Jesus' Christmas Wish…
Yesterday an old friend of our community came and apologized to Mark. He had heard some things about us and had withdrawn his friendship to our community for a long time. He came to ask for forgiveness for having withdrawn and for having judged us. His apology touched us and saddened us. Not because of what had been said about us - we knew those things already and had dealt with them, but rather because this is what happens throughout Christ’s bride and creates divisions everywhere.
Today, on Christmas Eve, as I have finally stopped after an exhausting last couple of months, and realized all the presents I haven’t had time to buy and the preparations I haven’t done, I had a couple of hours this morning to hit the local shopping centre.
But I decided not to go. None of us need more presents. The children will be happy with the small selection of gifts they have (and have no memories of the massive amounts of gifts I grew up being surrounded with!) Instead, I decided, I would spend time with our extended family here, with the boys and with Mark and not stress out. Spend time peeling potatoes and cutting apples with friends rather than trying to buy everyone something that they don’t really want or need.
Joel, our 5-year-old son asked us last week why we are the ones who get presents on Christmas, if it is Jesus’ birthday? And I wondered what Jesus would like for his birthday, and when I think about what he prayed for during his last night before his death, I think I know what Jesus wants for Christmas this year…
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began! (John 17:20-24)
He wants us to be one. He wants us experience supernatural unity! He said that he has given us the glory the Father had given him so that we can be one. Of all the things Jesus could have prayed for before he went to the cross for all believers, what he chose to pray for was unity. And so it is no surprise that the enemy wants to target unity all the time amongst Christians.
You might not believe that you can be one with that person who has offended you. You might not even want to, but when we step out in humility and forgiveness, God works miracles and his glory is revealed and others will know that we are God’s children.
You might feel that division is necessary. Sometimes healthy boundaries do need to be established in abusive relationships, I understand that, but I also know that when we are offended by someone, or fed lies by the enemy about them, our first reaction is to withdraw from that person. Instead, I think Jesus wants us to come close.
It is only because we love people dearly that we are so offended by their mistakes, words, judgements and accusations. It is those who are closest to us who have the ability to hurt us the most.
Recently someone very close to us was found to have been living a double-life in sin for a few months. Last week it all came to light. Everyone in our community was affected by it. And the people who were closest to that person were the ones who were most hurt by the revelations that came to light. My first reaction was to withdraw from that person and want to remove that person from the community. But as that person had confessed and asked for forgiveness, I couldn’t see that that was what God would do.
When I am in sin and go to God, does he turn me away? Does he move away from me, even for a time? Or does he rather move ever closer and help to restore me to where I need to be made whole?
And it hurt to choose to come close to that person. To intentionally invest in that relationship, to work things through, to help them with the mess they had created. I didn’t hide my sadness and pain from that person - rather I told them all that it made me feel and let them see me crying and in shock and burdened. Not to make them feel guilty, but rather so they could understand the implications of what sin has on a relationship and because I love that person enough to let them see me in that vulnerable state. I also chose to spend time listening to them sharing their hurts, disappointments, feelings of shame. I offered many hugs and prayers and walked through the consequences with that person that week. The seeds of restoration were sown and the process of true repentance has begun - that 180 degree walking-down-a-different-path, true repentance.
What I learned was this: our natural reaction is to withdraw because we are hurt, but true unity and restoration can only come when we draw close in the midst of the hurt.
It is like grief - the more we try and avoid the things that remind us of the person and the more we try and suppress the feelings, the longer they take to work through and the longer it takes for us to walk through the grief to a point of acceptance and gratitude for the times we did have. It is not easy - it is painful and requires humility. But humility is the only vessel which can hold true love and bring unity. It was a humble house and animal bed that welcomed Love himself. It was the place that welcomed the poor, young, Shepherds and the rich wise men and brought hope again to Israel.
So this Christmas, when you feel that tug to withdraw from those who are difficult, or causing you pain, would you do something? Would you take a moment to invite Jesus’ unity into the situation. Would you verbally speak out forgiveness, and would you move towards that person rather than away? Would you choose unity and love over division and remaining in hurt?
I believe in miracles, but I also know that sometimes unity takes time. It isn’t something I am going to crack perfectly this Christmas, but if Jesus felt it was important enough to pray about, then I think I will too:
Lord, my Your perfect unity dwell in my home this Christmas,
May we seek to love others more than ourselves,
To lay aside our frustrations and disappointments,
The stress and the striving,
And find You.
Praying you will see unity wherever you are this Christmas.
- Love Anna
Note to regular readers: Over the next 12 days of Christmas, I will be sharing some blogposts from the last year on Facebook and 'promoting' them. Although this is something that makes me feel honestly uncomfortable, because I am not at ease with promoting myself, I felt that it was something God was asking me to do as we go into 2014. I hope you enjoy re-reading some of the posts from this year. Thank you to all those who have encouraged me about this blog this year. I am looking forward to where God is going to take it next year! Happy Christmas and see you in 2014!