One morning, a year or so ago, as I stood in the Communion line I looked up to see a person receiving the cup—a person whom I do not like and rarely agree with…on anything. As I smirked my dislike in his direction, I heard a still small voice murmur, “You’re going to spend eternity with this person; you might as well start getting over yourself now.” I was stunned, in that eternal moment at Christ’s banquet table, to hear eternity addressed in such tactless terms.
But, something began that morning, a new look at forgiving, a letting go of my dearly held irritations and an opening to reconciliation. As far as I know, the reconciliation is one sided—on my side. This person has never been anything but kind and amiable toward me, and I had never expressed my dislike of him to him, at least not consciously. I had simply harbored and coddled a private scorn. Since that morning, I have striven to let go of that smirking, smoldering insistence on unlove. I succeed at that better at some times than at others, but the struggle toward freedom has made me aware of other needs to forgive.
As Christmas promises to bring togetherness with any number of people whose presence in my life is less than comfortable, that still, small voice returns: “Get over yourself and try love.” If Jesus truly is the Son of God and the savior of the world, and if I really am his disciple, I reckon his incarnation ought to be present in my life in this most urgent of seasons. The people in my life need the love and forgiveness and reconciliation that begins with the risky, vulnerable birth in Bethlehem. Maybe they can begin to find what they need as we gather to celebrate if I allow Jesus’ risky, vulnerable birth in me.
P.S. Maybe this excerpt from Thomas Merton will clarify:
[Circular Letter, Advent-Christmas, 1967] The times are difficult. They call for courage and faith. Faith is in the end a lonely virtue. Lonely especially where a deep authentic community of love is not an accomplished fact, but a job to be begun over and over… Love is not something we get from Mother Church as a child gets milk from the breast: it also has to be given. We don’t get love if don’t give any.
Christmas, then, is not just a sweet regression to breast-feeding and infancy. It is a serious and sometimes difficult feast. Difficult especially if, for psychological reasons, we fail to grasp the indestructible kernel of hope that is in it. If we are just looking for a little consolation-we may be disappointed.
Thomas Merton. The Road to Joy, Robert E. Daggy, editor (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1989): 108.