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Monday, December 21, 2015

I'll Be Home for Christmas, Part 4 - Anger

Isaiah 61:8-11
8 “For I, the Lord, love justice.
    I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
I will faithfully reward my people for their suffering
    and make an everlasting covenant with them.
9 Their descendants will be recognized
    and honored among the nations.
Everyone will realize that they are a people
    the Lord has blessed.”

10 I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God!
    For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation
    and draped me in a robe of righteousness.
I am like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding
    or a bride with her jewels.
11 The Sovereign Lord will show his justice to the nations of the world.
    Everyone will praise him!
His righteousness will be like a garden in early spring,
    with plants springing up everywhere.

Over the last few weeks, we explored how Jesus helps us overcome sin, manage our time wisely, and deal with grief so we can be at Home with God this Christmas.  Today, we will look at one more common obstacle that can keep us from saying, “I’ll be Home for Christmas”—anger. 
            I once heard a Christmas song that said, “Half way round the world, sometimes that’s how it seems when walls of anger keep us from familiar Christmas scenes.  We ache for them to disappear, but don’t know how to start.  Lord with Your light, somehow tonight, bring Christmas to our hearts.”  I love those lyrics because they expresses so beautifully the way many people feel this time of year.
            This year, don’t let anger keep you from saying, “I’ll be Home for Christmas.”  In an imperfect world, we have many reasons to be angry.  Anger can be a normal and healthy emotion that motivates us to seek justice.  But anger also has a dark side.  When it is not channeled properly, it can fester deep inside a person and turn into something very dark and ugly.  Anger can become a prison that keeps us locked away from those we love and those we are called to love.
            Jesus came to help us overcome the walls of anger that keep us from being at Home with God.  He has the power to break our chains, but we must cooperate with his liberating work.  The first step is to be willing to let go of our anger.  Sometimes, anger feels good.  It makes us feel good about ourselves when we hold another in contempt for the bad things they’ve done.  But we must humble ourselves and remember that we are not perfect either. 
Christmas is a time when we think of that cute baby, Jesus, lying in a manger, but we forget that Isaiah 53:5-6 says, “He was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped, and we were healed! All of us have strayed away like sheep. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the guilt and sins of us all.”
            We have no right to self-righteous indignation against anyone.  No one is perfect.  We have all sinned.  Jesus came to bring forgiveness.  The famous prayer he taught us says, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…”[i]  It is not good for us to harbor resentment. 
We should deal with our anger with humility and love.  The moving words of 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 are a good model for us to follow.  “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged.”  How much better off we would be, how much easier it would be for us to get along if we embodied this kind of love—especially with the people to whom we are closest.
            Patience and kindness…  How often do we overreact about some silly little thing?  It’s easy to be irritable and impatient with your family.  It’s as if they know just how to push your buttons.  Have you ever seen the movie, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation?”  In the movie, the Griswold’s plans for a big family Christmas, but it turns into a big disaster.  The father, Clark Griswold (played by Chevy Chase), is obsessed with making everything go perfectly during the holiday season, but as soon as everyone arrives, things start going haywire, especially when Cousin Eddie shows up with his crazy family as uninvited, surprise guests from Kansas.  Cousin Eddie (played by Randy Quaid) is well-meaning but, sloppy, obnoxious, and rude.  He drives Clark Griswold crazy!
            Every family has a “crazy Cousin Eddie.”  He’s the guy that dresses weird or smells funny or acts crazy.  If you can’t figure out who in your family is the “Crazy Cousin Eddie,” watch out—it might be you!!!  Humility reminds us we’re all a little bit “crazy” in our own way.  Yet God loves us in spite of our irritating habits.  Patience and kindness and humility help us to bear with the idiosyncrasies of others without being irritable or rude.
            And love keeps no record of wrongs…  This doesn’t mean we pretend as though a wrong didn’t happen.  It means we don’t keep beating people up about their past sins.  Jesus said, “If your brother wrongs you seven times in a day and each time repents and asks forgiveness; you must forgive him.”[ii]  You shouldn’t hold people hostage with yesterday’s sins.  If they repent, forgiven them and try to move on.
Here’s some more helpful advice gleaned from scripture about dealing with anger.  Avoid acting on impulse when you are angry.[iii]  When tempers flare, wisdom takes a back seat to emotion and you do things you will regret latter.  Wait until you calm down and can think more clearly.  Timing is very important.  And try not to impulsively speak your mind when you are angry.[iv]  A sharp tongue cuts its own throat.  (That’s not in the Bible, but it’s true!)  Wait until you aren’t so hot before you speak your mind with a sharp tongue.  That way you will choose your words more carefully or even realize that you don’t need to say anything at all.  And avoid disciplining people when you are angry.[v]  The difference between harmful abuse and helpful discipline can be as little as ten seconds.  Stop, take a deep breathe, count to ten, and ask your self, “Is what I am about to do retaliation?  Or am I genuinely trying—in love—to help this person do better next time?”
            Because Jesus, the Word of God, became flesh and lived among us, he understands the struggles we face that make being Home for Christmas difficult.  But because Jesus is the Son of God, He has the power to overcome any obstacle that threatens to separate us from God. 
            What keeps you from being at Home with God?  Is it sin? Are you too busy?  Are you weighed down by a load of grief?  Is there anger in your heart?  Jesus understands your struggles and he has made a way for you to come Home.  Do you hear him calling you Home?  Will you accept his invitation?  Will you come Home for Christmas this year?   

Gracious Heavenly Father,
            Thank You for inviting us Home for Christmas.  Help us to be faithful as we take up our cross and follow Jesus on the road that leads us Home.  In Jesus name we pray.  Amen.

[i] Matthew 6:12
[ii] Luke 17:1 (paraphrased)
[iii] 1 Samuel 19:9-10
[iv] James 3:5
[v] 2 Corinthians 2:5-7, Ephesians 6:4

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