By Joe LaGuardia
My father was what you might call an armchair theologian. An armchair theologian is someone who knows a lot about life and just enough about the Bible to give some decent advice. Most of the time.
For instance, when I was a child and I used to watch Star Trek with him, I’d ask, “Dad, are aliens real?”
He would often respond one of two ways. One way was to say, “Stop asking questions, and watch the TV.” The second way was, “Well, if they do and they visit us, they better know the Bible and Jesus.”
I asked him that same question years later when I was in high school. I got the same answer: The Bible and Jesus. Two staples of my father’s life.
One of the greatest lessons he taught me, however, revolved around grace.
When my wife and I were first married, we were still in college and needed to borrow money now and then. My parents were generous with their loans, and we’d always pay them back in a timely fashion, although paying them back was somewhat of an adventure.
“Dad, how much do I owe you?”, I’d ask; and he would respond (every time), “A million dollars.”
I’d chide him, and he’d explain: “You owe a million dollars because that’s how much you’ve borrowed since you were born.”
Dad would think about it for a minute as I grew restless with his answer, and then it was his turn to ask a question, “Wait a minute. How old are you?”
I was in my twenties when these conversations happened, so I’d answer in kind to which he’d respond more forcefully, “In that case you owe me two million dollars. A million dollars every ten years.”
A few minutes went by and then that great lesson of grace would follow as he’d say something like, “Just give me $300.00 and we’ll call it even.”
It didn’t matter how much I owed him. It could have been $300.00 for plane tickets to New York or $500.00 to help with a rent payment. It would always be a ballpark figure of $300.00. That was grace.
And that was my father. Now, just imagine how much grace our Father in heaven has when he cancelled all our debts when he sent His son to die for our sins.
Here we are, growing in our indebtedness by the sins we commit, and Jesus died so that we can be free from the penalties of that which would otherwise put us in over our heads.
The Christmas story is, if nothing else, a story of God’s many gifts of grace to us. Sure, Jesus died for our sins, but the grace did not begin there.
God’s grace began so long ago when God did not give up on humankind, but instead made a covenant with humankind to ultimately save humans from themselves.
That covenant reached its apex when God visited a humble, peasant family in Nazareth some 2000 years ago. This family was not made of money. They didn’t live in a big city.
Yet, God chose this family–Joseph and Mary–to bear the very gift who embodied the very reign of God on earth: Jesus, whose kingdom and mercy has no end (Luke 1:33).
Joseph and Mary recognized this gift for what it was, and they knew that this gift of grace would turn the whole world upside down. That gift would empower the powerless with God’s favor, scatter the proud, transcend the rising and falling of empires and nations, and “fill the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:46-55).
This Christmas, when we give and receive so many gifts with loved ones, let us not forget the many gifts of grace that God has given us. They are gifts that span the biblical record, a gift that came in the person of Jesus Christ, and the many gifts that are still available today to those who call Jesus Lord and Savior.