Recently my family re-watched Home Alone, as one does this time of year. Amid the shenanigans of many memorable scenes and lines, the movie delivers a thoughtful scene. In a near-empty church, Kevin's neighbor describes his regret due to a falling out with his son that has never been repaired. After Kevin inquires as to why he doesn't just call him, the neighbor reveals that he is afraid, afraid that his worst fears might be confirmed and that his son will always keep him at a distance. Kevin encourages him that at least he'd know for sure and perhaps it might turn out better, especially "this time of year".

Essentially, Kevin argues that, hopefully, the neighbor's son will be bothered more by being separated at Christmas than by whatever caused the fight in the first place. You both did something you shouldn't have done and you both are living with the consequences of that wrongdoing, perhaps you both dislike the consequences more than you are holding onto the original wrongs. Not bad wisdom for an 8-year-old and it works in the movie. But does it work? Does Christ have better wisdom?

As we approach Christmas Day, sadly, it becomes apparent how many Christians are living in long-term, unresolved conflict with family and friends... or at least those who were such at one time. Worse yet, it is not only with unbelieving family and friends but with those who call on the Lord and who are part of one body by one Spirit, with one hope and one faith, to one Lord, God and Father of all (Eph. 4:3-5).  I think these situations persist because (1) we regret the consequences of our offense more than we regret the offense itself, and (2) we fail to recognize that our offense puts us into greater debt with God than with the person we have offended. Consider Jesus' words in Matthew 5:25-26:

Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

How often with unresolved conflicts do we look for some assurances before we move an inch? We tell ourselves that we won't admit or agree to anything unless they are willing to do this or that. I won't admit my wrong unless they admit theirs. We can't stand the thought that we might seek forgiveness for what we know we did wrong and they never admit what we believe they did wrong. So we refuse to come to terms quickly and without qualifications because we think it will give the other too much ground. If we do not demand anything from them or bring up their wrongs then we think we may lose something but we fail to realize that there is nothing inside that clinched fist of ours. We decide it is better to hold out in hopes of negotiating better terms. Perhaps, with time, the circumstances will become more favorable for us but it rarely does in this life and it never does in the next.

What we've forgotten in this whole situation is that our offense against our accuser is, foremost, an offense against a holy and perfect God who sovereignly placed us in that family, or that church, or that circle of friends and who sees all, knows all, and judges all. How sure are you that if you and the one with whom you are in conflict were to come before Jesus today, that the impartial Judge, who knows our hearts better than we know our hearts, that it will shake out well for you? That the judge will rule favorably for you? That you would not be handed over to the officer until you paid the last penny?

We are concerned with getting every last penny from the other and we forget that God requires every last penny from us! And where are more pennies owed? Is the sin debt greater between two sinful men or between a sinful man and a perfect God? It is true that if you take the log out of your own eye first (Matthew 7:1-3) they may not extend mercy to you. They may never take the speck from their own eye. But Christ DOES promise mercy for those who show mercy and forgiveness for those who humble themselves and repent.

forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:37b-38)

Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.  Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him (Joel 2:12-14)

Jesus tells us in Luke that he won't just give mercy but it presses it down so that the cup of mercy is as full as it could be and then he pours a bit more on top for good measure. The Lord tells us through Joel that he is gracious and merciful to those whose hearts are truly repentant (see also, Psalm 51). Genuine repentance starts with sorrow for doing the wrong, not regret that you are experiencing the consequences of it, and it ends with the fruit of repentance (Luke 3:8-9; Acts 26:20). Even more, he tells us that we never know but that He may turn disaster into blessing. How many of you would like a chance... just a chance... that some disastrous relational situation might be turned into a blessing? God tells us that our best chance starts with our repentance. Only our pride and lack of faith cause us to trust ourselves instead of His Word.

It may not be that you seek to make things right, even imperfectly, and the other party is unwilling to reconcile. It may not be that they ever admit their wrongs. Now you realize that this should never have been your "worst fear" for our gravest fear, according to Jesus, is to stand before God apart from the mercy of Christ. But Christ did come this time of year and you have been reconciled through faith in Him to a just God. You have sought repentance and your conscience is clear before Him. Now you can have peace, even with unresolved conflict, because you know that He will take care of the rest (Romans 12:19-21). "Merry Christmas, you filthy animal."