I believe that the greatest motivator in the church, as well as in all of life, is neither guilt and manipulative arm-twisting, nor the shame of past things done or left undone. To be sure those are powerful motivations. But nothing in all creation can capture and captivate the heart like grace. Grace is free, but not cheap; it is unlimited, yet still precious, even more than the most precious of diamonds. Sin, death, and brokenness permeate this fallen world. Every organization and institution, every individual and family is profoundly touched in some way by evil. So enters grace – undeserved mercy where there is no earthly reason to bestow it. Grace makes absolutely no sense. Pardoning sinners and systems who have gone their own way and ignored their Creator is the height of God’s redeeming action. The most wonderful miracle is not some nebulous Christmas miracle of new stuff, but the truly miraculous act of the incarnation in which the Son of God entered humanity, vulnerable, taking the audacious risk of rescuing lost people.
I understand that most people in this world are not Christians; even professing Christians often seem oblivious to the implications of their arm-chair belief. What is more, perhaps the majority of the earth’s population views any kind of doctrine of grace as rather offensive and unbelievable. Forgiving sin is typically not at the top of anyone’s Christmas wish list. Peace on earth hinges not on the ability to get one’s own way or skill in beating up one’s enemies; peace turns on the scandal of forgiveness toward sinners, of grace.
Certainly there is beauty in a newly fallen snow; in a child’s enjoyment of it with a fresh snow angel; in coming in from the cold with the simple pleasure of a steaming cup of hot cocoa. Yet, there is no beauty that compares to the grace of God coming in an ordinary feeding trough in order to identify with lowly people in need of a Savior. It is more than an example to follow; of greater implication than feeling good about the holidays in a movie-inspired Christmas spirit – grace is necessary for our deliverance from everything that enslaves us.
People live and die; churches come and go; seasons pass by and the calendar marches on with a seemingly unending string of bad events that makes some wonder if things can truly be different. However, the faith, hope, and love originating from the grace of God in Christ cannot pass by and leave something untouched any more than a city crippling blizzard.
Yes, being with family helps in having a Merry Christmas; a Christmas bonus aids in making the holiday more special; and, Nativity scenes dotting neighborhood lawns makes us feel good that the Christ is being emphasized in Christmas. But it is grace, the grace of God that is found in a stable full of manure, brings not only the real meaning of Christmas to us, but the motivating understanding that God did it for me – that grace is given right smack in the middle of all my degrading and misguided attempts to have meaning apart from the Meaning-Maker.
Grace. There is nowhere else to find it, that is, truly find it apart from the Lord Jesus Christ. My Ode to Grace is this: that God, the God of the Universe who created all things and sustains the world despite its rejection of Him – this God pursued me with an unrelenting love and saved me from myself. There is no greater gift than the gift of grace, and no greater present given than one’s only Son. Let the world rejoice; let earth receive her king. Even so, come Lord Jesus.