The Cross and Christmas

And if people are being honest, everybody is struggling with something — and if you are not, you are dead.”
Rosaria Butterfield, former lesbian and gay activist

It’s Christmas time once more and even though we live in a land that is predominantly Muslim, Christmas decorations are everywhere to remind everyone that it’s time for merrymaking and gift-giving. But. I am in no mood to decorate our house this season unlike in years past. Maybe it’s because I’m getting on in age and thoughts of lying in a coffin have flitted through my mind on and off these past few months.

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Studying the different names of Jesus

Or maybe it’s because living in a land where you’ve got to exert more effort to celebrate Christmas has rendered the event more poignant, enabling one to see the pointlessness of indulging in the endless round of eating and drinking and what-not.

Whatever. Christmas this year has been toned down in our house. No Christmas carols. No Christmas tree. What we’ve been doing, my homeschooled kids and I, is a daily study of the different names of Jesus and an Advent calendar of thanksgiving. The Christ, after all, is the reason why we’re awash in red and green colors this time of year – what’s the point of celebrating if He is not at the center of your merrymaking?

To that end, yours truly has been undergoing some heavy introspection. Looking at the Cross, which is where Christmas culminates, I have been confronted with the ugly side of me.  “You’re no better, kid, your Christianity is a sham” was all I could tell myself after deciding that life would be simpler if only I wasn’t onion-skinned and reflecting on our family life that’s constantly full of strife nowadays. All the while thinking why are the most genuine Christians I know outside the church?

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Instead of an Advent Calendar of fun activities, we made an Advent Calendar of Thanksgiving to remind us of the many blessings we received during December 2015

Without elaborating, this year holding grudges over hurts real, imagined, intentional, and otherwise drove me to withdraw from people and focus only on those friendships that continue to be rewarding. As much as possible, I excused ourselves from parties. Heck, I’ve even been absent from our Ladies Fellowship for two years (except for one event in January) despite the repeated encouragement of friends to attend.

“Why do they bother you? Why can’t you let go?” a close friend asked.

I replied, “I find it hard to fake friendship especially when someone has lied to me.”

Self-righteousness, however, has never served anyone. Jesus actually condemned the habit when He was alive. And a Christianity that costs nothing is worth nothing in Heaven’s eyes. If Jesus, who died for me on Calvary, could do it proactively – why couldn’t I forgive? I decided I could. But then had to decide over and over again before I could make a move. There was one thing that held me back, also: distance. I thought back to my aunt who had defrauded me of more than $2,000 and how I was ready to banter with her after a year of not seeing her. And cried out for more distance.

When I finally learned that forgiveness doesn’t make the other person right, it makes you free, I found great breakthrough in that area.
              Stormie Omartian, The Power of a Praying Parent

Me, I’d be happy to go to the grave without forgiving anyone. But. Jesus is my master. He has commanded us to forgive more than seventy times seven. And as I saw my children exhibit more instances of unforgiveness this year, I began to wonder whether my attitude had something to do with it. The Holy Spirit cannot work when it is hindered by such trivial things as pride, bitterness, etc…

If I live under grace, surely, then I would be more like Rosaria Butterfield whose consistency in her Christian walk with believers and dissenters is encapsulated in W.H. Auden’s lines “If equal affection cannot be, Let the more loving one be me.”

The truth is I live under grace. A grace that pulls me back to the Cross again and again however far away I run from it. Isaiah 11:3 actually says  “He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears,” – something which I am all too guilty of.

And God is so good! It has been quite a lonely walk going against the grain in a town where ladies who brunch send their three-year-olds to an eight-hour kindergarten. So much so that, being the only homeschooler in town, I felt defensive about keeping my children at home. A year ago, however, God sent other HSers. Today, I belong to a devotional group of committed Christians where we drop our masks as we explore Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life. Also, my husband’s forgiving nature is a bright example that continues to encourage me.

If possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
                                                                          Romans 12:18

So. Two days ago, I initiated a conversation with someone whom I had not spoken to in months, maybe a year. Previously, it infuriated me to see this person on a regular basis (even the hubby said the problem was with me) so much so that I took to ignoring her presence. It got so that I started to distance myself even from the people that she mingled with.

Anyway, back to what happened to two days ago: since I’d paid a compliment, her reaction was priceless. That emboldened me to go further and reach out online to someone whose FB post had peeved me so a year ago it pushed me to publish a letter. Indeed, the more I gaze at the Cross, trivial things like grudges seem petty in the light of eternity.

As long as we don’t compromise the scriptural limitations on our relationships with unbelievers, God wants us to be willing to bend over backwards to build peaceful bridges to any persons who hate us and persecute us. That means we cannot hold a grudge or harbor bitterness toward them. We must instead extend genuine, heartfelt forgiveness. Then we can honestly begin the process of seeking reconciliation, the results of which are in God’s hands.
                          John MacArthur, The Power of Integrity

Will this struggle with self-worth and pride never end? I doubt it. Some will say “Get to know your position in Christ!” But. I do know it. A child of the King, part of a royal priesthood … and yet, and yet … until one stands naked before the Cross, stripped of an identity defined by the self, can the things of earth … grow strangely dim.

Still, I keep faith and plan to build more bridges instead of walls even though it has often seemed that being a Christian is easy. It’s being consistently authentic that’s so darn hard.

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If you’ve seen the movie, do yourselves a favor: read the book. Angelina Jolie’s film tells only half the story. Zamperini’s triumph over bitterness and his road to forgiveness is detailed in the book.

Ultimately, forgiveness is at the heart of Christmas. Unfortunately, it is obscured by the glitter and gift-giving that surrounds the occasion.  And if you’re a Christian, I’ve learned (though it’s shameful that it took me this long to internalize it) that you have no business celebrating the event if you cannot forgive. So. Amidst the merrymaking that we can’t get ourselves out of, let’s remind ourselves of the essence of Christmas: the Son came to earth to pay a price for the Father to forgive us. Shouldn’t we also do the same?

Note: Even though the above passage applies to unbelievers, I think it’s also applicable to fellow Christians and people who just rub us the wrong way.

Update: Believe it or not, my prayer was answered: the person I was praying to go away did go away for the exact period of time that I’d asked for – six months. (January 2016)

Un/Faithful” target=”_blank”>Daily Post Prompt December 26, 2015 : Un/Faithful

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