Thursday, December 26, 2019

A Time for Giving and Forgiving?

‘Twas the day after Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring – except for those who continued to grouse.

Gifts have been unwrapped, given and received, and for some it’s permission to shed their festive holiday facades and resume their miserable pre-holiday moods. Their inner bah-humbug can finally re-emerge into the open. As if there had been no times for glad tidings and good cheer at all. But does it have to be this way?

Leading up to Christmas we had Black Friday, then Cyber Monday, followed by Giving Tuesday. But why does the giving have to stop with Dec. 25? Perhaps there’s a need to continue giving, long after the ooh’s and aah’s of Christmas have silenced, unwanted gifts returned, and retailers resume scheming about what the hot products will be for next Christmas.

There’s a practical, fiscal reason to start with. Non-profit organizations are preparing to close their annual budgets, hoping to settle into the black as a new year begins. So, having enjoyed the blessings of material giving as both givers and recipients on Christmas morning, it might be good to designate the day after as a time for giving to noble causes we believe in, as well as rack up some last-minute tax deductions.

My wife and I make charitable donations throughout the year to entities whose services we value. These include our local church, a variety of ministries, and several agencies devoted to assisting the poor and needy. But I find it fun to give a little extra just as another calendar is ushered out. 

When Jesus said, “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), He wasn’t uttering an idealistic platitude. Being able to share from our resources to enhance others’ lives benefits not only them, but ours as well. This practice helps to shift our attention from ourselves and our wants, responding to the legitimate needs of others.

Can you imagine how God felt when He looked upon a broken, sin-riddled, hopelessly wayward humanity and sent His own Son to serve as the atonement for their grievous sins? I don’t think there’s any way we can fully comprehend what this meant for Him, but we do know, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life” (John 3:16). Among the many wonderful things our Lord is, He’s a giver. And perhaps we never look more like Him than when we ourselves are giving, freely, unselfishly, even sacrificially.

But there’s another kind of “giving” that many of us would be wise to pursue and apply that could be revolutionary. How about engaging in some healthy, life-changing for-giving? Almost every day we hear about someone who suffered harm of some sort, whether it was inflicted physically, psychologically or emotionally. The damage might have resulted from neglect rather than overt action. Regardless of how it came about, in its wake we find resentment, bitterness, anger, even hatred.

Sometimes wrongs committed seem beyond forgiveness; other times unresolved conflicts fester, escalating far beyond the level of the original damage. Either way, lack of forgiveness has a way of destroying the unforgiver, as well as the unforgiven.

Contrast this to the image of the young man in the news whose unarmed brother was unwittingly killed by a police officer who somehow confused his apartment with her own. Upon her conviction, the surviving brother, rather than spewing words of rage and hatred, actually stepped forward to embrace the clearly distraught woman in a grand and wonderful act of forgiveness. 

This did not bring his brother back to life. Nor did it erase the grief he felt in having lost a beloved sibling. But like chains taken off a prisoner, the young man’s willingness to forgive freed him of the burden of bitterness that was certain to remain if he didn’t.

On the cross, Jesus in the throes of deadly pain, said an incredible thing: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Those who had wrongly convicted Him of crimes He had not committed knew they were ridding themselves of a “problem,” but hardly realized the magnitude of their murderous scheming: That they were seeking to kill God incarnate, who had come to redeem fallen and unreconcilable humanity.

In 1 John 2:12, the apostle declares, “I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his (Jesus’) name.” In His so-called Lord’s Prayer, Jesus provided an example when He prayed, “and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us” (Matthew 6:12). When God has forgiven us for so much, who are we not to forgive others – no matter what they have done?

So if, as echoes of Christmas frivolity begin to fade, you find yourself wallowing in unforgiveness, give yourself one more gift: the gift of forgiveness. Not only for the one who has offended or harmed you, but also for yourself. This world is so filled with pain – why inflict yourself with more of it? After all, we might rightly say that Christmas is for giving and forgiving.

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