One of the Hardest Gifts to Open

If you could ask for any gift for Christmas what would it be? What would it look like? We talked about the gift of joy and how important joy was in our lives. We talked about the gift of belonging. We are ready to open our next gift for Christmas. Are you ready….anticipating it…ready to open it?
It’s the gift of grace. Grace is defined as kindness, favor and leniency. Another word is clemency. Compassion is used when describing clemency. So, compassion is wound around grace. God gives us grace when we come to him. We have all messed up and we will continue to mess up because we live in a fallen world. Romans 3:23-24 says this, “or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;…” In other words we have all sinned at one point or another and we will continue. Christ came and took our sins to the cross with him. We no longer need to carry them with us. Because he did when we mess up he has compassion on us. We don’t get what we deserve when we go to him and ask for forgiveness. We may still pay the price of sinning, but it won’t be as bad as it could be.
The first step toward accepting God’s grace is knowing you don’t deserve it. You didn’t do anything to get it. It’s a free gift that comes from God. We can’t do enough good works to earn it, we can’t pay for it; it’s a gift from God. A gift is usually given to a friend sometimes as a birthday present or some kind of celebration but then there are gifts given, “just because.” That’s what God grace is a “just because” gift. God offers us the gift of grace because he loves us, because he sent his son to take away our sins, because he likes giving good gifts. 
He doesn’t put demands on us when he gives us grace. He doesn’t say, “Well this gift of grace is yours if you don’t mess up anymore, if you work hard enough or trust me more.” No he just hands us grace at the moment we accept Him and join in a relationship with Him. 
I have read this story before and you may have heard it before, but I want to share it again with you.
  •  The boy stands defiantly with his head cocked back and hands clenched. “Go ahead. Give it to me; I can take it.”The principal looks down at the young rebel. “How many times have you been here?” The child sneers rebelliously, “Apparently, not enough.” The principal gives the boy a strange look and says, “You have been punished each time, have you not?” “Yeah, I’ve been punished; if that’s what you want to call it.” He throws out his small chest and says, “Go ahead, I can take whatever you can dish out; I always have.” Carefully studying the boy’s face, the principal says, “Are there any thoughts of punishment when you break these rules?” “Nope; I do whatever I want. Ain’t nothing you people gonna do to stop me neither.” The principal looks over at the teacher who is sitting nearby and asks, “What did he do this time?” “Fighting. He took little Tommy and shoved his face into the sandbox.” The principal turns to look at the boy and asks, “Why? What did little Tommy do to you?” “Nothin’, I didn’t like the way he was lookin at me; just like I don’t like the way you’re lookin at me now! In fact, if I thought I could do it, I’d shove your face into something.” The teacher stiffens and starts to rise, but a quick look from the principal stops him. He contemplates the child for a moment and then quietly says, “Today, my young student, is the day you will learn about grace.” “Grace? Isn’t that what you old people do before you eat a meal? I don’t need any of your stinkin’ grace.” “Oh, but you do,” says the principal. After studying the boy’s face he whispers, “Oh yes, you truly do need grace.” The boy glared as the principal continued. “Grace, in its short definition, is unmerited favor. You can’t earn grace, my child. Grace is a gift and it’s always freely given. Grace means you will not be getting what you so richly deserve.” The boy looks puzzled. “You’re not gonna whup me? You just gonna let me walk?” The principal looks down at the unyielding child and says, “Yes, I am going to let you walk.” The boy studies the face of the principal and says, “No punishment at all? You’re not going to punish me even though I socked Tommy and shoved his face into the sandbox?” “Oh, there has to be punishment. What you did was wrong and there will always be consequences for our actions. There will be punishment. Grace is not an excuse for doing wrong.” “I knew it,” sneers the boy. Holding out his hands he says, “Let’s get on with it.” The principal nods toward the teacher and says, “Bring me the belt.” The teacher presents the belt to the principal. He carefully folds it in two and hands it back to the teacher. He looks at the child and says, “I want you to count the blows.” The principal slides out from behind his desk and walks over to the child. The child stands defiantly with his hands outstretched. The principal gently moves the child’s expectant hands down to his sides. Turning to the teacher, the principal stretches out his own hands and quietly says, “Begin.” The belt slaps against the principal’s outstretched hands. Crack! The young boy jumps. Shock registers across his face, “One” he whispers. Crack! “Two.” His voice raises an octave. Crack! “Three.” He is unable to believe this. Crack! “Four.” Big tears well up in the eyes of the young rebel. “Okay, stop! That’s enough. Stop!” Crack! The belt continues to come down on the principal’s swollen hands. Crack! The child flinches with each blow. Tears start streaming down the child’s face. Crack! Crack! “No, please,” the former rebel begs. “Stop. I’m the one who did it. I’m the one who deserves the punishment. Stop! Please stop,” the boy sobs. Still the blows come. Crack! Crack! Finally it is over. The principal, with sweat glistening across his forehead, turns to the former rebel and kneels down. Carefully cradling the child’s face with his swollen hands, the principal softly says, “This, my boy, is grace.”This story is an excellent example of God’s grace (unmerited favor). 
Just as the boy received the opposite of what he deserved, we too can receive the opposite of what we deserve. God reached down and offered us the gift of grace. Grace can be a hard gift to open, but it can’t be used if we aren’t willing to open His gift to us. 
This Christmas as we unwrap another gift let’s remember the gift of grace God has given us. He took the punishment that we deserved. Just like the principal offered grace to the boy who didn’t deserve it God does that for us. 
We aren’t always so anxious and eager to open this one, but this one we must. 
Dear God: I don’t deserve your gift of grace. I have messed up so many times I get scared and wonder if I have gone too far, but then I hear the words from a song that says his grace reaches farther than my worse mistakes and I am in awe. Sometimes this gift is hard to open and sometimes I want to hand it back, but then I am forever grateful for your grace. Teach me to share your grace with others. Amen!

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