Christmas Means Reconciliation -by Ben Olsen

Christmastime is back- my favorite time of year! The whole country is bustling and people seem to smile a little more. It brings out the best in many of us. We travel to see family and it’s also a big time of year for sports. The NFL is heading into the end of the season and the excitement of the playoffs is near. College basketball is nearly in full swing – I love the nostalgia of this holiday and you just can’t forget the movies and music that help lighten moods- Charlie Brown, Home Alone, Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story,  and so many others… The 80s charity music group formed called Band Aid, Mannheim Steamroller, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby and the list goes on.

Christmastime brings out the best in many of us but it can be very depressing and painful for some. The pain is only intensified for so many who are in need and estranged from their families. A cheesy, but zany and fun 80s sitcom favorite of mine, paints an adequate picture of our relationship with God and others. It also conveys a magnificent message of love and friendship on a Christmas episode special. Though there are many other redemptive themes in this particular episode, the concept of unconditional love and grace is palpable.

The main characters, Balki and Larry were having a Christmas party for their coworkers. Balki invites the smug, rude, and insecure mail room boss, Mr. Gorpley, much to the chagrin of everyone in the office.

“Invite anyone but Gorpley”, remarked one lady in the office.

But Balki insists, “Those who are hurting need friendship more than anyone.” (Jesus came for the sick and hurting) While at the party, Mr. Gorpley spends much of the night being rude and unkind with his snarky sense of humor. When it comes time for everyone to exchange gifts, Mr. Gorpley nonchalantly ridicules and mocks the gifts and his coworkers, exhibiting his insecurity and the pain of past Christmases. Feelings triggered by holiday themes at the party begin to make him recount his past hurts all through childhood and adulthood and he begins to tell others why he has become the person he is.

Just as others have begun to feel compassion and empathy for him, likely to avoid the humbling experience of the pity of others, Gorpley rejects their consolation and becomes yet more unkind and rude.  Finally everyone has had enough and in classic 80s sitcom style they rush him and carry him out the door. Balki, however, unwilling to give up on him, runs out after the crowd to retrieve Mr. Gorpley, insisting the others let him back in (much like what Jesus does for humanity even though he is rejected).

Finally, as Balki gets Gorpley back into the room, Balki presents a deeply meaningful gift that he has planned all along to give him. Gorpley is almost in shock that someone would think of him and actually want to give him a gift. In fact nobody else at the party brought a gift for Gorpley. It could be said that he didn’t “qualify” for their friendship. He begins to feel different and almost can’t even accept Balki’s gift. With excuses and more rejection he replies “I can’t take your gift. I didn’t get you anything.”

Balki replies, “If you just accept my gift of love and friendship, you’ve already given me a gift!” Moved by this, Gorpley accepts the gift, and there is an immediate change in his attitude, a change as if they are reconciled; true acceptance.

Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? No matter how hurt or “damaged” we are, Jesus offers the gift of himself, accepting us just as we are. That is precisely the message we share at the mission. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us… we don’t have to “clean ourselves up” or start “acting right” before we receive his gift because the scripture says while we were yet (or still) sinners, Christ died for us. It’s a message counter to everything in human nature; to love unconditionally. The beauty of it is, just like Balki’s gift to Mr. Gorpley, we don’t have to qualify to receive it!

This message is what we live for; that a virgin young lady birthed the son of God, and He came to give us the greatest Gift anyone could ever hope for, a gift we could never qualify for or earn. All we have to do is accept it! ….

Peace on Earth… God and sinners reconciled… Christ is born! This is good news.

Merry Christmas!

Ben Olsen, Associate Director