Grace is one of the most beautiful concepts with which we humans enrich our existence. It comes in many forms: elegance among athletes or dancers, courtesy as in graceful manners, an extended favour as in “a period of grace” and, above all, the theological sense of unmerited favour, as in the salvation of humans by God’s grace.
It is the idea of mercy triumphing over judgment, of generosity and love for the unlovely and unlovable. Grace is one of the central ideas of the Bible, as when God tells Abraham – the “father”, according to the Apostle Paul, of all who believe – in the Bible’s opening book Genesis: “I will be your God, and you will be my people.”
Later, God explicitly tells the Israelites this is not because of their righteousness or integrity. “But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery … he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him.”
We have all experienced grace and seen its beauty. It lifts the bestower and the recipient.
But nowhere do we see God’s grace more than at Christmas, that time of unimaginable good news, when we celebrate that God took on human flesh and dwelt among us so that he might rescue us and restore us to fellowship with him. God is not far off, but comes to us and stays with us.
We have all experienced grace and seen its beauty. Parents, for example, offer a sort of grace very frequently when the children they love turn periodically into little wretches but the love is undiminished, or when we find generous forgiveness from someone we have wronged. It lifts the bestower and the recipient.
Christmas will be an especially poignant celebration in 2020 after such a tumultuous year. Of course we all know that Christmas can bring its own tensions and disappointments, not least because we often expect so much of it. But at its best it is a time of comfort and joy, of togetherness and optimism.
This year, families will rejoice simply at being able to come together after months of lockdown, restrictions and separation. Many will find joy in the simplest shared activities and rituals.
As families and friends gather in celebration this Christmas – and may the festivities be splendid – may we also reserve a small corner in our hearts to ponder and delight in the grace that we have all received in our lives, and above all the grace that God makes freely available.
Barney Zwartz is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Public Christianity.
This article first appeared in The Age.