Years ago, a man told one of our small groups how his son was murdered in the midst of a robbery and the murderer was going on trial in a few days. With tearful eyes, the father described the struggle he would face, day after day sitting in a courtroom listening to gruesome testimony and watching the legal maneuvering to protect someone who took away the life of his son.
For a time after he spoke, no one said a word. What could you say? As I looked around, many were rubbing their eyes, reaching for tissues or openly crying. How could we help someone in so much pain who was about to experience even more heartache?
Finally, the group leader stood and called on us to pray. Before starting however, someone as if on cue got up, stood over the father and gently placed a hand on his shoulder. Quickly all of us joined in so we were gathered around him with hands reaching out to gently touch. The group leader asked for God to give the grieving father Holy courage during the trial. He prayed for God to continually offer comfort in the midst of the pain. He prayed for justice to be done but he also prayed for grace for the father and even for the murderer.
After the prayer ended, everyone, still wiping away tears, hugged the father, hugged each other and slowly took their seats. The father then said: “Thank you. You have helped me more than you will ever know. For months I have suffered in silence while being strong for my children and others. You gave me an opportunity to cry. Maybe someday I can even forgive”
Advent is a time of preparation before the birth of Christ. How should we prepare? Nothing is emphasized in Scripture more often than offering forgiving love. It’s all part of a Christmas present called God’s grace. Is forgiveness ever easy? Of course not, but it is a vital part of learning to put our complete faith and trust in the One who so graciously forgives us.
Here is the best part: As you learn to forgive others, you begin to heal.
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
It sounds so simple. Forgive others and you will be forgiven. Jesus tells of a servant who is forgiven a huge debt by the king, but when presented a similar opportunity to forgive someone else the servant refuses. The king finds out and is outraged. “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured. (Mat 18:32-34)
Someone forgiven of millions promptly rushes out to bash someone’s head in over five bucks? No-brainer! Of course, the idiot should be tortured — right? But the last verse sneaks up on you. “So my heavenly Father will also do to you, if you do not forgive from your heart.” (35)
“Wait a minute!” we want to shout. “Surely you can’t be talking about me? You don’t know how much I’ve been hurt! My spouse abandoned me. I was abused as a child. My business partner skipped town with all the profits. My employer is an unmerciful tyrant. Surely you’re not suggesting that I could be tortured for not offering forgiveness for someone like that?”
Perhaps your torture has already begun. There is a stark reality to life we must all face. People get hurt. People hurt others. What is most important is how you respond?
How you deal with your pain is also a critical factor in your eventual healing. Forgiveness is a process designed primarily for healing the victim rather than an action taken to free the oppressor. The word ‘forgiveness’ is mentioned more than ninety times in the Bible. A psychiatrist wrote, she would lose more than half of her patients if they could truly learn to forgive.
Advent is a time of preparation for receiving the greatest gift of all: Jesus Christ. One part of that preparation is learning to maintain an attitude of forgiveness and grace.
This week we remember and honor the life of Nelson Mandela. One attribute I remember and admire about him most is his ability to forgive. After 27 years of prison, the President of South Africa, could have chosen retribution and revenge but instead chose forgiveness. He once said: “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
Remember the father we prayed for earlier? He sent me a letter several months later after the trial for the murderer of his son concluded.
“Before you all prayed for me, I was trapped within my own hatred. Just being able to share my anger and my pain with all of you; knowing that your prayers and God’s love would be with me throughout the trial helped to ease my suffering. It will take a long time to completely forgive and heal but I’m off to a good beginning.”
Forgiveness ultimately brings healing. The alternative to forgiveness — is torture!
Advent is a time of preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ. How will you prepare? You will never fully appreciate the full glory of Christmas until you are willing to experience the time of preparation known as Advent.