Grace upon grace

Christmas 2 (January 4, 2009)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Jer. 31:7-14; Ps.147:12-20; Eph. 1:3-14; John 1:10-18

We welcomed the New Year in Amman with a gathering of international colleagues who are all working on Iraq issues.

The violence between Israel and Hamas continued this week. More than 400 Palestinians have been killed and another 2,000 injured by Israeli bombing of Gaza. Four Israelis have been killed by rockets launched by Hamas. Many fear that an Israeli ground invasion of the Gaza Strip is imminent, especially after many international workers were evacuated from Gaza on Friday.

Smoke rises over Gaza, as fighting between Israel and Hamas enters a second week (Getty Images photo)

The humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip – home to some 1.5 million Palestinians – has reached new levels of despair. MCC has responded with an immediate cash contribution for local purchase of food and material resources.

The UN estimates that more than 400 Gazans have been killed and more than 2,000 injured in the fighting (AFP photo)

The Common Lectionary readings this week focus on God’s grace and redemption – timely themes as we consider the world in which we live.

The prophet Jeremiah says that God’s people “found grace in the wilderness” during their time of exile (Jer. 31:2). God will gather those who have been scattered and be their shepherd (v.10). God will turn their mourning to joy (v.13c) and will comfort (v.13d) and satisfy them (v.14).

The psalmist declares that God is gracious and a song of praise is befitting (Ps. 147:1). This gracious God gathers the outcasts (v.2b), heals the brokenhearted and binds their wounds (v.3), lifts up the downtrodden (v.6a), casts the wicked to the ground (v.6b), prepares rain for the earth (v.8), blesses our children (v.13), grants peace within our borders (v.14a) and provides food for us to eat (v.14b).

In the Epistle reading, Paul writes that God has freely bestowed and lavished grace upon us (Eph. 1:6-8). God does so by redeeming us (v.7), revealing the mystery of God’s will to us (v.9), offering us an inheritance as God’s children (v.11) and giving us the Holy Spirit as a pledge of what is yet to come (vv. 13-14).

In the Gospel reading, John writes that Christ is full of grace and truth (John 1:14) and that “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (v.16).

As we mark the transition from 2008 to 2009, it is easy, almost unavoidable, to focus on the difficulties, problems and suffering of so many in this region and around the world.

Too often, the news headlines focus on the utter lack of grace in the human community – violence, oppression, cruelty and selfishness. The Common Lectionary readings remind us of the importance of seeing beneath these headlines to the real work that God is doing in the world. God is present, redeeming and restoring. God is extending grace upon grace.

Will we be part of God’s activity? We cannot extend grace until we have received it. We cannot receive grace until we recognize our need for it.

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