Last night, the winds changed. Instead of a warm, gentle, southerly breeze for a cold December day, northerly winds picked up bringing the first bitter bite into an early winter. During this change in weather, someone walked onto the property of NorthHaven Church with desperation in their heart. They pulled their truck up to two trailers that we had recently acquired for conducting disaster relief this Spring. The trailers were donated to us from the Cooperating Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma and First Baptist Church, Rome, Georgia. Our uninvited guests broke into one of the trailers, stealing a large generator that provided power to it. Leaving behind a mess for us to clean up, our uninvited guests pulled away with the generator and a little piece of our hearts along with it.
It can be easy to get angry at such bold and callus behavior. My head keeps telling me these thieves have no consciences, stealing from a church that is attempting to help people going through extremely difficult times. My emotions begin to boil over as I contemplate the thieves selling the generator for cash to buy drugs, booze, or for some other mischievous behavior. I get so worked up just thinking about it, but then Jesus shows up. He tugs at my heart, he touches my soul, and he clears my mind. His words reverberate in my ears, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14). Grace. Mercy. Forgiveness. Love. Hope. The easy thing to do about this situation would be to react with anger and retribution, but God has called us to a higher standard. He has called us to rise out of darkness that we might shed light for others to follow.
In Victor Hugo’s masterful work, Les Misérables, Jean Valjean found his way to the Digne Parish in southeastern France after being released from prison. The parish was overseen by Bishop Myrel. The bishop was a small man, but as Valjean discovered, the bishop had a gigantic heart. Early the next day, Valjean leaves the generosity of the parish and steals the silverware. Caught by local authorities, he was brought back to the bishop to face his crime. Bishop Myrel, however, demonstrated the epitome of God’s grace. He commends the officer that brought Valjean back, but informs them that he has given the silver to him. Not only that, but he had forgotten the two most expensive pieces. Handing him two large silver candlesticks, the bishop leaned into Valjean and offered, “I give you this silver to become an honest man. God has raised you out of darkness.” While Hugo’s overall work emphasizes the French Revolution, the real story is about one man’s revolution to become a better man.
Therefore, as I drive myself to buy a new lock for the trailer, file a police report, and talk to our insurance company, I reject the anger trying to build up inside me. Instead, I am attempting to follow the words of Jesus and the example of Bishop Myrel. My hope now is that our uninvited guests find use for the generator. I hope it brings them prosperity that they no longer must steal from others. I pray that through their actions, they discover God’s grace, his mercy, and his salvation for their lives. May they rise from the darkness of dishonesty to bask in the light of glory. In other words, may they discover the hope of Advent through an Advent theft.