Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Regifting grace

I have begun to attach four distinct verbs to the four Sundays of Advent, and those are haunting me now as I consider what to preach on Epiphany.

Those themes seem to be: Reflect, Repent, Respond, Rejoice

The first week of Advent asks us to consider the cosmic possibilities of our lives and our futures, especially in light (pun intended) of the coming brilliance of Christ. We reflect.

The second week, that crazy Baptist John comes out of the wilderness (or in some gospels folks go out to him) and he tells us to repent -- repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. We repent.

The third week, JTB is back telling us to share a coat or share a meal with someone less fortunate. We respond.

The fourth week, Mary and Elizabeth celebrate their blessings and their responsibilities. Mary's soul magnifies the Lord. She rejoices. We rejoice.

And then it's Christmas and we rejoice anew, celebrating that gift in the manger of God come among us not as a great king but as a vulnerable infant, trusting humanity to hold and comfort and care for God. We not only receive the gift of grace, we nurture it.

Now come those kings. Not numbered in the Bible, but three by tradition. Not named in the Bible, but named by tradition. They bring gifts of the most precious elements of their world -- gold, frankincense and myrrh -- to honor this God-child.

Having already asked myself (and our congregation) in the days between Christmas and Epiphany to consider what a personal response to that gift of grace would be, I now ask myself (and will ask our congregation) what gifts do we bring? If we were the Magi following the star to Christ's nativity, what gifts would we bring? More importantly, what gifts can we bring in our own day.

There are a multitude of ways (not unlike that multitude of heavenly hosts, perhaps) to consider this, but two are resonating with me this week.

The first is to consider the gifts I have been given, the gifts I have that I can share with others. This offers a time for positive self-reflection. Unlike those New Year's resolutions where we focus on our shortcomings, thinking about our gifts allows us to think about our strengths and how we might best share them in the coming year. And it also offers a time for gratitude for the presence of those gifts and, perhaps, a resolution to put them to use more frequently.

The second is to apply the contemporary concept of "re-gifting" to the first-century gift of grace. God through Christ has given us not only grace in the abstract but grace by example through the teachings and actions of Jesus. Another way we can give as the Magi gave would be to take that gift of grace and give it to someone else. This is far harder than simply applying gifts that are strengths. One of the hardest things I did in the past year was to deliberately extend grace in circumstances where I was still hurting from the actions or inactions of others, in circumstances where I wanted (my sense of) unresolved wrongs righted, in circumstances where deception seemed (at least for a time)to trump truth. And it was hard. And I wasn't very good at it at all. But the beauty has been that I have a better concept than ever of the splendor of God's grace. In my feeble attempts at granting grace, I sometimes revisit the pain or my sense of the wrongs later only to remind myself of the grace I granted, and therefore, the need to move beyond my hurt feelings. I know I can no longer dwell on my sense of injustice. And I almost always immediately then think of how grand, how awesome, how unimaginable, how immense it is that God grants grace so freely. What a gift! The other beauty of granting grace is that it's not a gift that you wrap and give. It's a gift that you live. And, given properly, it certainly is not a gift that is announced. The recipient may never know it was granted. And yet, sometimes the recipient will be aware of the grace and, if we live it just right, see a living example of God's grace in human practice. I doubt I've lived my grace granting that well, but it is my goal, it is my hope, it is both my resolution and my gift as I follow that star alongside the Magi. And as I follow Jesus. May it be so. Amen.

1 comment:

RevErikaG said...

Hey Karen!
Part of Molly's gift, er, vacation is you get to preach, eh?! Brilliant! I did one of my Christmas Eve messages on was a lot of fun and a great way to make incarnation not some idea but something real to receive and give!
Could go with Rs forever--baptism is re-commit, could do a play on re-ignite for the season of epiphany...oh, the puns....