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December 27, 2014, 3:00 PM

Grace, Gratitude and a Coffee Maker

I want to thank all the folks who responded so generously to our "Christmas Commando" challenge to provide gifts to residents of the shelter for homeless  veterans in Marion.  (The picture shows me with items, as we prepared to deliver them.)

With the help of these kind souls, we were able to purchase and deliver a full-size Keurig machine (don't worry, it's the smaller ones which were recalled) as well as hundreds of "k-cups" of coffee, tea, cocoa and cider mixes, and  several sizable boxes filled with useful personal hygiene items.

There may have been some present elsewhere in the small building, but we didn't see and gifts, or decorations.  It looked like Christmas was going to be just another day for these men who have known hardship and disappointment since coming home from faraway wars.

Many of them feel forgotten and abandoned.  Many struggle with a sense of worthlessness and hopelessness.

Coffee and toothpaste will not fix all that.

But, they are signs of a deeper love and concern.  I've already had people say we need to do more for these men and women and I think we have a chance at a vital new ministry in this regard.  It's something we will need to discuss, think and pray about in the coming year.

The Christmas story, when it is liberated from all the tinsel, commercialism, and sentimentalism with which we have tried to bury it, is about a God who daringly and dangerously plunges into the depths of the human experience and shares it with the down-and-out, the dispossessed, and even the despised of the world.  It tells of a God who would take on the plain brown wrapper form of a peasant child whose legitimacy was subject to question, and who grew up to be a dirt-under-the-fingernails manual laborer until he abandoned that life of comparative security to become a homeless rabbi.

People expected a military messiah to wipe out their enemies, and a prince to wield power and enforce his righteous will upon his subjects...and maybe even the world.

Instead, they got a peasant preacher who refused to go to war and who was spectacularly powerless, when it came to political or financial resources.  All he has is a fearless compassion for the people that polite and pious society has rejected.  The people they were certain that God rejected, as well.

He simply wasn't the Messiah they were expecting.  He rewrote the rules on that.  Because, for all his seeming powerlessness, he would prove to be astonishingly powerful.  You could even say, miraculously powerful.

He upended the world, and offered a new way of living and loving.  The way of  humility and selflessness.  The way of  grace and mercy.  The way which lifted up the downtrodden and healed the broken.  The way which welcome the rejected.

The people in that shelter saw a glimpse of him on Christmas morning, when they were surprised by unexpected gifts that told them they were neither worthless nor forgotten.  And they were grateful.

Salvation doesn't start so much with fear as it does, gratitude.  That's why grace and gratitude have the same Latin root.

On Christmas Day, this church extended some of that grace to the kind of people for whom Jesus came into the world.  And, in so doing, we affirmed that great proclamation of the season...Emmanuel!  God is with us!


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