Gifts of Grace:
A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Susan Allison-Hatch
Here we are–The day after Christmas. A day for surveying the scene after the dust of Christmas has settled. A day for letting it all out with a deep sigh.
I love to get up early the day after Christmas, go to the living room, and just gaze at the Christmas tree. And truth be told—survey the gifts (received and given) layed out on the sofa. I love looking back at Christmas—moment by moment and pondering them in my heart like Mary did so long ago. Maybe some of you do too. Maybe some of you come here today still basking in the sweet afterglow of Christmas—the coals of the Christmas fire still warming your hearts. The words of the carols echoing in your ears.
Yet I suspect others of us here meet this day with a sense of deep relief. I imagine there are folks here today who are glad Christmas is over. Glad that the tensions, the angst, the sitting on needles and pins are all gone now that the family has departed or that the day is over. For many, Christmas is a deeply complicated and conflicted time. Old family wounds fester. Deep losses ache all the more acutely at Christmas time.
Others of us come to this day recovering from the whirlwind and crass commercialization that is Christmas in our culture—glad to turn the corner on a new day.
The day after Christmas. A good moment to pause and reflect on what has just taken place. How apt the Gospel we hear today. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Some versions have it, “The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.” The Word of God taking on flesh and bones and living here in our very midst.
Think of it—the Word becoming flesh and pitching his tent here among us in the midst of all the messiness of human lives. God, not out there, not back then, not on some Olympian height, but God right here pitching his tent on the level ground where we move and live and have our being. God moving into our neighborhood, onto our street, into our lives. God living right along side us in the midst of our fears, resentments, inadequacies, and imperfections and our amazing kindness and generosity of spirit and tenderness of heart as well.
God dwelling among us pouring out grace after grace. God piling up gifts of grace in lives marked by fear and loss and hope and love and joy and all the rest of our very humanness. God’s gifts of grace piling up amidst the messiness of our lives.
My friend Ed tells a story of grace entering into his life in a most unexpected way. Ed and his wife used to ride the bike trail every morning. Ed in the front, his wife in the rear. You see she’s almost blind, so she has to follow his lead. One morning, as they were biking the trail through Los Ranchos, a man biking towards them kept veering over to their side of the trail and then darting back to his own lane. A game of chicken, Ed thought. Then Ed saw this man barreling toward him. Ed realized that the man was not going to yield. He turned his bike to the side and yelled to his wife to do the same. Too late. The on-coming bicyclist crashed into her and sent her catapulting into the brush. Ed rushed to her and cradled her head in his arms. As he did, he looked into the eyes of the young man who had crashed into his wife. The way Ed tells it, all his anger was just washed away. He saw how sorry that young man was, and in that very moment, Ed forgave him letting go of the anger and all the judgment that had been welling up in him. Now that’s a gift of grace.
Brian Taylor, in his book, Setting the Gospel Free, tells of a very different gift of grace given to him when he was a young man on his way to having one too many drinks at a party. The way Brian tells it, as he was about to pour another big glass of champagne, a young man standing across the table from him looked him in the eye and said, “Easy does it”(113). God’s gift of grace poured out in a word of judgment.
Grace takes so many forms and comes at such unexpected times and in such surprising places. Like Carl Sandburg’s Fog, it comes in on little cats paws—we neither see it nor hear it come. But there it is—a subtle shift in perspective, a door you thought closed blowing open, a moment when judgment or resentment or hurt or anger just falls away and what is left is union between that of God in you and that of God in the one facing you.
“The Word was made flesh and pitched his tent among us….pouring out grace upon grace.” There in the midst of the messiness of our lives, God puts up his tent and moves right in showering on us gifts of grace—gift after gift after gift.
That’s the beauty of those gifts of grace—they come unbidden and often remain unnoticed as we move through our messy lives. Yet there they are working their magic on our hearts.
It’s the day after Christmas. The New Year approaches. ’Tis the season for taking stock. Please join me this week in prayer and reflection. Look back on the gifts of grace you have received. Like Mary, ponder them in your heart. And give thanks to the One who has come and pitched his tent in your life. Thanks be to God—the giver of all good gifts.