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The Dawn of Redeeming Grace

One of my favorite books on prayer is Anne Lamott's, Help, Thanks, Wow. The title says it all, that ultimately there are three types of prayer.

Someone asked me recently what my recommendation is for navigating this Advent space in a stance of peace in the midst of the chaos of everyday life. I said, "The longer I live and the more I do this Christian walk, I realize that the so-called spiritual disciplines are a bit misnamed. It's not really that they are optional disciplines. They are essential practices that God knows we need just to be humane in this world and be at peace within. It's not a box to check off, it's how I survive each day."

Sometimes it's a peaceful, zen-like experience and sometimes it's like Jacob's wrestling. Anne Lammott says it true in the book when she writes, "You breathe in gratitude, and you breathe it out, too. Once you learn how to do that, then you can bear someone who is unbearable."

Ha! Very honest. I've been writing about the interplay between gratitude and grace. They go hand in hand.

Lamott's words are very consistent with the Apostle Paul. Paul never neglected to greet his churches with grace and peace. Here's a summary:

  • Romans: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

  • I Corinthians: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

  • II Corinthians: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

  • Galatians: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

  • Ephesians: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

  • Philippians: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

  • Colossians: Grace to you and peace from God our Father

  • I Thessalonians: Grace to you and peace

  • 2 Thessalonians: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

  • I Timothy: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord

  • 2 Timothy: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord

  • Titus: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior

  • Philemon: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

Are grace and peace important to Paul?? Breathe in gratitude and grace, which also grants peace, and breathe it out to others.

Researching a little more why Paul without fail starts his letters this way, I came across this great post by Ray Hollenbach (

Perhaps we could start here: Paul greeted everyone with grace and peace because he understood our on-going need for both of them. He was writing to believers, yet he wished for them more grace and more peace.
How many of us have made the mistake of thinking God’s grace operates only at the new birth? Part of the good news is there is more grace, grace for today, and grace for tomorrow. Grace for more than forgiveness–God wants to provide grace in the everyday, grace for growth, and grace to sustain. Have I asked for grace beyond forgiveness?

Do you sense a need for grace? Psychology and counseling circles have long viewed arrogance as a mask for low self-esteem and negative self-image. A lot of bluster and overconfidence can hide a very fragile ego.

The tragedy is that this stance prevents one from ever being helped, unless these walls break down.

For Christians, sometimes we intellectually accept the grace of God but refuse to let it penetrate "soul and spirit, joints and marrow" (Hebrews 4:12). If God has granted grace, who are we to refuse it to ourselves? We show that we don't really believe it if we refuse to show grace to ourselves and others. Grace trickles down, it enters in.

It took awhile, but I found a Christmas carol with the word, "grace." While, arguably, many carols more or less cover grace, it's surprising how few do directly. Have we really compartmentalized Christmas and Easter so much that we can't talk about redeeming grace until the new year? This is quite different from ancient Christianity, where the Lord of the universe is clearly seen juxtaposed in the humble incarnation and birth.

No wonder that it is an old carol that retains this paradoxical imagery and couches it all in grace. Silent Night's lyrics were written by an young Austrian priest in 1816, with music by choir director Franz Gruber. This carol famously shut down World War I for a night, during a temporary truce on Christmas Eve.

Music can be powerful like that, especially with lyrics like this, from the third verse of the carol:

Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light
radiant beams from Thy holy face
with the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth!
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth!

I've sung this song in English, Serbo-Croat, German, and Spanish. The song is exquisite in all four languages.

This third verse describes the glory of the Almighty God emanating from the face of Jesus in the manger. I've been studying recently how glory isn't really something that we give to God. He already is glorious. When we worship, we are mirroring back to Him the glory that indeed radiates from His face.

Silent Night tells us that what is new and amazing about the birth of Christ is that the glory that was always part of the eternal Godhead is now accompanied by the birth of redeeming grace--this is accomplished in Jesus, the Lord. Before He died on the cross, His birth signified the dawn of God's great and mysterious plan being brought forth in greater light and clarity to humankind. Note that the type of humankind who received the clearest announcements of this plan were all on the fringe and unlikely to carry any power or weight:

-Teenage Mary

-Elderly Simeon and Anna

-A pregant Elizabeth and an in-utero John the Baptist

-A gaggle of suspiciously low-born shepherds

-Infidels who followed astrological signs

This is so like God to do it this way. Will we never learn that the thrones of power and might are very unlikely to be the places where God is most at work. Where in Scripture do we see it otherwise? Yes, God can use Cyrus. Yes, God chose Solomon.

But look at the full context of what happened there and how God actually brought forth His plan. Yes, King Cyrus the Great ended the Babylonian captivity and at the very start of his reign declared that the temple in Jerusalem should be rebuilt. But, have you read Nehemiah and Ezra? These are not triumphalist books, full of one victory after another as the Judah returns home. There are troubles within and troubles without. A Jewish upper crust with nothing to hold onto that nonetheless sees themselves as better than the poor among them, weird political and marital alliances with Judah's enemies, idolatry still unbelievably present, the banding together of enemies diametrically opposed to Israel being restored as a nation....and the incredibly difficult task of the priests and intelligentsia who have painstaking put together the Bible (Old Testament) while in Babylon needing to find a way to educate the masses about it. Oh, and somehow, to build a temple, fund it, all the while building a protective wall so that one doesn't get massacred during the construction project.

When the temple is finally finished after 20 years of work, Ezra 3 tells us that one couldn't tell the weeping from the celebratory joy--it all intermingled. Many experts have concluded that the weeping is because this somewhat makeshift temple is nowhere near the brilliance of Solomon's temple. Herod would later completely renovate this temple, partly because it was smaller than Solomon's (and ostensibly to delight the Jewish leaders who wanted to see it restored to its former brilliance). Herod's temple was destroyed by the Romans, brick by brick, but it's hard to miss the pride that the Jewish people had for it in the first century when reading the Gospels.

We always miss the glorious plan that God has when we fixate on what merely appears to be glorious. We also have an astounding ability to stomach a lot of compromise when our Herods give us what we want.

It's the John the Baptists who lose their heads over speaking out.

"No compromise" is what our political arena looks like today, with our elected officials digging in their heels to not cede even an inch to political enemies. And yet moral compromise runs rampant. Those who are the most strident seem to have the most to hide. Look at the Zieglers in Florida. Burn the books, legislate against "liberal" forces, and yet what they did in the dark, according to court documents, was more sinful and egregious than anything they were working against.

Where we shouldn't compromise is with our faith and the problem is that actual tenets of the faith have been supplanted by verbal shibboleths. This is why everything reaches a religious ferver. It is religion, just not the Christian one.

I had a Keith Green poster on my wall growing up. It read, "No Compromise," and pictured Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego standing tall in a crowd that had bowed down to Nebuchadnezzar's statue. Presumably everyone else did in fact bow down, since they were the only ones thrown in the fiery fernace.

This is the type of Not Compromising that we should adhere to. The issue is that far too many have already compromised and sold their souls to Power, Influence, Authority, and Wealth.

There is only one Lord and Savior. Paul announces this at the start of 11 out of 13 of his letters. The only exceptions are I Thessalonians (as potentially the earliest, he presumably doesn't have his standard phrase down yet!) and Colossians--but this is clearly because he spends pretty much all of the next chapter praising Jesus' bona fides as the Image of the eternal God!

Many of us will sing Silent Night this year and maybe we'll even mean the words that we sing. The baby in a manger is our source of pure light and His birth signifies our redemption--the dawn of redeeming grace. Let's keep announcing that refrain:

Jesus, Lord at Thy birth!

Jesus, Lord at Thy birth!

Let the words in our mouth sink into our hearts. Let redeeming grace indeed shine upon us so that we give allegiance to the One Who is truly Lord. Speaking of Colossians, let's end with Paul's summary of the Christmas story:

"The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation." (Colosians 1:15)

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