And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth… For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1:14, 16-17
“The world can do almost anything as well or better than the church…You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick. There is only one thing the world cannot do. It cannot offer grace.” Philip Yancey (What’s So Amazing About Grace?) quoting Gordon MacDonald
Batteries Not Included
Gift-giving can be tricky. Over my years of celebrating Christmas with family and purchasing, assembling, prepping and wrapping hundreds of gifts, I have learned some things the hard way. For example: waiting until the wee dark hours of Christmas morning to begin assembling a child’s Christmas gift…NOT A GOOD PLAN. And these lessons come at a cost, both to us and to those for whom the gifts are intended.
For at least an entire adult generation, there are three simple words that, if not heeded, represent a huge failure in Christmas gift giving: “BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED”. Yikes! Those words bring back so many bad feelings! If I don’t see them printed on the box early enough in the whole gift-giving process, they can turn the most awesome gift ever into the biggest disappointment of some child’s season.
The Church has a Gift for the World
I wonder if there is even consensus today about what gift, exactly, the church has to offer the world. It is not just food for the hungry nor shelter for the homeless nor healing for the sick. Those are all just the wrapping for the actual gift (I am reminded here of the times when our children end up being more interested in the boxes themselves than in the gifts they contained). And the wrapping is important. But the packaging is not the actual gift.
The gift is the gospel. It is Jesus, the Word become flesh, full of grace and truth. At the end of the day, that is the one thing the church can offer that is unique to the church. And make no mistake about it, offering that gift to the world is why we exist. That reality is never clearer than now, as we enter into the Christmas season celebrating this very gift.
Bumbling the Gift
In many places around the world today, the church is engaged in the most complicated gift-giving imaginable. We are struggling, trying to navigate the choppy waters of communicating the gospel to a culture who is increasingly antagonistic to it. The church is entrusted with the light of the world, God’s gift to His creation, and we strive to present it to a world who, in many cases, does not want it.
We have this gift (Jesus) with multiple facets, including both grace AND truth, and we stumble and bumble our way to the giving of it. Sometimes, a church will be strong with the truth, but not so clear with the grace. And sometimes, a church will offer grace, with only a light nod to the truth. In either case, the gift is pretty much ruined. Grace, you see, without truth, is not God’s grace at all. And truth, without grace, is not God’s truth at all. God’s gift to this world necessarily includes both facets in one gift. In either case, we have failed in the giving. We all too often offer a gift with the batteries not included.
The Power is in the Mix
The gift of the gospel makes some high demands on us. “Grace” requires that we sacrifice our comfort, our agendas, our entire way of being, in order to see and receive people who are so very different from us. “Truth” demands that we be willing to surrender everything we have (home, family, everything) in order to receive God’s wisdom for our life. Both concepts are compelling in themselves, but the real power is in the combination of the two. When God’s truth and God’s grace come together in God’s gift to this world, the result is infinitely larger than our very best packaging of it. And when we try to deconstruct that perfect gift, offering truth without grace or grace without truth, we do harm. Oh, the harm we have done.
My commitment this Christmas season is to strive to more fully understand this gift of truth and grace. I will be studying it, exploring it, learning all I can about the powerful mix of both elements. I so desperately want us to get this right. It is the perfect gift to a broken world. Truth and grace.
Merry Christmas, everyone!
© Blake Coffee