Grace changes us!
I knew a lady, let’s call her “Ellen,” who was the queen of perfect gifts. She was devastated one year when her gift plans were ruined. She spent most of the summer and fall in the hospital and rehab after suffering a stroke, and then two weeks before Christmas she fell and broke her leg. Back in the hospital she fretted constantly to herself. Not only did she not have this year’s perfect gifts, she didn’t have any gifts at all for her husband and daughters. On Christmas Eve a friend stopped by her hospital room carrying a big box. When Ellen opened the box she saw three beautifully wrapped presents. “I know how you are,” the friend said, “these are for Dan and the girls.” I can still hear Ellen’s voice telling me that “the grace of God, and nothing but the grace of God,” saved Christmas for her.
Grace changes us!
Andy Lazarides can tell you all about grace changing us. In the winter of 2002, he and his band, “Status,” were on the road to fame and fortune by way of a record company in Indianapolis who offered a $22,000 record deal. The deal – and Andy’s life – fell apart though as Andy’s drug addiction took over his life. He explains, “You get to a point where you don’t know what you’re doing. Once this happens you have a choice, you can take action to detox the drugs from your body, or you can take more drugs. I took more drugs.” By the time he was 21, Andy was, as he says, “headed for a big, fat, dead end.” That’s when grace changed him. “One Saturday, I just snapped.” He called his mother, whom he had been estranged from for years. Andy’s mom and dad came and picked him up, and his journey back from addiction began. God’s grace was working in him, changing him. Here’s how he tells it:
“When I left the drug rehab center I didn’t know who I was anymore. I felt like a freak, and I had nothing but a room at my parents’ house. What I did not realize, however, is that even though I felt I had nothing, I had opened myself up to let God in and take hold of my life in my abrupt sobriety. And take hold he did. I was given a chance to lead the music, almost in spite of myself, at a small church in Springfield. It was here that I cut my teeth on a new skill – playing music, but this time for God. It’s no longer about me and my ‘glory,’ it’s about God’s. I don’t care if I make money at it, I don’t care if I ever record an album. I don’t believe in accidents. God gave me the gift of loving music, not so that I could serve myself, but so that I could serve Him and those who truly need to feel the Spirit on Sunday mornings. And the addiction I have experienced has allowed me to relate to some folks that no one else can, which is another unexpected gift. Today I work for DCFS, have a wife and two beautiful children, and do my best to serve God every Sunday morning. If this is not a story of God’s grace, I would be hard pressed to come up with another.”
Grace finds us!
New St. John’s disciple Joe Merrick found himself doing his best to take care of his grandchildren, but it was a real challenge. To be their official guardian, he had to legally adopt the children, but had no idea how to make that happen. “And they just worked it out,” Joe told me. “Who, Joe? Who worked it out?” “The Lutherans,” he answered. “You called a Lutheran church?” I asked. “No,” he replied, “they were just there. I don’t know who called them. They knew what to do, we did it, the judge said they were mine, and we went to the apartment the Lutherans found for us.” Joe told me that from then on, “for YEARS,” he said, “the Lutherans helped with our rent. They made sure we had Christmas every single year. Grace? That was the grace of God for sure. Couldn’t have been anything else.” Grace found Joe and his grandchildren through a Lutheran Social Service agency.
Grace changes us!
Come and be changed as we watch and wait during the first weeks of December. Share the holy Advent days and nights with St. John’s – disciples, neighbors, friends – in worship, in meals, in gatherings. Grace finds us. Come and be found in the celebration of the birth of the Messiah. Worship, pray, sing, and rejoice with St. John’s on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the whole Christmas season.
“Silent night, holy night! Son of God, love’s pure light.
Radiant beams from thy holy face with the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth. Jesus, Lord at thy birth.”
- Franz Gruber
May that “dawn of redeeming grace” wake you each morning this Advent and Christmas. And at the close of each day, may the grace of God hold your “silent, holy night.”