On the day following the unspeakably cruel killing of his 6-year-old daughter in the gunfire at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Robbie Parker shared his thoughts and feelings with the national press.
"I'd really like to offer our deepest condolences to all of the families," said Parker. "It was a horrific tragedy, and we just want everybody to know that our hearts and our prayers go out to them."
Parker continued, "This includes the family of the shooter. I can't imagine how hard this experience must be for you, and I want you to know that from our family, our love and our support goes out to you as well."
In a few direct heartfelt sentences, Parker invited a spirit of healing into the unfolding story of the Newtown tragedy.
The starkness and scale of the Newtown tragedy continue to shock, but tragedy and loss are, of course, not new.
On Christmas Eve of 2006, Gary Ceran's family was returning home from shopping when Carlos Prieto plowed through a red light and crashed into the family's van. In an instant, druken recklessness took the lives of Ceran's wife and two children, leaving two other children injured.
Within days, Ceran publicly and unconditionally forgave Prieto. Later, at Prieto's sentencing for three counts of automibile homicide, Ceran pleaded with the judge to be merciful.
What inspires and empowers a father to offer heartfelt compassion toward to the family of the person who has violently bereaved you of your daughter and to do so within hours of the slaying?
What endows a husband and father with the grace to forgive and advocate for the person who has stolen half your family?
The answers may be as individual as each specific act of forgiveness. But it would be hard to ignore the role played by the poignant teachings of forgiveness that lie at the center of what this Christmas season symbolizes.
The Christmas story teaches us important lessons of how an all powerful God manifests his own gift of forgiveness. Yes, there were heavenly manifestations for those with humble eyes to see. But the great wonder of the nativity is the condescension of the creator of the world, choosing to come among us in the most humble of circumstances.
There was nothing special in Mary and Joseph's submission to the administrative demands of an occupying empire. There was nothing all that noteworthy about their inability to secure lodging in a distant town. There was nothing auspicious in Mary's ordinary labor pangs, endured in the indignity of a stall.
And yet, even in the passive act of being born, Jesus Christ was teaching us. He was teaching that there are no meaningful distinctions among the children of men, except for how we choose to see and treat one another. Where others saw a misunderstood, dispossessed and penurious couple, humble shepherds and aged temple worshippers recognized a Savior and Redeemer.
None, save perhaps the little children for whom he expressed special love, deserved to have him come among us. But in humility he came and told us that despite our weaknesses and mistakes, we can be better. And by better he did not mean more noticeably self-righteous, but rather more consciously focused on the will of a loving God, more focused on the genuine needs of others and, yes, more forgiving.
Because of his birth and subsequent ministry, people awed by his example and touched by his love have sought to replace their retributive impulses with compassionate ethics. After all, he taught in word and in deed that to become a child of God, we need to love and pray for our enemies and offenders. And even as he himself was brutally and unjustly executed, he prayed for the forgiveness of his tormentors.
All lives are filled with ordinary insults and petty injustices. Too many among us must grapple with horrific, undeserved tragedy. Let all of us this Christmas resolve to follow the precept and example of Jesus Christ himself. Let all of us take note of the healing spirit shown in recent powerful examples of public compassion. Let us make this a season not just of giving, but of forgiving.
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