Reality Check

When Rick returned to work after the Christmas break, he was surprised to see Seth’s desk empty. Even the computer had gone. Seth hadn’t said anything about leaving! Surely he would have told Rick. They were reasonable friends and had been together tidying up after the Friday drinks.

Maybe Seth had been considering it and had come to a decision over the break. Even so, it seemed odd.

Rick was genuinely disappointed. He had liked Seth. He was a decent, thoughtful person. And Rick had wanted to resume their conversation. They had agreed to talk again after Seth had challenged Rick to explain the real meaning of Christmas. Rick hadn’t been able to do – not convincingly.

Oh well! He and Seth hadn’t been such good friends that they had ever been to each other’s homes. They were work-mates and people come and go.

At morning tea, Brian asked them all to gather around. “It’s great to see you all again,” he said. “I hope you all had a good break and are ready for a top year. Unfortunately, we start the year on a bit of a downer. No doubt you have noticed that Seth’s desk has been cleared. Something has happened over the break and Seth is no longer with us. Apparently, someone made a complaint to the police and pornography was found on both his home and his work computers.”

There was an audible gasp and one or two people let out a “No!”

“Seth has been charged. It is company policy that anyone under investigation is to stand down until it is resolved. We don’t know the outcome so please don’t presume guilt until a verdict has been reached.”

“That leaves a gap in our team. As you know, we have targets to meet this year and the court process could take nine months or even longer. We have started advertising for a replacement. If Seth is acquitted, we will cross that bridge at that point. I am sorry about this news. I know it will be a shock. Please take some time to process it but we really need to know that by the end of tomorrow everybody is again focused and 100% committed to meeting our goals. Thank you. Have a good day and a good year.”

Rick couldn’t believe it and, judging by the conversations that day, neither could anyone else. Two days later though, it seemed that Seth had been forgotten. But Rick couldn’t get him out of his mind. Should he make contact? Apparently, Seth was still living at home and, with the use of the phonebook, Rick had figured out where that was.

On the other hand, he didn’t have a clue what to say to him. He wasn’t used to talking to people under police investigation and he was no counsellor – far from it. His compassion wasn’t bigger than his fear and so he did nothing for the next few days. The thought wouldn’t go away though. In fact, he wondered if God was talking to him – telling him to go and see Seth. Ten days after resuming work, Rick eventually made up his mind. He had to have some sort of contact with Seth.

After dinner, he drove to Seth’s address, knocked on the door and held his breath. If Seth didn’t answer maybe that was a sign that God hadn’t really spoken and he could just sneak away again. He knocked a second time and saw a curtain move. Seth had checked out who was at the door. That was OK. If he opened the door it meant he wanted to see Rick. If not, he didn’t and Rick would just leave.

The door opened. “Hey, Rick,” Seth said in a lifeless voice.

“Hi, Seth. I, um… I don’t know if you want to see anybody but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you.”

“Come in. I appreciate your coming. I wasn’t sure anyone would want to know me now.”

They walked to the lounge in silence. It didn’t appear that anyone else was home. Rick had met Seth’s wife at work do’s. Although what was her name? He thought they had two small children and there were toys in the corner. Maybe they were just out, although it was getting late for little children. Had they moved out? Again Rick was stuck. He had said all that he had rehearsed. He didn’t know what came next.

“I… um… I… ah… I don’t know much about what is going on. Brian said a little bit at work – about the computers. But I… um… well, I just thought I wanted to see how you were. Well, every time I look at your desk, I feel I… I mean, I couldn’t just let this happen and let you disappear, without some contact.”

“I appreciate that, Rick. No one else has been in touch. In some ways I don’t want to see anyone. I’m ashamed, embarrassed. I dread what people are saying about me. On the other hand, it is a very lonely place to be in right now. Please don’t you be embarrassed. I’ve messed up. This is the result.

Seth seemed resigned to it. Rick hadn’t known whether to expect anger or defiance or denial or what. “Really? You’re not going to fight it?”

“Well, the stuff was on the computer, wasn’t it? Although, as we both know, it was you who viewed it.”

What? Rick panicked. Was Seth going to blame him? When he looked up he saw that Seth was smiling.

“Sorry. Just kidding. No, I’m guilty. I’m sorry. I’ve let the company down. I’ve let Marina and the kids down. I’ve let myself down. Guilty little secrets, eh? Beware your sins will find you out. That’s what my mother used to say. If you’re thinking that this is exactly what I deserve, you’re right. You won’t be surprised to find that I am a sinner. You Christians say that we are all sinners, damn you.”

“Seth, I haven’t come here to make you feel bad. I don’t know if you’re a sinner or not. Well, I mean, I guess you are but that’s not what I want to say to you. Oh, I don’t know what to think.”

Seth took the initiative. “Rick, can we continue the conversation we were having after the Friday drinks? I’ve had a bit of time to think about these things. Can’t say it makes any more sense though.”

“If you want to. Actually things have changed a bit for me too. Um… where were we? I made a bit of a fool of myself being uppity about the true meaning of Christmas and you asked what I thought it was. I should have known but I discovered I couldn’t put it into words.”

Seth continued, “Yep, and I said that you don’t have to be a Christian to live in the way Jesus taught. Non-Christians can also love people and have strong families.

“Yeah. I remember you said that you also have Christian values.” Rick suddenly realised the irony of talking about values, and of Seth’s comment about strong families. “Oh I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make any comment about your values. I mean, I wasn’t suggesting that you didn’t have values. I was just remembering what you said.”

“Yep, I did say that. I said Christians were arrogant not believing that the rest of us had values that were just as good. And now look at what we all know about my values. My words were just an empty façade, weren’t they? So what do you reckon is the true meaning of Christmas?”

Rick knew what it felt like to be publicly humiliated. “Seth, I made a fool of myself at the Friday drinks too. And all the following week. I claimed to be a Christian. But I criticised others. And then it was plain for everyone to see, that I was anything but Christ-like. I was bad-tempered and rude. I was wound up like a rubber band. There’s a thing in the Bible about what’s called the fruit of the Spirit – nine results of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Let me list them. You interrupt me when you hear one that you saw in my life. Love? Joy? Peace? Patience? Kindness? Goodness? Faithfulness? Gentleness? OK, self-control?”

Seth hadn’t interrupted but Rick didn’t mind. That was his point. “So there I was, claiming to be a Christian but not able to live the life. I wasn’t much different from you – except that you kept your muck hidden better than I did. I guess the reason I couldn’t really answer you that night was that I also thought that the real meaning of Christmas was that we were to try harder to love others and live moral lives and be examples of virtue. In other words, I probably had the same understanding as you: Christmas is about a set of values we are to live up to. And then I realised I couldn’t do it. That’s when I discovered the real, ‘real meaning’.” He paused to gauge Seth’s interest.

“Carry on,” Seth said.

“If we think of Jesus as a teacher, giving instructions, then He would just become a slave driver. We’d have to do all that He required, in order to please Him. And you and I both thought – or at least both pretended – that we were doing that. I’m sure we both tried hard to live up to what we imagined Jesus required. But, actually, neither of us could do it.”

“What I discovered was that Christmas is really the other way around. Jesus didn’t come to tell us what to do. He came for those who knew they couldn’t do it. He came not to be a slave driver but to be the Saviour. He came not for the confident but for the desperate. He came to die for the sins of the world. You know, I had gone to church all my life and I was trying to live the Christian life – as I understood it – but on Christmas Eve, I knew I needed a Saviour and for the first time, I asked Jesus to save me.”

“Hmmm,” said Seth, “I don’t know. I’m in a mess. No doubt about that. But I still don’t see how Jesus helps. I’ve done the crime. I’m going to have to do the time. I don’t know if there is a God but if there is, I guess I am going to have to get into his good books again. So I’ll take the punishment. I’ll pay the price. I don’t need Jesus to do it for me. Or… why do I even have to please God? So what? Rick, I don’t doubt what you say. I’m glad for you, but I’m not sure I can believe it.”

“Sure, but can I tell you one other thing about Christmas? Jesus was called “God with us”. God came into the world.”

“God disguised as a man?” asked Seth with some scepticism.

“Well, yeah, it was kind-of a disguise but He wasn’t hiding anything. He was revealing Himself. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. Is God compassionate? Look at Jesus. No doubt about it. Amazingly compassionate. But also, is God holy? Will He judge what is wrong? Look at Jesus. Look at His condemnation of the Pharisees’ hypocrisy. God will judge wrongdoing. Sorry, but He will. I think it is crucial that you do get into God’s good books. But you can’t do it. That’s why you need a Saviour.”

“Sorry, Seth. I’m preaching. But I see this now and I care about you.”

“Yeah, I know but, really, I don’t know. What difference has it made for you?”

“Forgiveness, even though I was such a jerk. And you know what? That “God with us” thing. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe that God is with me now. He’s been speaking to me. I would not have come if I hadn’t thought that God was telling me to. And I would not have come if I hadn’t believed that God would be with me. I’m way too much of a chicken. You could have rejected me. You could have ordered me off your property. I would have been devastated – except that I felt God was saying, “I’ll be there.”

Seth stood up suddenly. “Rick, I think you’ve said too much. It time for you to leave.”

Again Rick panicked momentarily – until he looked up and saw Seth smiling at him.

“I’ve got a heap going on, Rick. You wouldn’t believe how much is racing through my mind. At the moment, what you are saying makes no sense at all to me but I thank you for having the courage to say it. I’ll give it more thought. Maybe it is what I need. Maybe not. Who knows? Do you want a lemonade?”

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