I have a confession to make…there are some people in my life that are hard to love. Sometimes, the difficulty is because of things they have done or particular parts of their personality. Sometimes, it is there because of my personality or things that I have done. Honestly, it is almost always a combination of those two. One of the best parts of the Christmas season is the opportunity to celebrate family and relationships. At the same time, one of the most difficult parts of the Christmas season is the need to deftly navigate some of those strained relationships.
The apostle Paul wraps up his second letter to the Corinthians with these words:
“Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.”
2 Corinthians 13:11
We share these words with one another on Thursdays of Lighthouse Retreats. But these words are also relevant as we walk together through the Advent season. Advent is a season of preparation for the celebration of the birth of the Messiah as well as hope for the full restoration of all things through His resurrection. The Advent season reminds us that God’s desire in all things is always restoration. And the life of Jesus - from his birth to resurrection - reminds us that restoration is always born through love and sacrifice. Our relationship with God that was broken through our sin could only be restored through His love and sacrifice for us.
Our response to this gift of restoration should be to extend it to others. This is why in another letter written to the church in Philippi, Paul wrote these words:
“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
This holiday season as you encounter difficult people, the life of Jesus invites you to look for ways to respond with love. When you are cut-off in the parking lot, respond with love. When someone gives you a dirty look, love. When you encounter impatience, love. When someone critiques your home, love. When they critique your cooking, love. When they are passive-aggressive, love. When they don’t like your gift, love. When they bring up the past, love. When they hurt you, love.
In doing so, you may help restore their souls just a bit - but God will certainly be restoring yours. And, in the words of Paul, “The God of love and peace will be with you.” This is what we mean during the Advent season when we say Emmanuel! God is with us.