The headlines this week read, “Bert Tatham will be home for Christmas.”
The young man from Collingwood, Ontario, had been held in prison in the United Arab Emirates and had served 9 months of a 4 year sentence on drug charges. Suddenly, this week, he was granted amnesty at the order of the ruler of Dubai, in honour of the high Islamic holiday of Eid.
This started me thinking; what if we searched our hearts every year before Christmas for someone to whom we could give the gift of forgiveness?
Of course I know we’re supposed to do this all the time, but sometimes there is a “lurker” in our hearts; someone whose particular nastiness seems to warrant absolution from the rule. This happened to me a while ago. I would think that I had forgiven, but not really, because I would see the person and all of the emotions would bob to the surface like a cork swimming float.
I was finally helped by a passage not usually applied to the topic of forgiveness. It was through Matthew 25: 37-40 that I saw that by releasing the person from my anger and resentment—I was “doing for the least” of people something that God would accept as being done to him.
God does not need our forgiveness but he did take our sin on himself on the cross. By releasing this person, I saw that I was removing a bit of the pain of the world’s hatred that Jesus bore. In forgiving the person, I was doing something for him. Maybe this only makes sense to me, but it affected me deeply. I remember weeping as I let go of the feelings I had towards my adversary. The tears were like a cleansing river flowing through my soul.
This morning I watched little skit at the wonderful Christmas concert at our grandchildren’s school. Mary and Joseph stood beside a small wooden manger in which lay a bundled baby Jesus. Mary told Joseph of a mysterious dream she’d had. She said that in the dream, people in the future were celebrating their son’s birthday. She described a strange celebration in which people brought a tree—yes a tree—into the house, and decorated it with shiny things. People gave each other gifts, she told Joseph, but there were no gifts at all for their son and many people did not even know the one whose birthday they were celebrating.
Forgiving someone would be a way of giving a real gift to Jesus. What about joining me in a new tradition; searching for someone to “set free?”
Matthew 25:37-40 (New International Version)
37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'