The Miracle of Grace
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; December 24, 2018
Luke 1:26-38, Luke 2:1-16
In the Letter of Paul to Titus we read, “For the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation to all.” But what is grace? Grace has been defined as the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it. It is an expression of God’s good will and care toward humanity. It is generous—totally unexpected and undeserved—and it takes the form of divine love. Tonight, we celebrate the hidden grace that is now made wonderfully visible—more than that—seeable, hearable, touchable, huggable, adorable—in the form of baby Jesus resting in his mother’s arms.
During the Season of Advent, as a church we examined Jesus’ family tree. The first chapter of Matthew includes names we would expect—like Abraham, Jacob, and David. But then there are unexpected names. Along the way, we learned that Matthew’s genealogy is not just a list of names, though. Instead, it is a way of revealing to us individuals with unique stories and experiences: Tamar, a victim of family injustice; Bathsheba, affected by circumstances over which she had no control; Ruth, a foreigner, who remained loyal to her mother-in-law no matter what their future might hold; Rahab, a harlot, who offered protection to the spies of Yahweh regardless of the danger to herself.
The genealogy of Jesus displays for all to see, how the grace of God works. Amazingly! Unpredictably! Loving, touching, and enriching lives—that’s been God’s work of grace down through the ages. That’s why such unexpected names appear in the Christmas story.
And then…and then…there’s Mary—a young woman of humble birth who is not even married. What in the world could God be thinking to call such a person to INDWELL the child of God Almighty? Not at all what we would expect! But surely no one before or since has experienced Emmanuel, God-with-us, like Mary did. She, who watched the Son of God grow and move inside her own belly. Scholar, Timothy George, in an essay on Mary, reflects, “Mary was a disciple of Christ before she was his mother, for had she not believed, she would not have conceived.”[i] Mary’s faith too is not the achievement of merit, but the gift of divine grace.”
Grace is God’s healing, liberating, ever-present gift. It is not something we find wrapped up with pretty paper and bow, lying beneath the Christmas tree. It cannot be bought by holy prayers or good deeds or “correct” theology, whatever that is! God’s grace or unmerited favor is given—freely. It is available for all people—living and active and immeasurable.
Often people talk about the salvation story as if the grace of God was absent from the world until Jesus died on the cross.[ii] But on this precious, holy night, let me suggest that the grace of God has been with us from the beginning of human history. God has always been with us! God has always been for us! No doubt, God’s grace reached its perfect work on the cross, but it was not a new thing God was doing. The cross became the visible, ultimate accomplishment of something that has always been flowing from the heart of God. Surely, even when God’s works have been hidden from human eyes, God has been active in human souls. Grace recognizes no obstacles and will not be confined to any limits—even those we might deem necessary. But grace is costly—to think otherwise is to embrace a theology of cheap grace.
The unexpected happened that night so long ago in Bethlehem. There in a smelly stable, a young woman of little importance to the world gave birth to a child—the God-child. Now grace has another name. Now we see it, hear it, cuddle it, love it, adore it. Jesus is born!
At Christmas, the miracle of grace is that God comes to ordinary people and gives himself to you and me. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.” May the following poem, “In the Know,”[iii] bring you closer to God’s perfect grace on this most blessed night:
From the first day you’ve cared for us,
shaping the soul,
by your Spirit through long ages,
knowing us well,
grieving our sins and sharing our joys,
loving us all.
Now you know us in a new way,
in our flesh cast,
cradled in a young mother’s arms,
suckling her breast,
learning in the hard school of life,
as creatures must.
Now we know you in a new way,
God with no mask,
tasting all of our hopes and fears,
from dawn to dusk,
a weakling in a hard, strong world,
a child at risk.
Of that which human ears have heard,
our carols ring,
for that which eyes have seen and loved,
all joy be sung,
to that which hands have touched and nursed,
we now belong.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[i] “Profile on Mary,” The Life with God Bible, NRSV, 103.
[iii] Inspired by Luke 2:1-20 and 1 John 1:1-4. © B.D. Prewer 1994
Jardines de la Silla (Jardines) *Bulletin Art: by Stushie; used by subscription