This morning, my scripture reading took me through Luke 2. And so I read a passage that is usually never touched save for near Christmas. And a passage that normally only brings me a groan for the constant rehashing of old arguments came alive with wonder for me:
Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to all whom God favors.
Now, leaving aside all the discussions of genitives and the universality of peace or God’s favor, I was struck by two things.
The first is the opening phrase in the song of the angels, “Glory to God in the highest heaven…” As the narrative of salvation recorded in Luke’s gospel begins, we have a steady reminder who is at the helm of this ship. God is not simply taking advantage of this birth. He has orchestrated it. It is a show of force, a show of love. And as we constantly remind ourselves of God’s grace with the intent of growing spiritually in light of that grace, we first must remember its source, the God who is glorious above the heavens, who dwells outside of creation and yet is approachable from any place we might find ourselves as his children.
The second is a reaction I usually have to people talking about “grace”. Have you ever heard someone ask, “What is grace?” The normal response in a Christian context is, “God’s unmerited and unconditional favor”. And while it is true that God’s favor is beyond our imagination and not based on any sort of obligation God owes us, this is an odd definition for grace. And it quite obscures grace for the person trying to understand what God offers. Grace is the gift that a beneficiary receives from their benefactor. Someone who depends on another receives “grace”. And before one can even touch on the “unconditional” nature of God’s grace, we must first understand that we are in need, that we are the beneficiaries and God the benefactor.
That God gives us his “favor” should astound, quite apart from the depth of that favor. But rather than wallow in any sort of self-pity, God’s favor picks us up and allows us to shout with the angels, “Glory to God!” No need here for arguments about the who or the how in Luke 2:14 (though quite useful maybe, and important in their own time). At this juncture, simple enough to remember that for the one who has experienced this favor and understands their need for it, heaven is open, ready to receive their praise.