What is grace?


Sermon for December 30th, 2018




I am so grateful that in this part of the world the holidays are usually followed by a couple months of sweater weather or winter coat weather.


A nice sweater or a good coat can cover a multitude of sins and over-indulgences. I am sure that I am not the only one coming to this sixth day of Christmas feeling as if my clothes have shrunk a bit. It’s times like this that I am thankful for sweaters and coats: not only do they help keep you warm and protect you from the elements…they are also useful for covering things that you would rather not show the world. What a mercy that is.


From our Old Testament passage this morning:


I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with baggy sweatpants and covered me with the robe of double-thick terrycloth

…so said the prophet Isaiah, or something to that effect.


Well not quite, but that is what went through my head when I was reading that Old Testament passage earlier this week. I thought: what a grace it is that God has given us something to cover up all these imperfections. What a grace that I don’t have to wait for the bathroom scale to show me the number I want to see before I go on with my life. What a grace that I don’t need to be constantly focused on my flaws and what a grace that I don’t have to constantly look at everyone else’s either.


That is grace.


I have been thinking a lot about grace this week. In our gospel passage this morning, the evangelist says that: “from his fullness we have received grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” We talk a lot about grace, but what is it? When we say “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore” …what do we mean by that? What is grace like?


Well my mind kept going back to that image in the prophet Isaiah of God clothing his people with garments of salvation and robes of righteousness. There is so much of that imagery in scripture, the imagery of God clothing his people, and I thought, yes, that is what grace is: grace is God covering us. That is what God does. God covers us.


He covers us when we are naked and afraid. He covers us when our frail souls are exposed to the evils of this world; but he also covers us when our inner sinful nature is showing too.


In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he says that: “in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” We have been clothed with Christ. God has covered us with the divine life of his son. In Jesus God has given us a new outer garment. It is like that winter coat or that fuzzy sweater, that not only protects us from the elements outside, and keeps us warm, comforts us, it also covers our own imperfections. It covers our sins.


Paul also talks about the difference between living under the law, and living under faith, or living with grace. Well, if the Law is the bathroom scale, telling us how far we went wrong, then grace is the fuzzy sweater, letting us get on with our lives and forgiving us when we go a bit astray. That is what grace is; it is God’s way of dressing us for the great feast he has prepared, covering our sins with a perfection we could never attain on our own. And faith is choosing to see the outer garment that God has placed over us, rather than obsessing about the numbers on the scale, or what lies underneath the robe.


Grace is something we receive, it is a mercy, but it is also something we can share with others. I have always admired people that exhibit grace under pressure. I have wondered, what does it mean to be a gracious person? It isn’t just about saying please and thank you. That is being grateful. I am talking about being gracious. And here is what I think it means.


A gracious person is someone that when they encounter another person’s flaws exposed, decides to cover them, rather than to draw attention to them or focus on them. A gracious person is not blind to the truth, but realizes a deeper truth. They realize that their sins are always visible to God, and yet God has chosen to look on something else. He looks on the new outer garment that he has provided through his son. A gracious person is not perfect; they just know the comfort of having their defects covered, so they live their lives trying to make others feel as if their faults are unseen as well.


What is grace? Well, it is many things, but most importantly grace is knowing that God’s love is stronger than our imperfections. Grace is knowing that God has us covered.