Forgiveness at Christmas

 


It was a cold Sunday morning two weeks before Christmas and each seat in the sanctuary was filled as the worship team began singing; Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.  Soon the collective voices of the congregation rose in praise as faces and hands were lifted up towards heaven; early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee. 

Toward the back of the sanctuary and several seats in from the isle Henry reluctantly stood with the other worshippers.  He was feeling uncomfortable and wished his wife had chosen seats in the very back so he could leave without disturbing anyone.   Henry could hear the passion in the united voices; holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!  But his heart felt no passion; it was heavy with guilt and defensiveness.

Henry’s guilt and shame gave birth to a defensive attitude which was the direct  byproduct of a bad decision he had made several months ago and no matter how hard he tried to escape it the guilt clung to his conscience like fly paper.  He’d tried to creatively explain away this bad decision but his conscience knew better, the result was an unhappy, defensive, and very guilty feeling Henry.  His mind obsessively said”you’re guilty, you’re not worthy of God’s love”.  Henry’s spirit was uncomfortable and he wanted to leave but couldn’t, people would notice and wonder what’s wrong.  The singing continued; God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

Distracted, Henry began to examine all the worshipers with their faces and voices lifted towards God.  Oh how he wished to be like them entering into worship without the guilt and heaviness that was wrapped around his black soul.  Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee. 

Henry noticed Ralph a local business man who was known as a bit of a conniver, worshipping.  There was Ellen a suspected homosexual, worshipping.  Henry moved his eyes up and down the rows making a mental note about the imperfect humans who were worshipping God.  There was the gossip, alcoholic, ex-drug addict, the twice divorced, the liar, the abused and abuser, and of course the rigidly religious one who was always doing the right thing but also managed to judge harshly those who didn’t add up to her exacting standards.  They all kept singing; Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee, who was and is, and evermore shall be.

A tiny bead of warmth started to grow in Henry’s chest as he thought about how flawed each worshiper was; they were all sinners just like him.  Not a one of them stood without sin before man, but before God they were sinless through the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ.  The third verse continued: Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee, perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity.

It was just a few weeks before Christmas and Henry hadn’t bothered to think about the birth of Jesus he’d been too consumed with his own quilt not to mention stressing over work and the family budget.  But, as the bead of warmth spread through his body Henry began to consider the miracle of Jesus’ birth and how this child was born to save the world from sin.  “God, please forgive me and help me to accept your forgiveness” Henry prayed as tiny tears moistened the corner of his eyes.

The bondage of guilt and defensiveness was loosened in Henry’s spirit by the divine knowledge that God saw him sinless through the blood of Jesus. For the first time in months Henry’s spirit felt free to worship.  Henry lifted his voice in praise with the congregation; Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea.  Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty, God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

May the deep meaning of Jesus’ birth and the cleansing power of his blood be made real to you this Christmas season.

Debora Shelford Hobbs

The lyrics to Holy, Holy, Holy by  Reginald Heber

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee; Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty! God in three Persons blessed Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee, Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea; Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee, Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.

Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide Thee, though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see; only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee, Perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea; Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty! God in three Persons blessed Trinity!

 

The Rest of the Story

A few years ago I wrote a post called Overcoming Resentment.  It is a story that covers a three year period in my life that taught me a hard lesson about pride, resentment, and forgiveness.  Since writing that post, the story came full circle and now I must share the rest of that saga because it is one that shows how the ashes of our lives really can be turned to beauty.

For background purposes, here’s a quick summary of Overcoming Resentment:  When my two youngest children were preschoolers an older couple living next door didn’t like the noise and chaos that radiates out of little kids.  The couple regularly called the police with complaints against my children for side walk chalk, wading pool noise, and laughing and yelling from childish play.  They tape recorded the kid’s noise and played it back at distortion levels into the street.  There were many other terrible events during that three year period and our neighborhood became a hostile place and I became bitter and resentful toward my neighbors.

I had been convicted for months to go and talk to the lady of the house but I always made the excuse that I wasn’t to blame for the problems;  I shouldn’t be the one to apologize…she should. But the Lord persisted with the conviction and the end finally came when I was flipping through my bible and landed on Job 36:13 – The godless in heart harbor resentment; even when he fetters them, they do not cry for help.
After reading that passage, I realized that the Godless person full of resentment was me and I could no longer wait to apologize to my neighbor.  I had to take responsibility for my part.  I told God that I was too chicken to phone, but would go outside and work in the yard and if they came out, I would apologize.  As I walked out my door, their garage door went up and out stepped the lady.  With a pounding heart, I called her name and walked over to her yard and apologized.  After that conversation, they never called the police on my kids again. 

As the years moved forward, our previous enemies became our friends.  That in itself was an amazing shift but even more incredible was when she was diagnosed with lung cancer six years ago; I became an active part of her life.  This woman who once hated me, called me frequently for help and when she passed away a year ago, I held her hand as she lay dying.  But the biggest blessing of all was praying with her for salvation before she died.

After her death, I kept an eye out for her husband as he was in his late 80’s and alone as his children live out of state.   Two weeks ago, I pulled into my driveway late one afternoon and noticed that his outside lights were still on and the newspaper still lay in the driveway.  Dread overwhelmed me as he is like clockwork in his actions and his lights are out and newspaper always picked up by 10:00 AM.  I called him several times and went over to his house to ring the door bell.  There was no answer.  I peeked in his windows to see if I could see him on the floor but all I saw was the coat he always wore, hanging on the back of a chair.  I grabbed the spare set of house keys they had given me, timidly went into his house, and found him passed away in his bed.

So why do I tell this story?  Because it reminds me that God is a God of reconciliation.  It reminds me that my pride and self righteousness never work for good, but humility, when I allow it to grow in my heart, births something I would never known as possible.   At the time, it seemed unfair that God required me to apologize when I had never said a rude word to the couple…but God saw the evil in my heart…the evil I had try to hide away.  When God finally got my attention, He took what the devil meant for destruction and turned it into good.

The enemy (me) became a daughter, when God totally turned the tables on a very ugly situation.  And that’s what God does….if we let Him. 

Sometimes God requires us to do things that don’t make since or that seem unfair; things that hurt a lot or cost us our pride.  But rest assured God cares more about our heart and its spiritual state than one ounce of our pride.  As we get better at humbling ourselves in the sight of the Lord, we will get better at getting out of His way and giving Him room to really move in our lives and in the lives of those around us.  That is when we will see with our own eyes that God really makes beauty from the ashes of our lives.

 

Rhonda Shelford Jansen