Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Grace

All my kids love the snow, but my youngest adores it. My two (almost three) year old finds absolute glee in shoveling snow. She sees her older siblings at work and rushes out to help them. However, she does everything on a whim. If we tell her it's time to come in before she's ready, she makes a fuss. Or if we were to tell her she absolutely must shovel snow, when she'd rather make a snowman, she would be sure to resist!

My fifteen year old knows shoveling snow correctly is actually hard work. He knows that within minutes his nose will run and his cheeks will sting. However, he trusts my motives when I tell him he needs to go out and shovel. He'd rather play a video game or read a book, but he goes out into the snow without a fuss. When I go outside to join him, he's smiling, even laughing. When his brothers, who've become bored, break out into a snowball fight, he stays the course. He chats with me a bit while we work, and there is no resentment in his voice. When he's done, he goes inside satisfied with his job and makes himself hot cocoa.

I didn't ask God for a message from Him this Advent, yet my mind seemed to come back to this over and over during the last four weeks: "Love what must be done." This paraphrase of Goethe by Christopher Perrin has stuck with me for four years, and this Advent it became a prayer, again. 

I have been reading the Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales. My priest told me to read it slowly, and so I have. (I lost it for awhile, which slowed me down even more . . .)  One day after going to Mass, my two year old wanted to snuggle for awhile instead of getting back into her car seat. I took advantage of staying put and prayed in the way de Sales suggests. In my prayers it struck me how much St. John, the Apostle of Love, trusted Jesus. John stayed with Jesus when all the other apostles abandoned Him. 

The Gospels are pretty good at recording the foibles of the apostles, yet they never say that John complained or tried to stop Jesus from doing what must be done. John simply loved Jesus and because of that love, trusted Him. It can be easy to dismiss Jesus' trust in the Father because of His divine nature. Yet John, totally human, also gives witness that love trusts. This trust is faith.

"Every morning when we roll out of bed, we also make a decision: We decide to give up, or we choose to trust in the grace of God to accomplish the mission He's assigned to us," said the deacon. I missed all but those last words of his homily a week ago. It was precisely what I needed to hear. 

Grace ties everything together. To love what must be done and to have the faith to do it, takes grace. 

My youngest child shovels the snow for fun. My fifteen year old shovels the snow with grace. He loves and trusts me, and he loves what must be done, despite wanting to do something else. 

I have encountered many amazing people this Advent who are overcoming painful and tragic circumstances. Despite death, divorce, job losses, and myriads of other problems, these people are still happy about Christmas. They have a light that shines from deep within them, and nothing can put that light out. They live in grace.

And grace is not just for extraordinary circumstances. Grace is for everyday living. From cleaning spilled milk to shoveling snow, from starting a recipe over because the cake didn't rise to reading a bedtime story again and again  . . . and again, grace is there to enable us to do all things in love.

As I finish writing this, the clock turns to Christmas Eve. Love Incarnate is soon to be born. The fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets and our every Hope is coming to bring us to Himself. Oh, how He loves us! With our growing pains and imperfections, still He loves us! 

He doesn't resent emptying Himself. He doesn't grumble about being born in a stable in poverty. He doesn't say snide things about us because He has to save us. He doesn't give up because we're too difficult or too ugly or not worth the time. He isn't critical or condemning. He loves us and loves what must be done, despite having the full understanding of all that entails. 

His love is not arbitrary. His love is so true and certain, that we cannot comprehend it. 

We can talk about unmerited favor, the power of God at work in us, and so many other definitions of grace, but I believe (keeping in mind that I'm not a theologian) grace is another facet of the love of God (divine love), which is both unmerited and empowering. To abide in Jesus and His grace, is to soak in His love, or to use my priest's turn of phrase, "to marinate in His love."

To be honest. waiting feels like work to me. It feels the same way shoveling snow does. I have to choose to wait every Advent. 

But Christmas! Christmas is playing in the snow! It's basking in light and marinating in love, even if I still can't find our nativity set and I'm waaaay behind in wrapping gifts and baking pies. Christmas is faith that takes in the circumstances and still trusts and obeys. Christmas is grace. Christmas is love.

©2016 Emily Woodham

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