The Christmas lights are up and the Christmas Market is filling Bristol’s main shopping centre. Crowds of people are buying and shops are selling, and the season of Giving and Receiving will soon be upon us. A lot of money (probably more than we can afford or is sensible) is being spent. Sadly too often we judge the giver by the price of the gift rather than the friendship and love being expressed.
But I want to share with you a gift to give and receive that won’t cost you a penny … and yet is priceless! And that gift is … Forgiveness. We have all been hurt by someone – and we have all hurt someone! We all need forgiveness both to welcome and to offer. But why talk about this now in this Season of Advent?
Let us look at the Advent wreath for a moment: it is a circle of evergreen that represents God’s great love that never withers and is always fresh and new. As the Gospel says ‘God so loved the world that he sent His only Son …to save!’ There are red berries, symbolising that there is a cost to forgiveness – Jesus was born in cold Bethlehem’s stable in order one day to suffer the terrible brutality of crucifixion and then utter the liberating words ‘Father, forgive them’. And then there are the five candles – four purple ones for the weeks of Advent preparation and the central white one for the Birth of the Saviour, the one who is God’s great gift of mercy, forgiveness and love: to the world and to each of us. As the weeks towards Christmas roll by the circle of light grows stronger and the surrounding darkness is broken. Do we allow light to fill our lives? Does our life light up another with joy and hope? Do we break through the darkness of loneliness or bitterness by our caring and friendship? In a world darkened by violence, gang culture, knife crime, do we break the cycle of violence by the light and courage of forgiveness and peace-making?
It won’t empty your purse, wallet or bank balance to give the gift of forgiveness. Let love overcome the hurt and bring you and the other person healing and peace. It takes more courage to forgive than to lash out with tongue or worse. It also takes courage to seek forgiveness from another. To say sorry (and mean it!) for most of us is a big leap to take, a risky business. I am making myself vulnerable to the other! Maybe we think it makes us look weak. NO! It makes us strong, human and mature!
So as we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Saviour God, who in his dying breath forgave his torturers and embraced the world with compassion and self-sacrificing love; during these weeks of Advent give love more than spend money! Reflect! Dare to question yourself! Who do I need to forgive and perhaps be reconciled with him, her or them! Who do I need to ask forgiveness of, and will I have the courage to make the move and heal the hurt I have inflicted?
And perhaps I need to ask forgiveness for my complicity in abusing the Earth, exploiting creation, destroying eco-systems and our fellow creatures; perhaps I need to ask forgiveness for remaining silent while refugees are treated inhumanly on the borders of Europe or along the English Channel; perhaps I need to ask forgiveness for racism and discrimination lurking in my own heart and mind; maybe I need to ask forgiveness for refusing to share with the poor of my city or my world and doing nothing to bring justice and equality to the poorest of the earth. To ask that forgiveness needs more than words – it demands a change of life, a commitment to action to build a more just and caring world. What a gift that will be to our world this Christmas!
So let us make these weeks of Advent a time for change – bringing that love that is forgiveness into our world (as Jesus did and still does), into our families and among our friends … building a future of hope and humanity and peace … then we will really celebrate the birth of Love made Flesh and one day there will be Peace on Earth, as the angels sang!