Saturday, December 21, 2013

she who has received grace

Today has been an ungracious sort of day.

I was late for a volunteer recruitment meeting. I struggled, aggravated, through my Hebrew studies as a bewildered mama tried unsuccessfully to control her screaming toddler. I very aggressively slammed a shopping cart into the corral in frustration that the grocery store customer before me felt too hurried to put it back. I had a little temper tantrum in the car as my commute to a friend's house was doubled in the crazy holiday traffic. I ranted to my family on the phone about some unwelcome news I received this week. Despite a lovely brunch with friends this afternoon, I headed home annoyed that there was more work to be done for church tomorrow.

Chalk it up to the shortest day of the year and the winter blues, but I did not feel Christmasy. And I certainly didn't feel full of grace.

The past year has been like that. I have wanted to be brave and beautiful in the midst of little challenges and more looming adversity. But I haven't handled each trial with the sort of poise I would have hoped. Instead it has all felt pretty clumsy.

I hate these sorts of days because gracious is what I want most of all to be.  That and gutsy.  But the grace usually feels harder to come by than the guts.

I was feeling frustrated with myself when I read the loveliest words in the Gordon-Conwell Advent Devotional, day 20, written by early Christian history professor Dr. Donald Fairbairn:

When the angel Gabriel greets Mary, he uses an expression that has proven difficult to translate. The Latin Vulgate renders it with the equivalent of, "O one who is full of grace." The King James renders it, "Thou that art highly favored." And the ESV has, "O favored one." The Greek expression is a single word, a passive form of the verb for "to grace." Perhaps the most precise way to render it in English would be "O you who have received grace." Gabriel is not talking about Mary as a source of grace, but as a recipient of grace. 

The Vulgate's translation feels darn near impossible to live up to, and I bet Mary would agree. Maybe her temperament was a bit less fiery than mine, but I'll bet she had some ungracious days, too. {{She was human, after all.}} But Mary had received grace--literally, had been graced--in the most precious, Incarnate way.

Dr. Fairbairn continues: 

As for what this grace consists of, the next phrase holds the key: "the Lord is with you." At heart, grace is not God's giving us just any kind of favor; it is his giving us his very presence. 

God with us--grace for my unloveliest, pitch-a-fit sort of days. Unmerited favor in the here-with-us presence of God. The Word become flesh for us, giving us access to the Father, making us sons and daughters.

I am not always {read: hardly ever} full of grace. But tonight I am most thankful for the grace received through the Incarnation, God's strength in my weakness.

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