Most of us are familiar with the Nativity of Jesus, the story that chronicles the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Many Christians celebrate Jesus’ birth by setting up a nativity display or reenacting the nativity story as a reminder of the true meaning of the Christmas season. But the Nativity of Jesus is far more than a timeline leading up to the Lord’s birth. God offers us a significant gift: a gift of complete forgiveness. Christmas is a season of forgiveness and the nativity opens our eyes to this.
In 'A Rare Nativity' author Sam Beeson combines two classis Christmas Icons –“The Twelve Days of Christmas” song and the nativity scene – to share a powerful message about the true meaning of Christmas. The story’s narrator holds a bitter grudge as he sends his enemy crude and discarded gifts. The opening lines of the book make this clear: “On the first night of Christmas, I gave my enemy a briar from a tanglewood tree. On the second night of Christmas, I gave my enemy two rotten eggs.”
These gifts begin to pile up night after night –rusty rough-hewn nails, shards of glass, broken tools –along with messages of revenge against the enemy. The night that followed the twelfth day, the narrator wallows in his sallow state against his enemy. He dreams his enemy convulses. He dreams his enemy gags. He dreams his enemy swears. But his dreams are suddenly disrupted when he receives a knock at his front door and a gift on the ground. Little does the narrator know that all of these ordinary objects of trash would be sent back from his enemy, assembled into a traditional nativity crèche and an unexpected request from the enemy: Forgiveness. Each of these odious gifts is nothing less than a Christmas miracle and the narrator’s heart turns. The closing lines reflect this “He turned the other check and made my ugliness a gem. And by doing so, pointed me to lovely Bethlehem.” We see the narrator’s heart transform upon the enemy’s request for forgiveness. The story reminds us that Christmas isn’t about holiday stress, how many gifts are sitting under the tree or holding grudges. Christmas is about forgiveness.
We’ve all been where the enemy in this story has been. When we are hurt by someone and allow hate, as opposed to love live in our hearts, it’s especially hard to forgive. Our pride is injured and our self-esteem destroyed. We want to retaliate and there are resistances that block our motivation to forgive. You may even experience emotions outside of yourself, and dark thoughts you wouldn’t want others to know you’re feeling. We start telling ourselves, “They don’t deserve forgiveness”, “If they want me to forgive them, they need to apologize to me”, “I won’t forgive them unless they accept responsibility for what they’ve done to me”, “I’m too hurt to forgive”, or simply “I don’t want to be the bigger person here”. These thoughts represent the ego and our constant need to be right. But even though we desperately want forgiveness to be about us, it isn’t. The ability to forgive others is rooted in being forgiven ourselves. The Bible tells us that God loved the world so much that he sent His only son so that we would be forgiven. God provides a way for us to be forgiven, through Jesus’ birth. God’s plan of salvation is seen through this beautiful nativity story. He sent Jesus into the world as a sacrifice for our sins. God wasn’t in His head about it. He offered us one of the greatest gifts because He truly loves us.
On top of the beautiful gift of salvation and forgiveness offered through Jesus’ birth, the Bible states that when someone hurts us, we have an obligation to God to forgive that person. This point is made clear by Jesus “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others of their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Refusing to forgive is a sin and if we don’t open our hearts to forgiving others, we are missing the significance of Christ’s birth.
Matthew 5:43-44 tells us “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” As Beeson brings these verses from the Gospel of Matthew to life with 'A Rare Nativity,' we too are invited to grant open-hearted forgiveness with others. If you’re holding a grudge, or simply have trouble forgiving someone in your life, let it go. While forgiveness is a decision of the will, remember that God commands us to forgive. There are numerous verses in the Bible that remind us of the commandment to “forgive one another” and though we can’t turn everyone’s heart towards forgiveness, God still desires that we possess a forgiving spirit. Why? Because in Christ, God forgave. Ephesians 4:32 reminds us of this “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” To forgive is one of the greatest gifts we can offer this Christmas.