As the father of two boys with another little one on the way, the holidays seem like more of a blur than usual. Gifts, decorating, traditions, family and friends are remarkably enjoyable but hardly helpful for organizing thoughts. Yet, the smallest things are sometimes just what we need to remind us of the redemptive message of Christmas.
While I was roasting pecans for holiday gifts and wrangling the boys one evening, I had music playing in the background. I paused for a minute when I heard Johnny Cash's hauntingly introspective voice carry the lyrics of Trent Reznor's "Hurt."
I could hear the Man in Black asking himself the question, "What have I become?" The song reminded me of the importance of taking account of who we are, where we have been and where we are going. For so many of us, the challenge is not simply the mad dash through the holidays; it is finding perspective in the fast pace of our entire lives.
Cash's soul-wrenching baritone brought context to a quote by the late Nelson Mandela that has been on my mind since his passing. As Mandela left prison he said, "As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison."
We live in a culture that encourages us to be offended and to hold that offense indefinitely. Divisiveness drives our media consumption and indignation quickly becomes a justification for our perspectives. Contempt for those who do not share our beliefs undermines the transformative power of our convictions and aspirations.
From popular culture to politics and religion, many Americans have allowed themselves to be exceptionally offended at anyone who believes, thinks or acts in a manner contrary to their own. Maintaining that offense builds the walls of the prison Mandela rejected. When we hurt others with our own behavior or are hurt by those around us, we make a tragic mistake if we choose isolation over restoration.
Christmas provides us with an exceptional example of the latter.
We can easily miss that Christmas is not only a holiday celebrating the birth of the Christ. More importantly, it hails the beginning of a powerful message of redemption and an example of the lengths that God would go to restore his relationship with his children who had lost their way. That message showcases a love that values the high cost of redemption over a justified rejection. Even for those of different faiths and beliefs, the message of forgiveness and restoration should remain profound.
As we close out the year, each of us should consider ourselves with humility, relinquish offenses we have been harboring for far too long, and seek to restore lost relationships in our lives.
Forgiveness is a tall order, especially when the offense is real and personal, but the chance for restored relationships is definitely worth our time and effort this Christmas. We should never underestimate the impact a redemption chorus might have on a society that so badly needs it.