Sisters: A Christmas Story
Listen to “Sisters: A Christmas Story” by Fred Smith
I’ve been reading this week about the disaster of Sumner Redstone’s family. While Sumner built great business ventures in CBS and Viacom, his personal life and that of his entire family is a tale filled with betrayals of trust, conflicts of interest, lawsuits against each other, theft, shady ethics, deceit and greed that steadily consumed them. It is a dismal story played out in families from the beginning of time. It’s not Cain’s spontaneous and raging murder of his brother, Abel. It is the slow and measured killing of love over time. It is the story of sisters Rachel and Leah vying for the affection of Jacob.
From the beginning, Leah knows she is the pawn in the game between her father and Jacob. She’s the placeholder until Jacob can have the one he desires and not the one he was tricked into marrying. Family psychologists have told us that nothing destroys the home like the constant presence of smoldering tension. Leo Tolstoy wrote, “Every happy family is alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The ways of making each other unhappy are almost limitless and nothing could have been truer for this family. Jealousy, envy, resentment, and rivalry were not under the surface. Swords were always drawn. John Steinbeck wrote in “East of Eden”: “It’s awful not to be loved. It’s the worst thing in the world…It makes you mean, and violent, and cruel.”
But Leah found something she could do better than Rachel. She could have children one after the other. Even then, the sadness of her life is reflected in the names of her children and not only the names but the messages built into the names.
Reuben – “Surely my husband will love me now”
Simeon – “The Lord heard I am not loved”
Levi – “My husband will become attached to me”
So it goes for every son born to her. Every child was a constant reminder to her and the entire family that she was unloved, unwanted, and undesired by her husband.
But, something happens along the way in the middle of the child wars. Leah names her fourth son Judah. “This time I will praise the Lord.” It can also be translated as “God will lead”. It was no longer about her relationship with Jacob or the pain in her life. It was an expression of confidence and the birth of trust in her life.
The message of her life has changed. Not all at once because her circumstances have not changed, but her attitude towards them has. She is no longer the victim. The psychotherapist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl wrote: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Long before Frankl wrote that Leah experienced it. The foundation of her life had shifted.
Time goes by and it’s almost one hundred years until Leah’s name is mentioned again – at Jacob’s death in Egypt – and it is nearly a footnote unless you read it carefully. “Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite. There Abraham and his wife, Sarah, were buried and there I buried Leah.” In other words, bury me with Leah. What a remarkable change from their first encounter and their first years together.“You’ve tricked me with this weak-eyed cow” has turned to “I want to be next to her forever.”
What must have happened between the two of them? What is the end result of the silent decades in Jacob’s life with Leah?
All the brothers and their families are together – all 70 them – brought there to Egypt by Rachel’s son, Joseph. They are at peace. There is no more manipulation, jealousy, or anger. They have become a family in spite of all their differences.
This is the remarkable story of a woman who outgrew her circumstances, her handicap, the unfairness of her life and how she patiently shaped one of the most difficult men in Scripture and generations coming afterward.
But there is one more thing to see because, ultimately, it is from her line – Judah – that Jesus is born. It is from the son named “God Will Lead.” And, Isaiah describes him like this:
”He wasn’t some handsome king. Nothing about the way he looked made him attractive to us. He was hated and rejected. His life was filled with sorrow.” (Isaiah 53:2)
But what a difference the descendant of the one who was rejected and not wanted has made. He is the long-expected Messiah – the joy of man’s desiring. Immanuel.