grace at christmas

Christianity is about Grace, and the language of Grace is the language of gifting; giving and receiving. God comes to Mary with a gift – the honoured role of being the Mother of Christ – and she received it. Her reception of this gift was not naive, not unconsidered or free of queries, but in the end her reception of this role was joyful and humble.

The giving and receiving are both necessary for God’s unforceful grace to operate as intended. All sorts of gift giving can be distorted by various forms of forcefulness or rejection: Christmas presents, sex, money, power, etc. Whenever they are not freely given and freely received, the process of Grace is hindered. Gifts are not forced, or they cease to be gifts. A gift must be given freely, without promise of repayment. Likewise, if a gift is not received, the action of giving is hindered. A gift must be received freely, without a sense of needing to balance the score of giving or earn the gift.

May we, may I, like Mary, say “Let it be”, say “yes”, in glad reception of God’s gifts to us. And, as Jesus taught us, may the freedom of our giving to others reflect how freely we have received those gifts.

human sin: an example

The sinfulness of humanity is nothing I am ‘proud’ to believe in.  Sin is tragic.  But, rather an illustrate this with a list of actions that are easily diagnosed as harmful, it’s more interesting to give an example where sin may not be so obvious.  Whether it’s an Olympic opening ceremony, a corporate philosophy or a debate over gun legislation, I am continually reminded of how easy it is to forget how deeply flawed we all are.  Human history and nature, business goals, or one’s ability to handle immense power are not as flawless as we may be tempted to imagine.

One simple example is giving a gift.  How selfless, generous and wonderful, right?  But, speaking honestly about my own experience of giving gifts, our motivations can be very often quite mixed.  Giving a gift can be motivated, partly or even mostly, by a desire for the benefit of the other.  However, other motivations can settle in among this, including but not limited to: being the best (generous/lavish), being the most (creative), being first, being included (“people like being around people who give gifts”), etc.

Our motivations tend to show up when our gift is refused, disregarded or otherwise received in a way we did not expect.  I recently found myself giving something that I’d hoped would be received and recognized in a particular way, and when it wasn’t, I had to check my motivations in giving it.

It can be confronting to face our mixed motivations, especially if/when we take pride in being a ‘good person’.  Of course, the point of this reflection is not to deny that we have any goodness, but that the very  notion of human sinfulness, particularly in the Christian theological tradition, is that we are not only flawed in obviously ‘bad’ ways, but even our ‘good’ actions and characteristics can be hindered, blunted and shaped by the influence of sin.

And if you don’t know me well, you need to know that my understanding of sin (from Scripture and theology) has less to do with us feeling constantly like a failure for breaking a significant amount of a very long list of specific actions which are ‘wrong’, and more to do with us being beautiful-and-broken all the way down to our motivations and identities.  And more importantly the great thing about the Gospel of Jesus is that God has eternally decided to love and work on, in and through us anyway.

May this work of transformation be something that we surrender to and collaborate with.