By Pastor Jimmy Trent
There is so much to enjoy about the Christmas season each year with added family gatherings, parties galore (personally I have three in three days this weekend), cookies, hot chocolate, homes lit up with lights everywhere, and so much more. If you are like me though, the thing you most look forward to are the gifts. Now, before you hang me for being a materialist, let me finish. I like giving gifts as much or more than I like to receive them, but I do enjoy getting gifts. There is something special about receiving a gift. For starters, it’s free! Most things you have to budget and save for, but a gift is unearned; also, when the gift is something that you really wanted (not the tacky sweater from Grandma), it’s doubly special.
So what is on your Christmas wish list this December? Maybe you are wanting a gift card to Banana Republic (hint, hint) or you are really hoping for the new YEEZY Boost 350 sneakers in pirate black. Possibly your jam would be to open up a Hatchimal so you can wait patiently for 10-40 minutes for your surprise new pet. Or maybe your list is something more personal and less consumeristic like the restoration of a relationship or success in your schooling or workplace.
What is it that you most want or even need this year?
If you will allow me, I would like to suggest something to put on your list this year. It’s not material nor something you can wrap up and put a bow on. Nor is it something that can be found at the new Outlet Mall or even on Amazon Prime with free 2-day shipping. The thing that I’d like for you to ask for this Christmas is forgiveness.
Yep, forgiveness. As I spend time with many people, connecting with them on more than the the latest sports news and the weather, I’m noticing that forgiveness is tragically missing from their lives. Many of my friends are carrying a sense of guilt and shame in their closest relationships that has created distance with those they love and care about the most. It has been a sad thing to observe, but why is it this way for so many? Let me suggest two possibilities.
First, many of you do not believe or realize that you need forgiveness. For some reason, your default way of relating to others is that you are mostly right and everyone else is mostly wrong. There is not a sober-mindedness about you that is able to recognize the ways that you offend or hurt others. You are so consumed with how you are hurt and what others are doing wrong to you that there is no self-awareness of your own wrongs. Can I suggest something to you? You are a sinner. Sometimes, you don’t get it right; if you’re honest, you get a wrong a lot of times. There are ways that you’ve have hurt and offended people in your life and that is creating distance in your friendships, marriages, with your kids, with you co-workers, etc. Don’t believe the lie that you are fine and everyone else is wrong. John writes in his letter that, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). John is begging us in the surrounding verses to walk in the light and not in darkness.
How do we do that? Simple: confess your sins both to God and to those whom you have sinned against. Consider Matthew’s words…
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24
Where might you be at odds with someone today and where are you in need of their forgiveness? Will you prioritize this conversation and move toward them, confessing your sin and seeking their forgiveness? There is a great promise that awaits you, as John says, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another” (1 John 1:7a).
Second, you may believe that you won’t receive forgiveness if you ask for it. When it comes to human relationships, this is very possible. Giving forgiveness to one another is a very complex thing oftentimes. It can be very hard to forgive others when we are wronged and it is possible that the person you have hurt will have a hard time offering you the gift of forgiveness. Does that mean you shouldn’t ask for it? No chance. Doing your part of acknowledging your own sin and seeking to make peace is what God desires for you. Let God deal with them as they wrestle with him in regards to forgiveness.
Now for the best part. Forgiveness is yours to have and enjoy even if the person you’ve hurt doesn’t give it to you. Listen to John again in the passage we are considering, “If we confess our sins, he [Jesus] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Are you worried that forgiveness is something that you won’t get if you ask for it, or even something that you don’t deserve? I have great news for you this Christmas. As we said earlier, the great thing about gifts is that they are free and unearned. The forgiveness that you desire and need this Christmas is a gift that you don’t deserve and one that you can’t earn. God offers this to all of us based on His Son’s efforts and what Jesus has earned on our behalf.
So in closing, will you put forgiveness on your wish list this Christmas? To do so you may need to take a hard look at your life and relationships and realize that you’ve done wrong. Others of you will need to ask for the faith to believe that God is willing and able to forgive you, even if others will not. The gift of forgiveness from God is enough for you. Either way, you are going to have to do something about it. The gift of forgiveness doesn’t just show up under the tree. You are going to have to initiate the process by going to God and to the other person, confessing your sin, and asking, “Will you forgive me?”
No other gift this Christmas season will satisfy you more than a right relationship with God and your fellow man. “Go and be reconciled!”
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
– Romans 6:23