Advent Reflections: A Gift of Grace
Editor's note: This Advent season, Bread Blog will be running a series of reflections written by lay members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission, from the church's 2013 Advent Meditations booklet.
By Nathan Moon
I think it's possible that the word “humbug” doesn't appear in any of the versions of the Bible that I'm familiar with. Yet as I see commercial Christmas advertising swing into high gear before Halloween has even passed—and getting earlier every year—I'm filled with exasperation, dread, and an urge to cover my head and avoid the season altogether. But my love for the music and liturgy of Advent does overcome, in part, my distaste for commercial Christmas. My experience of community and closeness to friends is my handrail that prevents my complete fall from the spirit of the season. Daunting continual life challenges have made it hard for me to keep my hand on the rail, though. Isaiah says in the familiar text, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” He also says that they have “multiplied the nation,...increased its joy; they rejoice before [the Christ] as with joy at the harvest.” Hard for many to feel joy when they have been living in need.
I feel gratitude for blessings of better health for myself and others of my family. I also feel a tendency to love myself less due to an incapacity to give of material gifts in the way that I might wish. For me, that's the trap, a poison potion of obligation and lack. Paradoxically both a fear of the future and the lack of one. I expressed this thought recently to a group of friends. They immediately chided me gently for not valuing the gifts I have and my willingness to share them with others whose lack is deeper and more sharply felt.
The account of the birth of Christ given by the evangelist Luke is familiar to many. His telling doesn't begin with Jesus, though. It begins in the previous chapter with John the Baptist. His parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, come from good backgrounds and strive to be “righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord.” But they felt keenly the lack of offspring “because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.” The Archangel Gabriel appears to Zechariah and tells him not to be afraid. They are to be blessed with a son. “You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.” Gabriel says, “...even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him,... to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Nice gift, yes? It's the gift that we're all given, in my view—to have the privilege of a legacy of a difference made. A gift of grace. Not a material gift but a lasting one. Reformed and always reforming. Seldom easily given. And very valuable. Abundant and self-renewing. The gift that keeps on giving.
In the words of Titus, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety (selfishness) and worldly passions (greed), and in the present ageto live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
With gratitude for Grace and in hopes for the manifestation of abundant good for everyone.
Nathan Moon is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.
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