Power To Reconcile
Reconciliation! Isn't it a beautiful word! Reconcile, to bring together. Once estranged, once separated, now brought together, reconciled. My father-in-law and his eldest sister did not speak to each other for twenty-five years. They went to their graves, unreconciled, estranged. My father-in-law was also estranged from one of his brothers until one day they were together at our house (we had the policy of inviting everyone; whether they wanted to accept the invitation knowing who also was going to be there was their decision, not ours.) My step father-in-law strongly spoke to them of family, love, peace, and urged them to shake hands. They did. What an emotional moment that was! They were reconciled from then on. Reconciliation is a beautiful word!
Nearly two thousand years ago (actually it's over two thousand years ago as Jesus was born in 4 BC; so much for the hoopla surrounding the year 2,000!) a man was born in an obscure village in a conquered, downtrodden country of the Roman Empire. He grew to maturity without every leaving the land of his birth, a nation about the size of the state of Massachusetts. He was not learned by our standards; he spoke none of the great languages of the day, only Aramaic. He earned his living as a carpenter. His close associates were social outcasts, prostitutes, tax collectors, fishermen. He established a reputation as a teacher. Stories of strange power grew up around him. Finally, he involved himself in tense conflict with the religious hierarchy. They had him arrested, tried, sentenced, tortured, and executed. They thought they had finished with him. But from that life there emanated power, love, and life such as the world has never known.
Bishop Matthew Spong, This Hebrew Lord
From Jesus there emanated power, including the power to reconcile, to overcome estrangement, separation, and alienation. A very moving story of reconciliation is the testimony of Jurgen Moltmann, written in the Christian Century magazine (August 13-20, 1997). Moltmann, a famous theologian and university professor, was a German soldier captured by the British. He spent three years in Labor Camps in Scotland. Let me read a few excerpts from his story.
The end of the war and the summer of 1945 brought cold horror into the camp: the German cities in ruins; 12 million people fleeing...We had escaped but we had lost all hope. Some of us became cynical, some of us fell ill. The thought of there being no way out was like an iron band constricting our hearts.
And then those sleepless nights, when I was overwhelmed by the tormenting memories of the tanks that overran us, and woke up soaked with sweat; when the faces of the dead appeared and looked at me with quenched and sightless eyes.
And then came what was for me the worst of all...We were confronted with pictures of Blesen and Auschwitz. They were pinned up in one of the huts, without comment. Some thought it was just propaganda...but slowly and inexorably the truth filtered into our awareness, and we saw ourselves mirrored in the eyes of the Nazi victims. Was this what we had fought for?... Some were so appalled they didn't want to go back to Germany ever again.
For me, the turn from humiliation to new hope came about through two things--first through the Bible, and then through the encounter with other people. Together with some other astonished prisoners, I was for the first time given a Bible by a well-meaning army chaplain. I read it without much comprehension, until I stumbled on the psalms of lament...Then I came to the story of the Passion, and when I read Jesus' death cry, "My God, why have you forsaken me?," I knew with certainty: this is someone who understands.
The other thing was the kindness with which Scots and English, our former enemies, came to meet us half way. In Kilmarnock the miners and their families took us in with a hospitality that shamed us profoundly. We heard no reproaches, we were accused of no guilt. We were accepted as people, even though we were just numbers and wore our prisoners' patches on our backs.
...Norton Camp was a kind of monastic enclosure...The day began at 6:30 with a bugle call and ended at 10:30 PM, when the English put out the lights. We had time, time in plenty, and stood, spiritually and mentally starving as we were, in front of a wonderful library put together by the YMCA. I read everything-- poems and novels, mathematics and philosophy...and the theology especially was fabulously new to me. The YMCA also printed books for the help of POWs. I still have some of them.
I think of the moving sermons by our camp chaplains...They were the first sermons I had ever heard, and I could still repeat some of them today.
...It was a marvelously, richly blessed time. We were given what we did not deserve, and received of the fullness of Christ "grace upon grace".
Jurgen Moltmann experienced reconciliation, reconciliation with former enemies, the English and Scots, and reconciliation with God. Is there anyone with whom you need to be reconciled? Christmas is an ideal time to take steps for reconciliation. Christmas is a time for family, a time for friends. From whom are you estranged? What do you need to do to offer reconciliation?
Christmas is also an ideal time for you to become reconciled with God. We are all separated, estranged from God. Between us and God is a chasm which the Bible calls sin. Sin is a state of separation from God. Deeds which are commonly called sins are committed because of sin. They are evidence of sin, evidence of estrangement.
God has not left us alone in our separation, but has provided the means by which the chasm is bridged. Jesus is the means of reconciliation. Jesus is the bridge between God and us. Each summer in Cherokee, North Carolina, Unto These Hills, the thrilling story of Tsali, a Cherokee Indian brave, is re-enacted. In 1838, 17,000 Cherokee Indians were forced by General Winfield Scott to journey en masse in awful conditions from western North Carolina to Oklahoma. More than 4,000 perished on that terrible trail of tears.
Some 1,000 Indians, however, had hidden in the Great Smoky mountains. One of these was Tsali. Tsali's wife had been murdered by a drunken United States soldier who, in turn, was killed by Tsali and his family. They then escaped into the depths of America's largest virgin forest. Eventually a trusted friend transmitted General Scott's compromise proposal: If Tsali and his sons and brother-in-law would surrender to be shot, the remainder of the tribe could stay in the beautiful land of their birth.
After days of anguish, Tsali, with his two sons and brother-in-law walked unescorted into a nearby town to die. What brought him? White soldiers never could have found him in his cave. Despite a burning desire to live, love for his people brought him to die. At the last moment, his youngest son was saved from the firing squad by the tears of a woman missionary. No such grace for Tsali. The rifles rang out and three men died, but a thousand Cherokees were free to remain in the Great Smoky mountains. John 15:13, "Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
Tsali gave his life to save his people. Jesus gave his life to save us. The angels announced to the shepherds, "For you is born a Savior." We don't know how, but through Jesus' life and death, we are reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5:19, "In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself." There are several theories, one of which is that Jesus took our place, substituting for us as he paid the penalty of sin. I have never been comfortable with that theory as it implies a kind of God that requires compensation. What I do know is that by confessing that we are sinners separated from God, trusting that Jesus died for us, and opening our lives to forgiveness, we are reconciled, brought together, with God.
If you are in a state of separation from God, let this Christmas be the most memorable and special you have experienced. Let Jesus give you the power to reconcile, to reconcile yourself with those from whom you are estranged, and to reconcile you with God, your Creator.
© 1998 Douglas I. Norris
© 1998 Douglas I. Norris