Make a List of Your Enemies. And Check it Twice.
If you're a fan of lists, Christmas is your season. There are shopping lists, dinner guests lists, and endless to-do lists. My first grade son, Ian, even told me on the way home from the dentist yesterday he needs to hang a list of all the things he has to do each day on the refrigerator so he'll quit forgetting to brush his teeth. (The dentist broke the overbearing news to him that he needs to brush twice a day for two minutes each time). So Ian's now a list fan at the age of 7. And who can't recall the greatest Christmas list of them all: Santa's naughty and nice list. The most powerful earthly compilation of names ever, the one that makes parents smile and kids squirm and keeps a billion or so elves doing more appearing and disappearing acts than David Copperfield.
We can be sure, Christmastime loves its lists.
I got to thinking about lists yesterday when I started thinking of a new one of my own. In some ways Christmas might not be the right time for this list, but in most ways it's the perfect time. I want to make a list of all the people and people groups I hate or who make me feel uncomfortable. The ones who annoy the living tar out of me and make me cringe to even think about being in their presence. It probably won't surprise you, I got the idea for this list while scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed. Many of our national leaders, and even some of my friends, have no problem sharing with everyone the list of people they implicitly or explicitly hate.
It's made me stop and think a lot lately about the people I hate. Who is it that I don't love because they are difficult to love. I've been guilty in my lifetime - very guilty at times - of letting the lovable people in my life monopolize my love. And I've allowed myself to feel like that's a perfectly logical way to love. If you're trying to make your way through this world as unscathed and unvictimized as possible, I suppose it is. If you're trying to make your way into eternal life and into Jesus' world, it's actually a completely backwards way to love.
I believe the hardest challenges ever issued in the bible comes from the book of Matthew (5:43-48):
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Think about that for a second - I know I have - If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? (The tax collectors in biblical times were regarded as the most evil people around. Maybe even in modern times...).
I firmly believe reward here is meant in a couple of ways. One, when we love those who are hardest to love, our lives are more fulfilled. There's something personally rewarding and magical in watching the hate between two people or two people groups fall prey to the overwhelming power of love.
Here's another way I think reward is meant. Jesus is keeping a list as well. A heavenly compilation of names. I firmly believe if we want to be children of our Father in heaven, we have to strive for a love as perfect as his. We have to greet more than our own people if we want Jesus standing at the doors of heaven smiling and ready to greet us.
It's a hard thing you know. Loving those who hate us. Thankfully, God knows that. If we could pull that one off on our own he would have never sent his Son to die for us, a Holy Spirit to lean on when our hate seems particularly challenging to overcome. The baby in a manger didn't come just for people who like babies. He came for everyone.
So maybe this Christmas make a list. A list of the people you hate. (And keep in mind, there is no middle ground. You either love someone or you hate them). Make it a personal challenge this Christmas to remove just one person from that list. Do something more than even the tax collectors are doing. You might just discover your greatest Christmas ever. And make it the same for someone else.