Faith Works 12-27-14
The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
There's a Christmas season tradition in our household that may not be quite to your tastes, but it suits me right down to the ground.
Along with all the other seasonal favorite movies, from "White Christmas" to "Christmas Vacation" to "Fred Claus" I like to slide in, somewhere between "Christmas in Connecticut" and "The Family Stone," a Sherlock Holmes episode.
Holmes has been interpreted in recent years by Robert Downey, Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch, but I have a warm spot in my heart for Jeremy Brett's PBS programs recounting the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories. From 1984 to the early 90s these were the best Sherlock stories to be seen this side of Basil Rathbone.
They're not at all Christmas-y, except for one. "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle," as filmed let alone as told in the print original, is soaked through with Christmas spirit and imagery. The music, the pub atmosphere, the markets of Victorian London, are all at work to serve the idea of an English traditional Christmas.
It is also the story where most famously, after the wrongdoer has admitted his guilt and explained the turns of events to Holmes and Watson at 221B Baker Street, the consulting detective says to the criminal "Get out." When the law abiding doctor hints at even a slight note of disapproval, Holmes emphatically retorts that he is not employed to resolve the deficiencies of the official law enforcement services.
"Get out. Not a word."
Holmes is, in his own roughhewn way, engaging in restorative justice. And there's more of that built into our legal system than you might think, from judicial discretion (less of it than there used to be, but that's a whole 'nother discussion) to jury verdicts, where a tribunal of twelve citizens tasked with a decision can make their decisions within a certain area of latitude. Plus the more affirmative forms of restorative justice that include victim-offender mediation, whether as part of a diversion plan or built into a sentence; all mediation-based approaches are a way to say that retribution is not the only path to justice.
An older tradition in the West, still seen in various parts of the world, is a Christmas parole, the release of prisoners by act of the executive or senior magistrate. Sentences are commuted, the imprisoned are released, time off for good behavior is given even to those who've been more naughty than nice.
Our modern justice system does not have any seasonal adjustments built into sentences. If there is a change in warmth or good cheer inside the facilities, it's an unofficial thing.
In general, the Christmas season has this thread woven through it of forgiveness. Which makes sense when you think of whose birth we're celebrating.
The best scene in "Home Alone" to me isn't one of the spectacular torments of the self-named "Wet Burglars," or even the shock and scream when the little boy puts aftershave on his face, but it's the discussion in the church between Old Man Marley and Kevin.
Marley is there at a rehearsal to see his granddaughter, because he and his son are at odds. Kevin, who's learned a thing or two the last couple days about facing fears, suggests to his elderly neighbor that he needs to let go of his anger, which goes along with letting go of his fear that it won't work out, and call his son. I trust this isn't a spoiler for much of anyone when I tell you he did, they did, and the little red-haired girl is seen again in her grandfather's arms.
Forgiveness. It takes a number of forms, and requires both an interior shift and external actions, but the Christmas season is not just for giving stuff, but for forgiving. That might be a gift only you can give. And even a couple of days after the Big Day, it's a gift that's still going to be welcome.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; forgiveness is in the heart of the Christmas story if you read it all the way through. Tell him where you've given or received forgiveness at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.