Joseph Brazil | @BlackDog575
Have you ever been cheated, lied to, or spoken of falsely? Chances are you’ve been wronged. Many times over. What was your reaction? Did you choose to confront the wrongdoer in righteous anger or did you sit and stew over the offense and hold a grudge?
There are countless ways we as humans can think up in order to find justification. But where does that leave us in the end, once we’ve taken matters in our own hands.
We can look at literature to find a clear example of what grace and forgiveness means. One of my favorite works was written in 1862 by the French novelist Victor Hugo called Les Miserables. It tells the story of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict who emerges from his past and seeks redemption through material wealth and the love of his adopted daughter.
One event in the book stands out when Valjean is released from prison and is forced to wander on foot, living and sleeping in the streets. He is taken in by the town’s priest and given a place to rest and food to eat. In return, Valjean steals the silver candlesticks from the church and flees into the night. He is later caught by the police and returned along with the stolen goods to the priest.
But what happens next is hardly what you might expect.
Instead of exacting punishment for the crime and filing charges, the priest tells the police the stolen silver was given to Valjean--as a gift! The charges are dropped, and the priest tells Valjean he’s to sell the silver and use its value to make an honest man of himself.
The priest’s example of forgiveness is one we must all demonstrate. In Matthew 18:21-22, Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive those who sin against him: seven times? Jesus replies we should forgive them seventy times seven.
Telling a person who has harmed us we no longer harbor anger toward them is never easy, yet it creates a sort of paradox. Isaiah 64:6 tells us how “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” The essence of grace is releasing a debtor of their obligation with no expectation of return. Doesn’t this sound like our daily walk with the Lord? Everyday we fail to live a perfect, sinless life, but God’s grace is always present and ready to accept us, soiled and disgusting as we are.
In many cases, forgiving one another is the beginning of healing. Broken relationships left unresolved cannot be repaired until we swallow our pride and reach out to those with which we would make amends. The same rings true with our relationship with the Lord. What sin we keep left unaccounted only deepens the wedge between ourselves and living a more righteous life.
But how liberating is it to come clean and rid yourself of sin’s hold!
If letting go of anger and hurt is too difficult to do alone, give it to Lord and see if He doesn’t replace the grief with hope and peace. Much like the priest’s gift in Les Miserables, forgiveness can make a profound difference in a person’s life. It’s a lesson we must practice daily, lending those who sin against us that same grace shown us by our Lord each day.
Challenge yourself this Christmas season to examine your heart and to be transparent with the Lord. Just as this time of year is celebrated for the remembrance of Christ’s birth, also celebrate the eventual forgiveness of a debt no sacrifice could erase.
Dear Lord, we thank You for your endless grace. We know our sins are many, and that it is You above all who we offend. Your grace has always been and will always be. Cleanse of all unrighteousness, not for our own sake, but so we might draw closer to walking with You. Turn Your face from our mistakes and stamp out our human nature. Instill in us a pure heart and a pure mind. Renew our spirit so we may not wander far from Your perfect will. Be among us when we celebrate the record of your son’s birth and the reminder of the great cost He would willingly pay to see us together again. In Jesus’ holy name above all names we pray. Amen.
Joseph Brazil is a teacher from eastern New Mexico. He enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter, watching sports, and studying blues guitar. He is a student of history, and likes sharing with his wife in a good period-piece flick. You can find him on Twitter at @blackdog575.