Until Next Year

Ah, Christmas is over. We’ve cheered in the New Year. And now we take down the greenery, fold away the stockings, roll up the lights, wrap up the Nativity or the Menorah, and breath a deep sigh of relief. We made it through what may in fact be the most difficult time of the year instead of “the most wonderful time of the year.” I’m not talking about the Christmas rush, the hustle of shopping, the agony of late night wrapping sprees, the stress of following tradition to the letter. I’m talking about making it through Christmas dinner without someone spoiling the figgy pudding. Let’s face it, few of us live the Norman Rockwell version of holiday gatherings. In reality, more of us can relate to the Griswold family (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation) or the McCallister family (Home Alone). Black sheep, skeletons, wacky family members, difficult personalities, battles never resolved or released, political or religious differences all threaten to rock the boat, dredge up real and perceived hurts, rip off the metaphorical band-aids so carefully applied, shake loose feuds years if not decades old. If we can get through the togetherness of the holidays without further scarring, we count it a blessing. There has to be a Keep Calm and Carry On mentality for the holidays.

I needed some new Christmas music this year. I was feeling a little bored. So, I downloaded Jason Gray’s new Christmas album, Christmas Stories… Repeat the Sounding Joy. Each song on the album corresponds to a character in the Biblical Christmas story. From the song “I Will Find a Way” which ponders God’s view of how to reach his people to the innkeeper’s song “Rest” which speaks loudly to our own need to put aside the busyness of life in order to see what is happening in front of our nose, the album is a collection of thought-provoking songs that retell the Christmas story in a way that is accessible to us today. The song for Joseph has haunted me, however. Titled “Forgiveness Is a Miracle,” the song contemplates Joseph’s reaction and role in the story. Was he bitter, raging over betrayal, or did he cry in disappointment? Was there pain and vengeance at first?

“When love is like an open wound there’s no way to stop the bleeding. Did you lose sleep over what to do? Between what’s just and what brings healing? Pain can be the road to find compassion when we don’t understand and bring a better end. It takes a miracle to show us… forgiveness is a miracle. And a miracle can change your world… The forgiveness that you gave would be given back to you because you carried in your heart what she was holding in her womb. Love was in a crowded barn. There you were beside her kneeling.… You held it in your arms as the miracle started breathing… and the miracle will save the world.
Blessed Joseph, your heart has proven  and through you the kingdom has come. For God delights in a man of mercy and has found an earthly father for his son.”

As a member and volunteer at Compassion Tea now for a year and a half, I’ve found myself asking what does compassion look like off the page. How does that play out in daily life? Is it random acts of kindness, paying it forward, smiling and exhibiting patience in difficult circumstances, not smelling like the world? Is it sending money, shoeboxes, animals, medical supplies to people in far away places? This song suggests that compassion is found in forgiveness. Sounds easy, delightfully so, right!
I find myself telling the kids all the time, “Say you’re sorry.” Whether it is a slight push, a rolling of the eyes, a perceived-to-be-malicious bump, they come screaming to me about how they’ve been wronged. Often times, when we dig through it together it is a miscommunication or misunderstanding. But bending your will and your pride to admit wrongdoing can be excruciating. When Clara was smaller, and she was asked to apologize to someone, she would dissolve into a puddle of tears. She couldn’t bring herself to apologize. She was so ashamed or frightened to admit wrongdoing that she would prefer to ignore it. Facing our own ugliness is not that appealing. And letting go and forgiving? Equally painful.

But “Pain can be the road to find compassion….” croons Gray. Looking deep into the pain can bring us a better understanding of motive, of the woundedness inside the perpetrator. Peeling off layers of onion makes me cry every time. Searching through the pain surrounding a situation can too. It’s the proverbial “walk a mile in a man’s moccasins” kind of thinking. “Put yourself in his shoes.” But how do we get out of our own tightly-tied tennies to try on someone else’s?

I can’t really offer an answer. I struggle with this daily. There are wounds deep and decades long that are dug deeper and longer with each passing day. To forgive for the past is difficult when the present sees the same injuries being perpetrated. Will it ever stop? Will he/she/the situation ever change?

How many times have I told my kids that the only thing they can change about situations is themselves? We can change our outlook, our attitude, our understanding. But we can’t change others, as much as we would like to. So, I suppose compassion looks like changing one’s attitude or understanding to listen and look deep into the pain of another even if that person has hurt us. But don’t stop and grovel. Climbing down into the mire with another gets you both stuck in the mud.

“Forgiveness is a miracle.…” Gray turns the phrase later in the song to “Forgiveness is the miracle.” The simplicity of a changed article! When God sent Jesus in the form of a baby boy on the night we now celebrate as Christmas, He knew in advance what the end outcome would be. He had announced it multiple times to His prophets, He had set the stage with decrees about atonements and sacrifices, He had repeatedly shown mercy and forgiveness to His people even though they consistently turned away from Him to worship the works of their own hands. And as soon as he began preaching, Jesus referenced it as well. His death was the necessary sacrifice to once and for all time wipe away the sins of the world. Through belief in his death and resurrection, the deadness of sin can be thrown off and the life of a forgiven person can be lived.

Yesterday, Joseph asked me what Christmas has to do with Easter. Everything! You can’t have the one without the other. And thank goodness. Because of His example of forgiveness and His promise of forgiveness, we can trust God to work in every situation and every heart. He, the great big creator of the universe and of little bitty me and you, is the only one who can bring about the change that leads to forgiveness and reconciliation. No, don’t climb down into the mire with another who has wronged you. Stop, look, listen, and then offer the hand of God’s grace. Be a man of mercy, prayerfully asking for your own forgiveness and for the reconciliation that only God can bring. He sent us His son, every single one of us; He can drag anyone out of the mire.

With an eye to the new year, I find myself wondering in and through what ways God is going to bring His forgiveness to the world this year and how He will use you and me. Compassion, mercy, forgiveness… what will that look like this time next year? How will that change our 2013 holiday dinners?

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  1. Until Next Year « compassiontea

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