Because we have rejected the idea that there can be one authoritative measure of good and evil that governs everyone, we live in a belief that it is up to each individual or group of individuals to decide for themselves what is right and wrong. You decide what is right and true for you and I’ll decide what is right and true for me and, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, who is to say which is correct? “Judge not” has been translated to mean that no one should impose their view of right and wrong onto anyone else.
This is nothing new. Judges 17:6b says, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
All is fine and all is good until someone speaks up about what they believe. If that statement goes against what someone else believes, especially to the extent of calling something a sin that they want to believe is good and acceptable behavior – then justice must be served.
As humans we want justice. Justice is good. Justice is right. If others don’t believe what we believe, then, at a minimum, they should mind their own business and keep quiet about it. If they don’t, then they should be punished, justice must be served. How dare they speak-up. They and their kind have just as many things they do wrong, probably more. What right do they have to call our way of life a sin? We seek justice.
But who is to be the judge over justice? Is it popular opinion? Is it others who hold the same world view that I have or you have? If there is no universal right or wrong, then who can judge? And if we are really truthful with ourselves, who of us is qualified to cast the proverbial first stone? Even when we make our own definitions of right and wrong, we still don’t live within those bounds consistently. We lie, we cheat, we steal, we do what we should and don’t do what we should. We lack discipline, and even when we do the things we think are right and good, we could still do the acts more or better or more often.
Before there can be justice, then, there must be forgiveness. Before I can seek justice for you, I must face it for myself. Justice would bring to light how I measure up to my beliefs of right and wrong. Justice cannot be on a sliding scale or curve. It cannot be a measure of am I doing better or worse than the average – no matter how much I would like for it to be otherwise. We learned this is grade school science. While you may find thousands of things to support a theorem, it takes only 1 thing to show it as invalid. To be able to face justice, requires my own wrongs are erased. Against that scale, the only truly just scale, we are all guilty and in need of forgiveness.
And, that is why a baby was born of a virgin in Bethlehem. That is why we celebrate His birth to this day.
As I read the gospels, I am struck by the number of time Jesus gave forgiveness. He healed, He performed miracles, He taught, He lived and died and rose again. But through every part of it, He forgave. That is the gift. In John 12:47b Jesus said, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.” That doesn’t mean He won’t be the ultimate judge, but the purpose of His birth was one of salvation, of forgiveness.
That is the gift.
Over and over again during the past weeks I have heard people make comments about “the real meaning of Christmas.” I’ve heard people talk about giving to others, I’ve heard people talk about coming together with family and friends, I’ve heard people talking about caring for and giving to those less fortunate and in need. Obviously, none of those things are bad and we can and should do them at Christmas and throughout the year. But the real meaning of Christmas is not in giving gifts but in receiving a gift. The gift of forgiveness.
It is not forced on us, it is a gift. We can accept or reject it. Accepting forgiveness, however, means accepting the fact that the wrongs in our life are wrong. If we insist that our way of life is not a sin, then we cannot accept forgiveness. This, of course, is a gamble because rejecting forgiveness wagers that our discernment of right and wrong trumps that of the one offering forgiveness.
But, there are also two ways of accepting the gift. One is to take it, unwrapped and put it on the shelf. The gift is claimed. But the recipient doesn’t change. They continue living their life the way they want, using their own judgment and their own moral compass. They point to the gift and use it to justify the way they want to live or to condemn the way others live, but there is no life change. This is, unfortunately, an all too common approach. It is hypocrisy. It is self-serving.
But opening the gift and truly accepting it is different. In a sense, it is similar to consuming the gift, to taking it into you. This doesn’t mean that the gift becomes a part of you, but, instead, you become a part of the gift. Forgiveness isn’t something in you, you become part of the forgiven. You take on a new identity. You become a follower of the forgiver. Your life is no longer about you. Why then would anyone accept the gift?
For one simple reason, justice requires forgiveness and forgiveness requires accepting I am not perfect so I should not be the object of anyone’s worship, not even my own.
This gift of forgiveness is the only thing available to us that is truly right and good. It is not my opinion of right, nor is it your opinion. It is not my or your opinion of good. It is simply truth. Why? Because it is a gift. It isn’t sold or purchased; it is the only thing that isn’t given with any expectation of anything as payment. We don’t change to receive forgiveness, we change because we are forgiven. It is the first step on the path to real justice.
But being among the forgiven is huge. Being forgiven gives us the right and power to forgive. Being confident of our identity, gives us the freedom and power to love and serve. Being cared for and loved is the path to being something more that we are, because we have confidence in what is good and right and have no fear of repercussion. Without the confidence of forgiveness, we must look out for ourselves, for me, for number 1. But with the confidence, we can set that aside and put others first. This doesn’t mean we become perfect, but it does mean we desire to become that way, not for our own honor but for that of the one who has forgiven us.
So as we look at the true meaning of Christmas, how differently would we act and behave if we start with forgiveness? What if, before seeking righteous judgment upon others, we first start by forgiving them? How different would we behave if we counted ourselves among the forgiven? In whom would we invest? To whom would we show love and forgiveness? Who would we help and serve?
What if, instead of using justice as a hammer to beat others into submission, we take it upon ourselves to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humblywith God?
We can make the choice this Christmas. We can focus on the temporary things of the season: the hustle and bustle, the stress of material gifts, the attempt to find joy and happiness in nostalgia. Or, we can focus on fully accepting this miraculous gift and living as one of the forgiven? Your choice.