I absolve you. It’s in my power to do it and I’m glad to do it. I’m offering you Christmas absolution.
That guilt you feel about your inability to make the season perfect, to purchase, wrap, and present in time the just-right gift to everyone on your list: I absolve you.
That sense of nagging unease you feel about trying to squeeze a month’s worth of delight, wonder, rest, and cozy into a couple of days of vacation: I absolve you.
That anxiety you feel about whether or not your purchases are local enough, sustainable enough, and virtuous enough, about whether or not you are doing enough for the economy, I absolve you of all the things that produce it.
The pressure you feel to perform the part at Christmas, and the guilt you feel when you fail to, the way you wince when you hear the mirthless ring of your own “ho, ho, ho,” I absolve you of that too.
Absolution is forgiveness adjacent, but it is not the same. Both absolution and forgiveness have to do with wrongdoing and the moral account, but with a distinction.
If there is a person in the house whose job it is to water the tree regularly, but that person neglects the job so entirely that the tree expires before we make it to Christmas, that is a sin for which he might be forgiven.
But say someone is under a cloud of dread and guilt because it has occurred to him that he doesn’t know whose job it is to water the tree, but he knows that he hasn’t done it and he suspects that no one else has. During the day when he’s out and about he worries that the desiccated tree has caught fire and that he will return to find his house burned to the ground and, worst of all, Christmas ruined.
But two significant facts pertain to our anxious fellow. First he was not negligent in the fulfilment of an obligation. And, secondly, the tree was fake (he was more anxious than perceptive.)
In such a case the poor fellow doesn’t require forgiveness, but absolution, a removal of guilt by a rejection of fault.
We must be careful of absolution. It should be a crime to withhold absolution from anyone to whom you might offer it. But it should also be a crime to offer absolution anywhere that forgiveness is more in order. When I sin and come to you with my excuses for that sin, be very critical of those excuses. I, like most of us, have a bad habit of asking for sympathy when what I need is grace, asking you to agree with me that I’m not really at fault, because I crave vindication.
But if you accept my excuses and shush my nagging guilt you are helping me build up a wall to keep out grace, because, after all, what would I need grace for if it wasn’t really my fault?
So, yes, we must be careful with absolution. But we mustn’t be stingy with it.
Satan would prefer to lead you into sin. But he will gladly satisfy himself with crippling you with misplaced guilt. He’d like to see you in prison for a crime you committed, but he will chortle if you make yourself an inmate at home without the help of any prosecutor.
Absolution is well called for at times, and perhaps never more so than at Christmas.
I, like the angels outside of Bethlehem, have come to bring you good news.
You are not a consumer, not a shopper. God did not bring you into existence because he thought you’d be good for the economy. What you are is a child of God whose body, with its need for sleep and nourishment and recreation, has been sanctified by the fact that God himself shared our physical condition in the person of Jesus Christ. Take a deep breath with lungs that will one day breathe the air of heaven, and reject the pressures that would reduce you to a mere component of the global economy.
You have not been given the assignment to make Christmas perfect. Not by God, in any case. If there are people in your life who really feel that you ought to be making things perfect (and perhaps there are) they are wrong to do so. You no doubt would like for things to be perfect, and your disappointment is legitimate. I sympathize with you and am lamenting disappointments of my own. But guilt? No. We reject it.
And what of the moving goalposts of “enough?” There will not be enough this Christmas. There will never be enough. Not enough time in pajamas, not enough gifts under the tree, not enough holiday frivolity. “Enough” is elusive and unattainable and the guilt you feel about it is misplaced. You might just as well feel guilty about walking all day and never arriving at the horizon.
And it is not your job to read from the holiday script, to wear a mask of giddy pleasure, to dance when commercial interests pull on your puppet strings. If you haven’t got it in you, there is no fault in that. Spurn the director, wipe off the makeup, dismount from the stage; you’re free from the obligation to play the part.
I’m offering you Christmas absolution, merry Christmas! Please accept it. It’s sweeter than eggnog, and more nourishing than figgy pudding. Take it. Nibble, then chew, then gulp great mouthfuls. Be at liberty and celebrate the birth of our Savior in a state of perfect peace.
Furnace Brook Wesleyan Church Blog