I n the summer of 2010, I was reminded anew of the healing and reconciliation that Jesus brought to earth by His birth, death, and resurrection. Our church family studied the Old Testament book of Malachi. The series was titled Reset and focused on resetting worship, marriage, and justice. The last message addressed resetting injustice in the world beginning with addressing and resetting injustice in our hearts.
After the morning worship service, a man approached me at the front of the auditorium and asked me to forgive him. Immediately, my mind sifted through interactions I’d had with him, trying to remember if I said or did something to offend him. Nothing came to mind. I asked, “What did I do?” He told me I hadn’t done anything to offend him, but instead he had harbored something in his heart.
“When you were introduced as a candidate for the senior teaching pastor, I didn’t vote for you.”
His comment wasn’t a big revelation. “I’m sure a number of people didn’t vote for me.” Rarely do individuals receive 100 percent affirmation; that’s the nature of interviewing for a ministry position. What he said next, however, shook me.
“You need to know why I didn’t vote for you. Because of my experiences in the past, I’d developed hatred and a racist heart against Black people. So, I didn’t vote for you because you’re Black.” With tears rolling down his cheeks he asked, “Will you please forgive me?”
Not realizing the significance of his request, I nonchalantly said it wasn’t a problem. He grabbed my shoulders and looked me in the eyes and said, “Listen! You don’t understand. I really need you to forgive me because I don’t want the junk of racism and prejudice to spill over into my son’s life. I didn’t vote for you because of the color of your skin, and I was wrong. Over the last year, God has used you and your preaching to impact my life.”
I forgave him, and we hugged for quite some time, weeping in one another’s arms.
The following week when we wrapped up the series, people shared how it had impacted their lives. The man who approached me the previous week stood up and shared with the congregation what he’d shared with me. The congregation stood, unexpectedly, and clapped and whistled in celebration.
Jesus was breaking down a wall, and He was creating oneness in His body.
Two thousand years earlier, the same Christ—born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, died a redemptive death, raised to life—broke down the wall between Jews and gentiles, which had separated them for years. This wall wasn’t a physical barrier but a spiritual one. Mutual bitterness and religious hostility had separated the Jews and gentiles.
“I really need you to forgive me . . .
I don’t want the junk of racism to spill over into my son’s life.”
But through Jesus’ incarnation, sinless life, broken body, and redeeming death, He broke down that wall, making it possible for Jews and gentiles to be at peace with God and one another (Colossians 3:11; Galatians 3:28). They experienced peace, harmonious friendship with God and with one another in the body of Jesus, the church.
Christ came into the world to quench our hostility against God and one another. Through His incarnation, death, and resurrection, Jesus created a unified new people from the old hostile camps (John 17:20–21). Not only did He bring peace to individuals and between people, Christ Himself became our peace. Isaiah prophesied the coming of the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). The requirement for peace between God and us was faith in Jesus.
Two thousand years later, the King is still breaking down walls that separate us, inviting us into oneness in His body. In another example, as He did among the Jews and gentiles, Jesus did a powerful thing at a conference in 2009. One evening, a group of Chinese students, a group of Taiwanese students, and a group of students from Hong Kong met in a large banquet hall to worship and reflect. Large dividers separated these students, however. These walls represented the animosity that each, historically, had toward one another; they thought it was best to worship with their “own people.”
While praying, the Chinese students sensed God asking them to invite the other countries to worship with them. The Taiwanese and Hong Kong students accepted the invitation, removed the dividers, and joined the Chinese students for a time of powerful worship. In that moment, literal walls were moved and these students experienced the oneness of the Spirit in worship.
Jesus is still bringing peace and breaking down walls that separate us. Christmas reminds us that Christ came to bring peace—the kind of peace that restores our relationship with God and one another. In Him, all cultural differences, animosity, and hatred are reconciled.
A Down Under Christmas
I love seeing pictures of our Australian friends celebrating Christmas. Not because they have more creative decorations or a fancier tree, but because they’re usually celebrating at the beach! It’s easy for people who live in the Northern Hemisphere to forget that countries in the Southern Hemisphere celebrate Christmas during their summer months. It’s just not what I expect to see at Christmas.
A Table For All
The upcoming holiday looked grim for Scott. He figured he’d simply be warming up some leftovers and spend his time watching television alone. Dreading the isolation, Scott decided to put an ad in the paper, inviting other lonely people to dinner. No less than twelve people showed up! That was 1985, and every year since, Scott has placed a similar ad, welcoming as many as 100 people and now meeting in a local church building.
Joy To The World
“Joy to the world . . .” Meifang stopped mid-sentence and forced down a sob as painful memories of her mom flooded her mind. This time last year, her mother stood right next to her, singing the same song. But now she was gone, her life tragically cut short by an accident. For Meifang, Christmas would never be the same again. It was hard to celebrate when all she had was sorrow and grief.
Dreaming At Christmas
For Irving Berlin, Christmas held not joy but sadness. The composer of “White Christmas” lost his infant son on Christmas Day 1928. His wistful song, which longs for a bygone time of holiday joys, would become wildly popular during World War II, resonating with troops overseas dreaming of Christmases back home.
A Gift That Refreshes
It was just a few days before Christmas and my wife, Cari, was standing in the checkout line at the market. The young mother in front of her was carefully assessing the contents of her cart and slowly setting aside items one by one. Cari’s initial impatience turned to compassion as she surveyed the growing pile of items that had been removed and realized the woman didn’t have enough money to purchase them.
The True Gift Of Christmas
“Sometimes I feel lonely, and it makes me wonder how lonely they must get out here.” Speaking was Asteria, director of a faith-based community group who brought Christmas to El Campamento, a makeshift tent city where many drug-addicted people live. She noted how the holidays can be difficult for those on the street.
Captain Of A Motley Crew
As a child, I always found Christmas Eve one of the most exciting days of the year. I knew there would be presents in the morning, a feast that night, and a candlelight service at church. But it was also exciting because I never knew who was going to end up at our house for dinner. My parents loved inviting people who were alone or had nowhere to go to come share a meal with us.
Four-year-old Kaitlyn was oblivious to everything else in the room. There were no thoughts of the decorations hung and wrapped presents. She was simply content to play with our manger scene and its nativity characters. What piqued my interest was something else she was doing as she moved Mary, Joseph, and the Babe around: She was singing “Mary, did you know?” over and over—words she had heard sung by others.
Through The Tears
I dreaded facing another Christmas hundreds of miles away from family. Loneliness and disappointment stirred into discontent, spewing out of my mouth as complaints when my husband suggested we unpack the holiday decorations. How could I be joyful when my heart ached?
O Come Emmanuel
It seems we seldom go beyond the first or second verses of our beloved Christmas carols. But, buried deep in the lyrics of one Christmas hymn—in verse seven!—are words that seem uniquely in tune with our times. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” written in the twelfth century, pleads:
We were singles and couples and a family with children, together celebrating Jesus’ birth on Christmas Eve. The conversation flowed, the food tasted scrumptious, and we even had fun washing up the dishes. Between courses we read through the Christmas story from Luke’s gospel, marvelling over the greatest gift of the season, Jesus. Because of Christ, we who previously had been a ragtag bunch of strangers were now sisters and brothers.
Jesus always welcomed the stranger. Even as at His birth God beckoned the shepherds to come and worship the newborn baby: “The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” (Luke 2:11). Curious, the humble shepherds hurried to Bethlehem. And after they saw the baby, they went and spread the good news about Jesus the Savior, and “all who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished” (v. 18).
As Messiah, Jesus the baby grew up to be the Man who died on the cross, the perfect sacrifice who wipes away the sins of those who follow Him. Jesus, the Son who is God, humbled Himself to be born in a stable and then willingly sacrificed His life for us. When we bow before Him in worship, even as the shepherds did as they glorified and praised God for all they had seen and heard (v. 20), He makes us part of His family. Jesus welcomes us into His worldwide community of those God uses to spread His love and light.
If you’re feeling like an outcast this Christmas, know that if you believe in Jesus, “God places the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6).