And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as the only Son from theFather, full of grace and truth… And from his fullness we have all received,grace upon grace.
John 1: 14, 16
As Steve read these words last night at our hymn and caroling Christmas celebration at our church, I was struck again by those words: grace upon grace. I confess that Christmas carols and nativity scenes, while sweet and comforting, do not always drive me to worship. This year, I approach the manger feeling a little bit scruffy, a little bit weary, a little bit poor in spirit and humbled. While our Christmas card bears a crisp, clean image of our happiest selves, the truth is that we are all far more complex than any snapshot would project. This year, I kneel before the manger and cup my hands, in need of grace.
The beauty of the birth is that it has already been given, the gift foretold and fulfilled. I already have the grace that I need,and more: grace upon grace, an overflowing abundance of that sweet and unmerited gift. As I imagine the scene, placing myself in its midst, I am struck again by who I find gathered in the stable with me to receive the gift: kings and shepherds, young and old, men and women, rich and poor, foreigner and friend. Once again the gospel message casts its net wide and gathers up us all, no reality too far from his far-reaching grace.
Still, advent is not at its core a celebration of the birth but a waiting for the final restoration of the earth. Those kneeling at the manger see the embodiment and culmination of centuries of prophecy and hope,but it is also a beginning. Though we moderns can look back to the culmination of that small life on the cross,the story is not yet finished. The great work of redemption is complete, but we labor still, and we hope still,and we wait still. While our eternal condition has been made right, a drama still unfolds upon the earth,and we seek to play our part.
We sang a hymn last night whose words perfectly articulate both the longing and the hope:
O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here, Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel, Shall come to thee, O Israel.
We rejoice by faith as we wait in exile, longing for home. What we know and trust as we look at the devastation that surrounds us,is the character of a God who comes. He comes lowly, he comes to all, he dies for all. He washes feet. He comes with healing in his wings. He forgives. And he pours out grace upon grace. In the same chapter of John quoted above, the text also says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” There is darkness, but a light shines forth. One day, that light will reign complete. Until then, we wait in hope, and kneel in stables, and wonder at the cross and draw strength and warmth from the light of men.
We rang in the year 2013 in Shanghai, China, looking out over the Huangpu River as fireworks dazzled overhead. In the almost 360 days since, we have adventured across the globe (Bali, Holland, USA, Hong Kong) and we have spent many quiet days at home. We have enjoyed great health and also dwelled in hospital rooms. We have rejoiced at amazing blessing but also wept at unbelievable loss. We have watched typhoons ravage the country we love and also heard stories of preservation and hope amidst the chaos and loss. We are blessed that one thing has remained constant: the love and joy of family and the health and wellbeing of our boys. Aidan at twelve is embracing middle school, enjoying his independence and the greater responsibility provided by this new stage of life. I have literally exhausted every book list for preteen boys as I try to keep up with his voracious appetite for reading. All recommendations welcome! Jude remains sweet natured and sensitive to the needs of others. This year we noted a marketing gift as he devised and sold a product for school to the sound of many accolades. We may have a natural businessman on our hands! Zephyr remains a constant source of laughter and delight to his older brothers and parents, loving full-time kindergarten and soccer, and pretty much anything and anyone that comes his way.
As I contemplate both the blessings and the hardships, my own and those of others, I am grateful for the manger, where a tiny babe cast his light on all. I am grateful that the stable was not too humble for this king, nor the people and animals gathered there too common. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it. Whether or not you care for the stable and its contents, whether you approach the holidays weak or strong, may you know light in the darkness this season, and grace upon grace.
With love and gratitude for you!