Letting Go

In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. (2 Corinthians 5:19; NRSV)

The Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP) church is the Indiana-Kentucky Synod’s global companion in Indonesia. Four of us from this mission territory visited the church and our companion district, Sumatera Timur, in early December. While there I learned that in some HKBP families New Year’s traditions are more important than Christmas, part because they focus on forgiveness. When I asked her about this, HKBP Deaconess Lamria Sinaga said this is true for her family and graciously described for me what her family does to ring in the New Year:

My family gathers together at midnight. We have short worship that includes singing, Bible readings, and an offering. The offering goes to the church to thank God who delivers us again to a new year and a new day. After the worship, my father asks us to share honestly our experiences of the old year and our hopes for the New Year. We begin with the youngest and move toward the oldest in the family. We sometimes cry, because our sharing is about how we have hurt each other by what we’ve said and done in the past year. We ask forgiveness of one another and offer forgiveness to each other. After we have finished sharing our confession and our forgiveness, the oldest in my family offers prayer. Then we share hugs and handshakes and eat together. After a while we go to my grandfather’s house and do the same thing, usually finishing early in the morning. My father says that a heart full of being forgiven and forgiving others will bring us through the new year full of joy and happiness and makes it possible, even when we find trouble and difficulty in the future, to encourage one another.

Creating a list of New Year’s resolutions intended to improve our lives is good. Popping corks and exchanging kisses to welcome the New Year is fun. Standing on the threshold between the past and the future and honestly confessing how we have hurt each other and seeking and offering forgiveness is essential. It’s the ring on which the keys to God’s kingdom hang.
After all, how can we move forward into newness when we are still bound to the hurts, sins, and brokenness of the past? How can we walk into to God’s future together when festering resentments and aching hearts keep us apart?
The primary words for “forgiveness” and “forgive” in New Testament Greek are forms of áphesis and aphíēmi [e.g. Matt 6:14-15; 18:35]. The common root of these words means to let go, to free or be set free. To forgive and be forgiven, then, is to set others free, to be set free ourselves. God does the forgiving, of course. In forgiving and being forgiven we experience the freeing, life-giving power of that gracious gift in our lives. In the act of forgiveness we become means of God’s grace for others and we ourselves are set free to welcome the new future that God offers.

So, let’s ink those lists of resolutions and pop the corks at the appointed time. But what do you say we also use the early days of 2014 to follow – as individuals and families and as congregations – the example of our sisters and brothers of the HKBP? Can we trust God’s grace and be honest with ourselves and with one another about the ways we are still in bondage to the sins, resentments, and hurts of the past and offer to one another the freedom of forgiveness, today and throughout this emerging New Year?

How Silently the Gift is Given

The sky was clear, crisp and studded with stars as I walked across the campus of St. Olaf College toward my dormitory. It was early December in Minnesota, back in the day when winter was really winter and a walk across campus after midnight could be sheer agony. Breath clung as hoar frost on my free range 1970s collegiate beard. I was sure the water in my eyes was turning to ice.

Something else hovered in the air with the cold. This was the weekend of the annual St. Olaf Christmas Festival. I had worked the late shift in my work-study position as night security supervisor for the student union. I had spent hours on my feet making sure everything was okay for the Norwegian food buffet, pointing alums and visitors toward the beloved concert, helping folks find restrooms and coatracks and wandering family members, making my way each hour through the bustling hoards of excited folk to make sure the right doors were open and the others ones closed. Finally, well after midnight, after the last of the yuletide revelers had left, I made my final rounds, turned off the lights, locked up the big, now silent building, and made my way across the wind-swept campus toward bed.

I caught myself humming “Beautiful Savior” as I walked. Although I had not been at the concert that weekend, I knew this hymn had been sung by candlelight as the closing piece, as it had since, well, since forever. My shivering body begged me to hurry through the cold toward the top berth of our triple-bunked dorm room. My spirit implored me to slow down, look around, and take in the luminous winter world crafted by the beautiful Savior of whom I sang like an echo of the concert ended hours ago.

Neither of my roommates was in our room when I arrived. The glimmering lights of our little desk-borne Christmas tree drew me in. I sat at my desk, thawing hands nestled in my coat pockets, basking in the graceful light shining softly in the dark room.

In the shadows under the tree I noticed a small wrapped package bearing my name. It had not been there when I left earlier in the day. I picked it up and noticed an electrical cord running from it like a long, slithery tail to the wall outlet. What gadget did my roomies give me for Christmas? I tore off the paper to discover that it was…my alarm clock, the one that roused me from sleep every day. They wrapped my alarm clock?!

Now I saw another wrapped gift pulling low a branch of the tree by a duct-taped hook. Round and heavy…unhooked and unwrapped it was a prized baseball from my high school career. Then, on my pillow a long, thin, carefully wrapped pretzel stick from the big plastic jar of them I brought and shared from home.

My eyes thawed and I wept at the goofy love of my roommates. I took a deep breath of the room’s warm air and whispered a prayer of wonder and thanks, blinking at the soft light glistening in the prism of my tears.

Isn’t this what the manger-borne Jesus reveals for us, the giftedness of our every day? Doesn’t God in Christ carefully wrap with goodness and love the very things and people we take for granted day by day and give them back to us glistening with grace? Isn’t it so that this Jesus, this Emmanuel, makes holy what we think is merely mundane?

Yes. Yes. Yes. It is so. How silently the wondrous gift is given!
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Table Scraps by William O. Gafkjen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.