipulative fathers. Typically they suffer from low self esteem as a result and commonly question their own decisions. Very often they will also feel high levels of guilt that they cannot find a locus for.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of the father wounds that you may carry, but these are some of the biggest and most impacting. The thing that we can really notice is how strongly the father’s behaviour can influence that of the son.
The bible is the story of original sin, the mistakes of the fathers, initially Adams’ that led to the mistakes of Cain who killed his brother and so on. It is amazing to me as a father that you have to teach your children to do good but you don’t have to teach them to do bad. Even now at 1 my son wilfully chooses wrong. He knows that throwing food from his high chair is wrong, yet with a cheeky grin he hurls it to the floor. I look at myself and think have I modelled that, no way, my wife would allow that! At the same time I know that however hard I try, my son will carry father wounds as a result of my life, my deficiencies and my mistakes.
Here is the thing, no matter how many times we have tried for a fresh start since the beginning of the world, the transmission of father wounds and their consequences to the sons of the next generation has never ceased. The Psalmist says PS 79:8 “Do not hold against us the sins of the fathers; may your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need.”
I want to hit the pause button here to say something really important: Healing from father wounds is possible and we will move towards that in a moment. However, there is temptation that we get into a mindset of blaming our fathers for the mistakes that we ourselves make. Firstly you need to know that forgiveness not blame is the route to healing and secondly you need to be aware that God does not hold our fathers accountable for our sins. In Ezekiel 18:4 says, “Every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son--both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die.”
An additional point to make here is that there has been some chatter around charismatic circles for a while about generational curses. Again, we need to be really cautious here, if by that we mean patterns of broken behaviour and negative influence then fine. If however, we mean that we are somehow bound by a mysterious curse to do bad things then we are really off track.
Now let’s step back into the text at verse 16 of Matthew 1. Here you will read something very subtly different to what we have read before. “Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, OF WHOME WAS BORN JESUS, WHO IS CALLED CHRIST”.
Notice that Joseph is not described as the father of Jesus, he is described as the husband of Mary. So this is the starting place for healing. Jesus was not subject to father wounds because his father was God. In fact in Luke 2:48 Mary and Joseph frantically search for Jesus. His response when challenges in v49 is “Why were you searching for me didn’t you know I had to be in my fathers house?”
God sent his son Jesus into the broken ladder of generations of father wounds in order that the origin of all father wounds might be healed. Jesus came in order that our dislocation from father God might be resolved. At his baptism in Matthew 3:17 Jesus hears what our hearts are desperate to hear, “This is my son, whom I love with whom I am well pleased”.
Our healing from Father wounds begins as we see beyond our earthly father to a heavenly father who as it says in Romans 8:23 is adopting us as sons, through the work of his son Jesus. When Jesus teaches us to pray in Matthew 6:9 he says begin with, ‘Our Father.’
Jesus’ birth into this messy linage of generational father wounds was to put a full stop on an unending sentence. His death on the cross was the moment when we went from being ‘the sons of our fathers’ to being the sons and daughters of God. Rebecca the Space coordinator and I were chatting about her favourite verse John 20:17 when the risen Jesus says to Mary, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to my father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, “I am returning to my father and your father, to my God and your God”.
Friends. I want to tell you that despite the depths of your earthly father wounds, and I know many of you for whom those run dramatically deep. You are not defined by your genealogy. The break in the text at Matthew 1:17 is the most important break in the whole bible, it is the break from your past, it is the break from the inevitability of generational patterns, it is the break from unforgiveness and it is the break to take.
For many people today, reconciliation with our earthly father is not possible, it may not even to safe or advisable. Yet hear the words of Rom 5:10, 11 “ For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
Healing of a father wound begins by the healing of The Father Wound and that way has been made possible through the Son Jesus Christ. I am wondering this Christmas time if you are willing to accept that break, put your trust in him and become a son or daughter again. I am also wondering if you already trust in him, are you willing to offer him your heart for healing and in prayer to offer forgiveness for the earthly father who wounded you.
With the blessing of your heavenly Father,