Growing up in the early 1960s, Christmas was always my favorite time of the year. Like all my childhood friends, it truly was “the most wonderful time of the year.” Sure, getting presents was the best part of Christmas, but there was also something magical about the holiday season.
My parents told me it was the “Christmas spirit.” Family and friends were always happy and joyful. Even strangers would smile and say “Merry Christmas” as they passed by. I always enjoyed waving back and saying “Merry Christmas” in return. You could just feel the Christmas spirit in the air.
I miss that feeling, it’s just not the same today. Atheists, liberals and other “politically correct” activists have taken Christ out of Christmas. Even at a Christmas church service last Sunday, the guest speaker didn’t wish the congregation a “Merry Christmas,” but used the more palatable “Happy Holidays.”
The whole push to remove Christ out of Christmas has gotten so bad that it’s getting pathetic. You might recall last year when the Nativity scenes in Santa Monica’s Palisades Park were banned — a 60-year tradition! I feel fortunate to have very fond memories of my mom and dad driving us by there every year growing up.
Today, you will find plenty of tips on how to get the Christmas spirit back. Several articles suggest that (1) listening to Christmas music; (2) putting up Christmas lights and ornaments; (3) decorating a Christmas tree; (4) spending time with family and friends; and (5) giving gifts can help bring back the Christmas spirit.
Now, I am sure that all Rafu Shimpo readers would like to “have yourself a very merry Christmas.” But in order to “let your heart be light” this Christmas season, there is one suggestion that none of these articles suggest. It’s kind of a play on words, but try to reflect upon the fact that Christmas is forgiving (as opposed to “for giving”).
“But Judd, what are you talking about?” OK, we all know that you give gifts at Christmas time. What I’m saying is that you have to forgive to truly have the Christmas spirit. “Forgive?” you say. “Forgive who???” I don’t know; you are the only one that truly knows who you may be harboring unforgiveness towards.
For some, it may be an old friend or family member who did something to you years ago that you’ll never forgive them for. For others, it may be a country, e.g., for putting American citizens of Japanese ancestry in internment camps. Still for others, it could even be God, e.g., “if there is a God, He hasn’t been very good to me and my family — so I don’t believe in Him.”
The late Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), president of South Africa, knew something about forgiveness. Mandela served over 27 years in prison for “high treason” against the state for his fight against racism, poverty and inequality for the black majority. Yet he said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
Many of us (probably all of us) have been hurt by others in our lives. But holding a grudge or unforgiveness towards that person(s) is probably hurting you more than it is hurting them. They might not even know that they hurt you. So your unforgiveness towards them is not affecting them at all. But it’s slowly poisoning you.
The Standish brothers have authored several books suggesting that God, the Creator of man, desires that man prosper in every aspect of life, e.g., physically, emotionally, socially, intellectually, and spiritually. They concluded that the Bible should not only be used for spiritual guidance in human lives, but as guidance in every area of life.
For example, the Old Testament “law” said not to eat pork or shellfish. Today, we know that pork that is not completely cooked has worms and shellfish can be poisonous. The 7th Commandment says, “Do not commit adultery.” Today, we know adultery can lead to venereal disease and a host of other sexually transmitted diseases.
Here’s where it gets interesting at Christmas time. If we follow that thought — that the Creator of man knows what makes man prosper or suffer — we come to:
“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
In other words, God wants you to prosper and is giving you a clue, i.e., forgive. You will be blessed physically, emotionally, socially, intellectually and spiritually as well. Why? Because God promises that if we forgive, He will also forgive us. The Bible says that “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)
Let’s face it — none of us is perfect, and who wouldn’t want all their sins to be forgiven? The Standish brothers believed that a large percentage of psychiatric wards could be closed if the issue of guilt were addressed from a Christ-centered perspective, i.e., “justification” means “just as if you never did it.
According to the Mayo Clinic website, “Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you deny the other person’s responsibility for hurting you, and it doesn’t minimize or justify the wrong. You can forgive the person without excusing the act. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life.”
By embracing forgiveness, you can also embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy. Consider how forgiveness can lead you down the path of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for compassion, kindness and peace. Forgiveness can lead to:
• Healthier relationships
• Less anxiety, stress and hostility
• Lower blood pressure
• Fewer symptoms of depression
• Lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse
• Greater spiritual and psychological well-being
“Say, Judd, are you saying that if I forgive I can get off some of my medications?” Not exactly, I’m not a doctor. But, not only does the Bible command us to forgive, but the Mayo Clinic studies show that it will lower stress and blood pressure. Try it — it couldn’t hurt. And if your doctor takes you off a medication or two, I’d like to know.
“But Judd, you don’t understand, I can’t forgive.” Actually, I think I do understand. There are many of us that have been so hurt that it’s impossible to forgive. You would like to, and have even tried several times, but are still not able to forgive. Here’s something from author and missionary Corrie ten Boom that might help.
Corrie ten Boom and her family were arrested by the Nazis for hiding Jews in their Amsterdam home during the Holocaust. They were sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp, where several members of her family perished. After her release, she went on as a missionary, preaching God’s forgiveness and the need for reconciliation.
As an expert in forgiveness, she says, “If you have ever seen a country church with a bell in the steeple, you will remember that to get the bell ringing you have to tug a while. Once it has begun to ring, you merely maintain the momentum. As long as you keep pulling, the bell keeps ringing.”
According to Corrie ten Boom, “Forgiveness is letting go of the rope. It is just that simple. But when you do so, the bell keeps ringing. Momentum is still at work. However, if you keep your hands off the rope, the bell will begin to slow and eventually stop.”
It is like that with forgiveness. When you decide to forgive, the old feelings of resentment and unforgiveness may continue to assert themselves. After all, they have lots of momentum. But if you affirm your decision to forgive, that unforgiving spirit will begin to slow and will eventually be still.
Judd Matsunaga, Esq., is the founding partner of the Law Offices of Matsunaga & Associates, specializing in estate/Medi-Cal planning, probate, personal injury and real estate law. With offices in Torrance, Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Pasadena and Fountain Valley, he can be reached at (800) 411-0546. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.