December 1 – one month to a new year. So many ups and downs with this year coming to a close. Were plans achieved? Or did I quietly tuck them away back in January, only hoping to pull them out in the New Year and dust them off? Most importantly, what did I learn from this year?
This time becomes bittersweet for me because December is when my dad passed away, 25 years ago. All I want for Christmas is for it to quickly bypass all the activity that is associated with it. All my soul wants is the quiet reflection of what this time means and where to go from here. I can’t explain it, but I love the Silent Night and being reminded of a king who came to forgive us of all our sins. It’s a simple message but we spend so much time trying to stay away from it. If we stay busy, we won’t be reminded of this king’s great gift.
My dad’s favorite song at this time of year was the Little Drummer Boy. The line that would get my dad each time was where the boy sang that ‘he had no gift to bring that’s not fit for a king;’ yet the boy gave his all in playing his drum.
For many years, my dad saw himself as one who thought he was never good enough, especially to be forgiven. Perhaps the greatest event for him to think this to be true was what had happened to him in Vietnam. My dad never discussed his time in the war with his family, but there were times he opened up to my mom and she would tell us this story.
My dad was supposed to be in the back of a truck carrying supplies while in Vietnam. It was my understanding that he traded places with a fellow soldier. The soldier was tired and wanted some rest. So my dad offered to drive. As he was driving, they ran over a landmine of some sort, killing the soldier in the back of the truck and injuring my dad. Upon my dad’s return to the United States, he visited the soldier’s family who refused to forgive him and blamed him for the death of their son.
For almost 30 years, my father lived with this guilt. Every time my mom would share Christ’s love with him, my dad would have nothing of it. It would not be until December 2, 1993, after being ill in the hospital, that my dad shared with my mom that this was something he needed to let go of and he needed to finally forgive this family so that he could feel free and forgiven. It was a hurt that my dad could not let go of in the past and it kept him from loving Christ and his family the way he desired to love them. On December 13, my dad would pass away and finally be at rest.
Sometimes we wait for others to seek us out and ask for our forgiveness. We, ourselves never seek restoration. We’d rather choose to live with deep hurt and forego a joy that Christ offers us when we seek out the offender or those we have offended. We spend so much time with hurts and unforgiveness in our own hearts that we forget to offer it ourselves despite what may have transpired in the past.
This past week so many people have shared similar stories of missed years with loved ones or friends because they held onto grudges. They only kept their hearts hardened against those that offended them so long ago. It is when we hold onto these offenses that we often miss the blessing that God has for us and for the future of our loved ones.
Mike shared a story with me about two men, Karl Barth and Cornelius Van Til, who were very prominent theologians in the mid-20th century. These men were scholars whose ideas differed greatly on the spectrum of Biblical content, yet both esteemed highly. In their desire to share to the world of their immense knowledge, they would often cut each other down in writings or in public. Here were two men who might have been able to forge wisdom, yet appeared only to hold contempt for one another. Here is a brief summary of the story:
It was in 1962. Previously, Barth had been rude toward Van Til. However, he took a step towards reconciliation when he was visiting Princeton to give a series of lectures. Van Til used the opportunity to write to Barth: “When you came to Princeton I called up the Seminary and asked whether I could see you but was discouraged from doing so. When I looked for an opportunity to shake hands with you after your Princeton lectures and you were hurried away. When at last I did come near to you in the hallway and somebody called your attention to my presence and you graciously shook hands with me, saying: ‘You said some bad things about me but I forgive you, I forgive you,’ I was too overwhelmed to reply.”
So much hurt between two men. Can you imagine what they may have accomplished together? If only these words had been expressed earlier—I. Forgive. You!
As I end my story, be reminded of how in Luke 7, a woman of ill-repute, entered the home of a prominent Pharisee where Jesus was dining. She took an alabaster box, wept at Jesus’ feet, wiped them with her tears, and anointed them with perfume. The Pharisees judged this woman and what she was doing. Yet in Jesus’ love and mercy, he says to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” She knew what she had done. She wanted to show Jesus that she was repentant. Jesus knew her heart and forgave her.
Can we imagine if we were to do this at Christmas and offer forgiveness to those we have offended or who offended us? The mere joy of being restored unto fellowship with one another and receiving the blessing of love.
These are the gifts I truly cherish at this time of the year. Reminders of God’s immense love and the healing in souls. This is why Christ came to earth. To offer forgiveness for all we have done against him. This is love and is the greatest gift in moving forward to what he has for us.
I love you all! Merry Christmas & God bless you for 2019!
Song: You Belong to Me by Grey Holiday