“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7 | ESV)
I look forward each year to the Sunday before Christmas because my wife and I attend a daughter’s church to watch our grandchildren in their annual Christmas program. To be completely honest, I endure the beginning of worship because the congregation stands an eternity and sings upbeat choruses unfamiliar to me that require syncopated rhythm completely foreign to me (I will always be more at home with hymn book than overhead projector). The reason we go and the moment I nervously anticipate is when the children attack the stage, scale the risers, and open their hearts to sing. The songs vary little from year-to-year as theirs is not a large church, and the children’s program is anything but expansive. But I have witnessed growth over the years in my young name’s sake, and eagerly await still another step in the right direction. I sit enthralled as Joshua Dane takes center stage, closes his eyes, sways to the beat, and belts out whatever he has been asked to sing. Label it pride if you must, but I call it grace. I was grafted into this family as an adult, and was called ‘Papa Dane’ initially out of politeness because no one really knew what to think about or what to do with a step-grandfather. My wife’s family bestowed an unfamiliar and undeserved title that reminds each time I hear it that God’s greatest gifts are the ones we could never obtain on our own.
Christmas may be this world’s clearest window on grace. The most profound reminder of the manger is that I cannot save myself, regardless of how I might attempt to convince myself otherwise. I need outside intervention of the most unfathomable kind. Grace is no longer a convenient theological topic to consider in a sermon or Bible study; it has become the life preserver to which I cling as though my life depends upon it—because it does. Left to myself I stumble blindly about, leaving an ugly trail of broken relationships. Left to God, He grants a new name and establishes an unmerited forever relationship. Christmas grace turns everything right-side-up, and leaves me to marvel that the Christ-child grafts me into his family and bestows a new name—child of God.
“See to it that you do not treat the gospel only as history, for that is only transient; neither regard it only as an example, for it is of no value without faith. Rather, see to it that you make this birth your own and that Christ be born in you.…Of what benefit would it be to me if Christ had been born a thousand times, and it would daily be sung into my ears in a most lovely manner, if I were never to hear that he was born for me and was to be my very own?” (Martin Luther)