Each week, we look at one of the lectionary passages for the upcoming Sunday. This week we are looking at the gospel passage for the second Sunday after Christmas: John 1:10-18.
"And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of a father's only son, full of grace and truth... From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace."
-John 1:14 and 16
Honestly, I would be satisfied with just quoting those two verses and calling it a day. For context's sake, I should probably let you know that verse 15 is a parenthetical comment in which John the Baptist vouches for Jesus. If I were reading this and that gap was left unexplained, it would bother me. And let me just say that parenthetical absolutely destroys the wonderful poetic flow of the chapter. John's editor should have been fired. But I digress.
Grace upon grace. I adore that phrase. It fills me with hope. It makes me want to run through the streets like George Bailey at the end of It's a Wonderful Life. God does not just give us a small dose of mercy, like a parent keeping a disobedient child on a short leash; even though that in itself would be remarkable considering our sin. Rather God inebriates us with overflowing grace.
I need grace. You need grace. We all need it desperately. And I think that is why we are happy to talk about it and sing about it and celebrate it. To a point. We love grace when it covers the crap that we've done. But when grace goes too far? When it flings open the doors to people we wouldn't want sitting in our church pews? Then it's an issue. I can just see people saying, "God, you can't just offer grace to EVERYBODY!"
Everybody loves grace. But grace upon grace makes some people nervous. Grace upon grace makes a mess. Grace upon grace means sharing the table with different or undesirable individuals. Grace upon grace is a tidal wave that threatens every line we draw and every single "correct" theology we formulate.
There's always a pushback when we talk about grace in this way. There are fears that this will lead to divine whateverism and people saying they can do or believe anything they want because we're all under grace, dude. I get that and I'm not suggesting that kind of relativism. Grace is not cheap nor is it something we ought to abuse.
But when you look at the lengths to which God went to show us grace upon grace—coming to earth in the most vulnerable form possible, loving us, trusting us, living with us, teaching us, dying for us, rising, and not giving up on us despite the sometimes unidentifiable mess we've made of the Gospel—I feel like I can confidently say that God is far more gracious than we are. God's grace is bigger, more all-encompassing. God's grace upon grace is breathtaking in its beauty.
When I remember that is what the Christmas story, the Easter story, and the Jesus story is all about, that is what makes me want to run through the streets. God loves this world and everyone in it so much that God will go to every end possible to save, to love, to show grace upon grace. I hope I never forget that.