Publisher’s Page: Grace: A song for singing
Among all the wonderful things about Christmas, the carols and songs take a special place for celebrating the joy of Jesus' birth. If you're like me, you may already have been humming Christmas carols for a while now since retailers keep putting out their holiday displays earlier and earlier. Of all the Christmas hymns, "There's a Song in the Air" gives me a special smile. It's number 249 in The United Methodist Hymnal we use at our church. While it may not be as recognizable as "Joy to the World" and "Away in a Manger," the melodic verses tell of the holiness and majesty of the night that Christ was born. Amid familiar words such as "baby," "mother," "star," "manger" and "Bethlehem," the fourth verse states:
We rejoice in the light, and we echo the song
That comes down through the night from the heavenly throng.
Whenever I hear the organ and choir really get going as we sing this beloved holiday hymn, the words of that verse often leave me with hope, believing "the song" referenced in the lyric is God's grace. God's grace, in the form of an infant, came down through the night from heaven. God's grace heralded by the heavenly throng of angels. God's grace for us to echo in our lives.
Friends, grace is the overarching theme of this issue of Interpreter. Stories about grace in the sacraments, grace in relationships, graceful encounters and grace and the holidays fill the pages, along with an article about John Wesley's unique emphasis on grace.
Indeed, the founder of our denomination had a lot to say about grace. Wesley taught that grace is threefold: prevenient, justifying and sanctifying. He believed that God's active presence in our lives is a gift, one that is always available but that can be refused (prevenient grace). Wesley also taught that another dimension of God's grace points to reconciliation, pardon and restoration. Through the work of God in Christ, sins are forgiven, restoring our relationship with God (justifying grace). A third element of grace involves the continual process of our own transformation, growing and maturing in our ability to live as Jesus did as God's gracious presence leads us to live as God intends us to be (sanctifying grace).
Prevenient grace, justifying grace, sanctifying grace – all three dimensions of grace are gifts from God.
For many across the globe, we are in a season of gift giving. In the United States, nine out of 10 Americans celebrate Christmas, according to a Pew Research Report. Approximately half of the people throughout the world will celebrate Yuletide either as a religious or cultural holiday. Gifts take many forms, but are almost always a part of Christmas celebrations. We all know of the ones wrapped in paper and donned with bows, but the holidays may be a time to consider gifts of a different sort.
In many families, during the final two months of the year, we are more intentional about spending time with one another. Many of our traditions occur around the dinner table as we share the gift of delicious meals. Many people seek out opportunities to help others, either by giving of themselves through volunteering or making financial donations. Friends commonly host festive gatherings, where the gift is sharing time together.
Another gift, albeit an intangible one, is found in abundant supply during the holidays: grace. In the same way that we typically do a better job of connecting with friends and family during the holidays, we also may find that we are better at being kind, respectful and bestowing favor on others during the weeks that encompass Thanksgiving and Christmas than perhaps at other times of the year.
We may be more patient with the long line in front of us at the supermarket or more considerate to the overworked retail employee who's endured months of Christmas carols. Maybe we smile and wave, instead of beep the horn, at the car that pulls in front of us during bumper to bumper traffic. All of our relationships are better when infused with healthy doses of grace.
As we prepare to greet in his cradle our savior and king, let us move through the coming weeks and into 2017 considering how God's love and grace can permeate the routine of our days. When we have God in our lives, it will put a song in our hearts. My Christmas prayer is that your life may echo the song of God's grace today and every day.
Dan Krause is general secretary of United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, and publisher of Interpreter.