Summary: Reconciliation is a choice we need to make if we’re serious about the message of Christmas.
“A Mistletoe Message” Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts. Christmas Eve devotional
During our “Hanging of the Greens” one of our deacons was wondering whether to place a large ribbon over the doorway leading upstairs. The concern was whether it might get in the way. I thought about it and commented that one thing that would definitely slow people down is if we put some mistletoe over the doorway!
When we lived in Frankfurt, Germany, I remember seeing trees near our military quarters with clumps of mistletoe in them. Though mistletoe looks nice as a Christmas decoration, I learned that it’s a parasitic plant that can damage a healthy tree. Mistletoe is not a tree’s best friend. Today we think of it as a friend to romantic couples, but it didn’t start out that way…
The use of mistletoe dates back to the Druids of northern Europe. They believed that mistletoe had medicinal benefits, and provided a cure for broken relationships. When enemies found themselves under a tree with mistletoe above, they saw it as a sign from God to lay down their weapons and be reconciled. Mistletoe became a symbol of goodwill.
When Christian missionaries moved into northern Europe they realized that mistletoe provided a perfect symbol for what occurred at the first Christmas. Jesus’ birth ushered in the opportunity of reconciliation between us and God. “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men” is a mistletoe message. And so, mistletoe became a Christian tool, an object lesson for communicating Biblical truth. It gradually took on a mere romantic connotation.
Christmas festivities unfortunately get marred by broken relationships. Holiday stress isn’t just from over-scheduling and over-spending. It often is caused by strife between family members. I recall spending Christmases in New Jersey traveling up and down the Garden State Parkway visiting relatives. They didn’t all get along, and they weren’t all speaking to each other. Grudges, hurt feelings, and misunderstandings can tarnish the holiday.
I spent one Christmas far from home with the 2nd Infantry Division near the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea. The Korean War ended with a ceasefire, and ever since there’s been tension between Northern Korea and the rest of the world. There’ve been many unreported border incidents over the decades. North Korea is the most closed society on the planet. The few outsiders who are allowed to visit find themselves closely monitored and escorted only to places the government wants them to see. They’re not allowed to mingle with people or ask them questions about their lives. Dissent is not tolerated, and there is no Christmas in North Korea, at least not openly. Here’s a country that could use some mistletoe.
According to our Scripture passage, reconciliation is a work of God. The word reconciliation means to settle differences and reunite, to end a relationship of hostility. It requires change. Reconciliation is different from forgiveness, which is one-way. It’s a process that forgiveness begins. It begins when we stop wishing the past could’ve been different. Reconciliation is a mutual, two-way connection. Since it takes two, it can be refused. God offers to return us to Himself, because of the Cross, and once we’re reconciled to God, we’re enabled to reconcile with others. We learn from Jesus that the way to destroy our enemies is to make them our friends. He has given us the “ministry of reconciliation.” When we find peace with God, we can live at peace with others. God wants us to become His ambassadors of peace. Someone observed, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will never be unemployed.”
A minister knew two men in his parish who were at odds, so at the Christmas service he tried to get them together. He went to one of them and asked, “Why don’t you go over after the service and wish this man a Happy New Year”? He reluctantly agreed. He approached his less-than-friend and said, “I wish you a Happy New Year…but only one.”
How do we respond when someone slights or mistreats us? Do we “write them off,” or do we try to remove the barriers? It’s been said that, “people who fight fire with fire usually end up with ashes” (VanBuren). Jesus directed, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Mt 5:23-24). Thomas Merton cautions, “Do not be too quick to assume that your enemy is an enemy of God just because he is your enemy.”
Reconciliation is a confusing concept to people without faith. They may see it as weakness, even foolishness. They treat with kindness only those who deserve their kindness. They justify their grudges and hold onto their animosity as though it were a virtue (and not a poison). We need reconciliation in our troubled world. Jesus came for this reason.