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AMAZING GRACE (Christmas 2020)

Leonard Griffith tells a remarkable story about a young doctor who had been ill for a long time. Physically he seemed to have recovered, but emotionally he remained in a slew of depression, and nothing could shake him out of it. He displayed no interest in his work, refused to see his friends, and just stayed at home all day brooding.

His wife, who loved him dearly, fearful of what this would eventually mean to his career and to their marriage, did everything within her power to help him … all to no avail! Finally, in desperation, she devised a scheme. Would he go to church with her on Christmas Eve? The church would be deserted save for the organist playing soft music, and a distinguished actor who would step quietly into the gallery and recite the familiar Christmas Story from the Gospel of Luke. All of this she had arranged unknown to her husband. To her surprise, he agreed. He would go to the church by himself and wait for her there.

The doctor found it very peaceful sitting alone in the sacred silence … a silence suddenly broken by a cultured voice reciting verses, not from Luke but from the Gospel of John: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … and to those who received him, he gave power … power to become the children of God’. Something happened to the young doctor as the words and music faded away. It was as though an evil spell had been broken. As though a healing and liberating influence had come into his life.

At the door of the church the doctor met his wife and took her into his arms. His incredulous wife who had just received an apologetic note from the distinguished actor to say that he would not be able to come to the church that evening!

So what on earth (and in heaven) was going here? Well … if we read further on in the passage from John we discover something called ‘grace’ … amazing grace! John goes on to tell us that ‘the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us … the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth … [and] out of [that] fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given’ [John 1:14-16].

‘Grace’ is one of my (and John Newton’s) favourite words! ‘Grace’ is the opposite of karma (which is all about getting what you deserve) … ‘grace’ is getting what you don’t deserve (Justin Holcomb). ‘Grace’ is at the very centre and core of the whole Bible. ‘Grace’ is the most important concept in the Bible, Christianity, and the world. ‘Grace’ is the unmerited favour of God. It is the love of God shown to the unlovely … the peace of God given to the restless. ‘Grace’ is God reaching down to people who are in rebellion against him. ‘Grace is the love that cares and stoops and rescues!’ (John Stott). It is most clearly expressed in the promises of God revealed in Scripture and embodied in Jesus Christ! 

John tells us here that at that first Christmas God, in the Person of his ‘one and only Son’, came among us – ‘moved into the neighbourhood’ (The Message) – ‘full of grace and truth’. Indeed Jesus came ‘full to overflowing’ (which is what the word means). So much so, in fact, that we are the beneficiaries of this amazing grace – we have all received ‘grace in place of grace’ or ‘one blessing after another’ (RSV). Common Grace that keeps us all alive – the very air that we breathe. Special Grace that comes to us in the Person of Jesus Christ that enables us to become spiritually alive!

This is what happened to Leonard Griffiths’ doctor all those years ago. And that’s what can happen to anyone at all, at any given time! So if you are going through a tough time, like that doctor … God’s grace is there for you … only a prayer away! And if you are at your wits end with worry or anxiety, like that poor doctor’s wife must have been … don’t give up on those you love and deeply care about … God’s grace is more than sufficient for them and you … keep loving, keep praying, keep believing!

AS John Newton, the onetime slaver (who sank so low that he actually became the slave of a slave), discovered for himself one day (when life was rock bottom) … when God suddenly broke into his life:

Amazing grace
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost
But now I’m found
Was blind, but now I see

‘Twas grace that taught
My heart to fear
And grace my Fears relieved
How precious did
That grace appear
The hour I first believed

Through many dangers
Toils and snares
We have already come
‘Twas grace hath brought
Us safe thus far
And grace will lead us home

~ John Newton (1725-1807)

Jim Binney

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