December 25th is famous as the purported birthday of someone born long, long ago—apparently in a manger. I recognize that the mention of Jesus Christ can be controversial, the way he gets invoked often loaded, heated, corrupt. Max Von Sydow’s character in Hannah and Her Sisters said it best: “If Jesus came back and saw what’s going on in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.”
Jesus at his essence has a lot to teach us. The likelihood that he walked on water is right up there with the biological improbability that he was born to a mother who was a virgin. But even if the sensational aspects of his life were symbolic instead of real, who cares? Jesus shows us the potential of the human heart. The guy knew how to forgive.
In a time rife with grudge-holding and blame within our nation, we could all stand to practice a little more forgiveness. We would profit ourselves and each other by following Jesus’ lead. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus rejects revenge and retaliation. He doesn’t call on his followers to hate or avenge their aggressors, but instead to lead, always, with love and forgiveness. Jesus lived in an era of famine and persecution, but was still able to profess turning the other cheek—this in contrast to our current times where we live in unparalleled abundance, safety, and security, yet so many of our people choose to practice hate. And that’s the operative word: choose. It’s a choice.
I saw an interview with a woman who’d been in the Bataclan massacre in Paris. Facedown on the floor, which was pooling with other people’s blood, she’d been separated from her boyfriend, and, besieged by the sound of incessant gunfire, had every reason to believe these were the final moments of her life. She made a choice. She decided that although the terrorists may very well take her life right then and there, they could not take her heart. She could die feeling fear and hate, or she could die with love and forgiveness. So she willfully started to call to mind each person in her life she loved, envisioning their faces, feeling her love for them fill her heart, and whispering into the floor, “I love you.” She whispered each person’s name, one by one, with the words “I love you” and she described sensing a warmth, a glow seeming to surround her as a result. This was a dire circumstance, and yet she was able to make this noble beautiful choice. To choose love.
A loving heart is a forgiving one; they are inextricably related, love and forgiveness, siamese twins. A vengeful heart is a toxic one. You’ve seen that bumper sticker: What would Jesus do? He’d choose the former. We can too.