Merry Christmas to you and yours! This is certainly the most wonderful time of the year and I am loving every sign of the season: the colorful light displays in yards and windows, the cars packed in front of homes for family gatherings, walking through Walmart to the strains of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” - the list goes on and on. No matter how dark the world is or seems, Christmastime is a welcome reminder of the great and unchanging fact that Jesus Christ left the glory and majesty of Heaven to come here to save us.
I was talking with an acquaintance just the other day who was worried about the news and for how dark things appear for our kids and grandkids. She confessed to me that, though her belief in God has not wavered, her hope in Him and His goodness has lately come into question and even doubt. She wondered why God, Who can do anything, doesn’t do anything to stop the terrible violence and confusion happening all around the world. If He truly is good, why doesn’t He step in? I appreciated her honesty and transparency, and our too-brief exchange prompted me to think deeply. Christmas is a great time to ponder and remember.
Christmastime reminds us, as followers of Jesus, of some of the most foundational truths of our faith. We set up nativity scenes to commemorate the wondrous fact that our great God condescended to be born of a young, obscure virgin in a stable of all places, and was laid by HIs mother into a stable's feeding trough since there was no room anywhere else for the young family. We sing joyful anthems to mingle our voices with the great host of angels who proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests!” We gather around beautiful, lighted trees to remember the great star that God placed in the sky to guide the wise men from far-off lands towards the flesh-and-blood newborn King. We give and receive special gifts to emulate our gracious Creator Who gave His beloved Son, and our Savior Who gave His life.
But the backdrop of all of these lovely things was, and still is, a tough, unforgiving world. My acquaintance was not wrong to notice that the struggle is long and arduous. This world is filled with daily reminders that sin has tainted everything - our hearts, our relationships, even the very earth itself. But she had forgotten that God most certainly has done something about it...
After each long year, Christmas serves as a mile-marker in life: the world is fallen, but as Jesus said, “Take heart, for I have overcome the world!”
This Christmas, I hope you have many special and meaningful gifts underneath your tree, both to give and receive. But I’d also love to encourage and remind you of some of the greatest gifts God generously gives to us. Think of all the fantastic things He has given! Life, breath, love, sunsets, beautiful music, dark roast coffee and key lime pie…the list is long and wonderful. Then consider the tremendous spiritual gifts He has bestowed: salvation, renewal, Spirit empowerment, eternal life - this list is even longer and more stunning in its generosity and kindness. And some gifts of God are given first to be experienced personally, and then to share with others: grace, forgiveness, mercy, all the fruit of the Spirit, and much more. Today, let’s look at one of these great gifts God has given to share...
The Gift of Reconciliation
Try to distill all of the struggles of the world into one sentence; what is the problem? I think the angels referenced it in their declaration to the shepherds - namely, there is so little peace. At best, we catch occasional glimpses of it, but the peaceful stretches never last long. Ever since the very first family of Adam and Eve, where one son murdered his brother, the defining characteristic of life after the fall has been strife. Husband vs. wife, parent vs. child, sibling vs. sibling, boss vs. worker, poor vs. rich, race vs. race, religion vs. religion, man vs. wild, even man vs. God. Truthfully, it goes al the way back to the moment Satan rebelled against God, and the angels have been fighting back demonic fallen angels ever since. There is little peace on earth or beyond. Oswald Chambers stated wisely that the world story is tragic, and only extreme optimists or people who simply haven’t thought much believe otherwise.
We are all in a mess. Most of us know this from personal, and probably even recent, experience: the world is broken and painful - truly tragic and so often void of peace.
Not just our own generation, but every single generation that has come before us. Evil has infiltrated creation, and everyone alive must learn to fight against it, or risk being consumed. This is part of our life’s work as followers of Christ: to learn to let God make good come out of the evil we experience (and sometimes cause) in our lives.
Remember what the angels announced in their song, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace on whom His favor rests.” Heaven was rejoicing that night in full view of the shepherds - something marvelous and new and revolutionary had happened…the Prince of Peace was born! Jesus left the glory of Heaven to come for us so that we might have peace with God, and through that, peace with one another.
This Christmas, there is not much that any of us can do to solve all of the world’s great problems, though we all wish we could. Wars and geopolitical conflict are not anything most of us can control or influence at all, beyond fervent and faithful prayer. But there is something important that each of us can right now, today, to help spread the peace of Christ throughout the earth - we can pass God’s incredible gift of reconciliation along to someone close. We can bring His peace into our own relationships.
Of the people you actually know and have relationship with, who makes your blood boil? With whom in your home, family, office, class, neighborhood, or church community are you currently at odds? Certainly, if you have caused the grief, then I encourage you to ask for forgiveness. But perhaps someone has done something awful to you. It could be all kinds of things - someone betrayed you, or rejected you, or humiliated you, or ignored you, or hurt you, or just hurt your feelings. Perhaps this person has spread nasty rumors or said vile things about you online, or even to your face. Maybe they have done or said that awful thing to you one too many times, and you’ve let a high wall be built in your heart between you and them.
But Jesus has demonstrated again and again that He will forgive even the vilest sinner, restoring peace; not just extending forgiveness, but also restoring relationship. And He has given us the power to do the same. The best gift we can give this Christmas is to offer His beautiful gift of reconciliation to someone else.
Is it easy? No.
Will everyone joyfully receive our gift? No.
Can it be healing and helpful to our own hearts and homes? Yes!
Will following Christ’s example of reconciliation help us grow spiritually? Yes!
Last year, we visited a beautiful land in the Middle East, and made a stop in a modest village, at an even more modest building, which housed the local congregation of Christ-followers. These people had so little themselves, but gave all they had to help a large population of Syrian refugees who had been relocated into their neighborhood. They frequently collected food, clothing, home goods, and just about everything else you could imagine to share with these men, women, and children who had been totally displaced by civil war. Their ministry outreach to the children of this group was particularly robust, and fruitful. I was loving hearing story after story of boys and girls who had heard the stories of Jesus for the first time in their lives from these faithful Christians, with quite a few experiencing dreams and visions of Christ Himself. Many had not yet responded in accepting the Prince of Peace, but the beautiful and startling thing is that some had, and their precious young hearts were transformed. And their parents could not help noticing that the Christians in town were the only group who tried to help meet their great need. My own heart was deeply stirred by the remarkable selflessness and generosity of this band of believers.
But later that afternoon, it struck me that I had somehow missed an enormous piece of the story. One of the ladies was telling about a beautiful and uncommon snowfall that had occurred earlier in the year. Some of the refugee children had run out into the streets and alleys, and had made snowmen, as children often do. But, instead of putting a hat and scarf or a carrot nose on their creations, a few of the children took turns lopping the heads off the snowmen with their stick-swords, mimicking what they knew their fathers often had done back home. For, you see, these refugees were all Isis soldiers and their families who had been run out of their homeland because of their violence and chaos.
These local Christians were putting their own lives and families and physical well-being at great risk in sharing the Gospel with people so detested by the bulk of society. Yet not one of them seemed hindered by the severity of the evil committed by those former soldiers, as though there were some sort of scale that could be tipped to “too severe” or as though there were some sins for which the blood of Jesus is insufficient. They were little concerned for their own reputations, or “platforms”, or boundaries, as so many of us would be in this age. The very air we all breath in this modern world is infused with wrath and vengeance, especially in their local context, but these Christians refused to inhale those noxious fumes, and instead gave off the very fragrance of Christ as they extended His offer of forgiveness and reconciliation. In the world’s eyes, none of them had much money, or power, or prestige. They simply had Jesus and His promises, which actually made them stronger, more powerful, and more impactful than anyone else I’ve ever met. My heart bowed in the presence of these spiritual giants.
This Christmas, let Jesus bring such peace into your own strife. When you gather with your family and friends, or get back to class or the office after the holidays, let the love and forgiveness that Jesus freely shares flow from your heart to the person who has been your enemy. None of us can control another’s actions or reactions, but with God's help we can all control our own. Jesus has loved and forgiven us, no matter what rebellion and pride has lurked in our own hearts, so we can extend this same grace to others. We have been reconciled to God, now let’s pass along this lovely gift!
If possible, pick up your phone and call the person with whom you’ve had such strife, or even offer to treat them to lunch. Let love and peace take the place of bitterness and unforgiveness. If you cannot meet or speak with them, certainly pray for them, bless them, think of how deeply God loves them, then let the Prince of Peace lovingly remove that chip off your shoulder, and melt the ice in your heart. Allow the love and healing of God to flow into your life, and into your relationships, and let Him bring His lasting peace in place of strife. This truly is what Christmas is all about.
I pray that the deep love and peace of our Savior fill your heart and home this season - Merry Christmas and God bless you!
The Word of God has so much to say about relationship and reconciliation. I'd love for you to join me in reading and thinking more about healthy community - click this link to order your copy!
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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