"...I believe it's necessary to recognize that we all need mercy, we all need justice, and - perhaps - we all need some measure of unmerited grace.”
-Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
This evening I talked to my kids about unmerited grace. Admittedly, I am no expert on the topic, just a recipient and beneficiary of it. Grace is one of those words that I have heard and used probably thousands of times, yet a word that escapes my ability to succinctly and successfully define.
What was probably just a cover for a weakness in my parenting, my kids still got a previously promised ice cream treat despite less than ideal behavior prior to bed. We had had a great day as a family, yet the final hour was fraught with arguments and fights. My wife's and my initial instinct was just to send them off to bed ice-cream-less. Instead, we tried to make a connection to Christmas.
We give gifts, generously, to imitate the abundant, radical, and reckless generosity of our God giving the world His only Son.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn* the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:16-17).
As a way to imitate this divine grace, we let them have ice cream.
We did nothing to deserve the gift of Jesus. In a sense, there is nothing that could merit such a gift. No action, no word, no deed, nothing could justify God's grace in sending us Jesus to show us the way, teach us the truth, and bring us to life in abundance.
Christmas is unmerited grace.
And so, perhaps one of the best explanations of grace I can think of is simply: favor.
This favor might come in the form of unconditional love. This idea of grace might be forgiveness. It could come through healing. We might experience it as hope. It could be a spark of life, a flicker of light, in the midst of darkness.
Maybe sometimes it comes in the form of ice cream or in the form of being forgiven for a bad move as a parent.
As Bryan Stevenson said in a speech to at the United States Senate Hearing on the Death Penalty in 1993, "(W)e all need mercy, we all need justice, and - perhaps - we all need some measure of unmerited grace.”
This Christmas, during a year where we could all use an extra measure of it, may we all recognize that we have received an overwhelming amount of unmerited grace, and in recognizing it, may we have the grace to give it away.
Because, grace wins.