Summary: Grace is evident throughout the Christmas story, what would Christmas look like without grace?
A Christmas without Grace
If you think of Grace at all at Christmas it probably relates to the short prayer that you will say over the dead bird at Christmas Dinner and you probably wouldn’t necessarily think of Amazing Grace as a Christmas song but you can’t really celebrate the Christmas Story without seeing Grace written all through it.
Now before we go much further we probably need to define what we mean by the word “Grace”. Grace is one of those words that can have a multitude of meanings? For example here are the definitions given by Collins English Dictionary:
1. elegance and beauty of movement, form, expression, or proportion
2. a pleasing or charming quality
3. goodwill or favour
4. the granting of a favour or the manifestation of goodwill, esp by a superior
5. a sense of propriety and consideration for others
1. affectation of manner (esp in the phrase airs and graces)
2. See in someone's good graces
7. mercy; clemency
1. the free and unmerited favour of God shown towards man
2. the divine assistance and power given to man in spiritual rebirth and sanctification
3. the condition of being favoured or sanctified by God
4. an unmerited gift, favour, etc, granted by God
9. a short prayer recited before or after a meal to invoke a blessing upon the food or give thanks for it
10. (music) a melodic ornament or decoration
And while those are good definitions of grace I like mine better. “Justice is getting what you deserve, Mercy is getting less than you deserve and Grace is getting what you don’t deserve.”
And while I have used this definition for thirty years it’s not original with me. It was over thirty years ago I heard a preacher by the name of Stuart Briscoe for the first time and Stuart defined Grace that way and I liked it. As a matter of fact I loved the way that Stuart taught and that probably shaped me as a young preacher.
One of those funny stories, the first time I heard Stuart I was a staff pastor in NY, the next time I was pastoring in Truro then we moved to Australia and had only been there a year or so when Stuart came to town and I’ve heard him a couple of times since we’ve been back in Halifax. I feel like Stuart and I are linked by Ruth 1:16 . . . “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.”
So to reiterate: “Justice is getting what you deserve, mercy is getting less then you deserve and grace is getting what you don’t deserve.”
To illustrate, suppose one of your children misbehaved. No that won’t work, because I know that your children never misbehave. So you will have to imagine that one of your children had misbehaved, still a bit of a stretch but work with me. Your child has misbehaved and because it’s 2014 you can’t spank them so you banish them to their room until they are 18. That is justice, getting what they deserve. But after an hour or so you start feeling sorry for them so you tell them it’s all right they can come out now. That is mercy getting less than what they deserve. But then you say, “You know what, let’s go for an ice-cream.” That is grace, when they get what they don’t deserve.
And so we will hear that folks are looking for the Justice of God. Trust me when I tell you that we don’t want to get what we deserve.
Solomon tells us in Proverbs 21:15 Justice is a joy to the godly, but it terrifies evildoers.
And maybe you’re thinking “Sure but I’m not an evildoer.” How do we measure evil and good and bad? Do you have to be a Hitler or Stalin, or a Bin Laden to be evil? What about the fact that justice is a joy to the godly? How do we measure being godly? Do you have to be a Mother Theresa or Billy Graham to be Godly?
Paul tells us in Romans 1:18-20 But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.
And then for the next 22 verses he lists what these folks have been up to, it wasn’t just “Big” sins, granted murder is there, we can understand that. But the list also includes things like: they didn’t worship God, they traded the truth of God for a lie, and they were backstabbers and didn’t keep their promises. They were greedy, hated some people and Gossiped about others. And then after listing things which most of us have to some degree or another participated in he ends by saying,