Grace we can hardly bear

Out of the vast emptiness of the opening verses of Genesis, we encounter a God who, by contrast, creates out of gratuitous abundance. There is no emptiness, no unmet longing, that compels his work. Instead, he acts out of overflowing delight. C.S. Lewis depicts this beautifully by imagining God creating through song. It is breathtaking to read:

In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing ... Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise [Digory] had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it.

The result is a creation that rings with the song of its Maker at every turn. It is a world that, just like its Maker, teems with abundance, brims with life, eager to give of its fullness.

And yet, the Advent season begins again in darkness, doesn’t it? “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light,” says the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 9:2). The Apostle John writes, “The light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5) Advent begins by reminding us that all the beauty of creation has been plunged into ruin and death because of human sin. It reminds us that we daily reject the God who gives us all things because we want the one thing he did not give in the garden: to be free of him so we could be gods unto ourselves. And how does God respond? Covenant College professor Kelly Kapic puts it far better than I could:

This world, God’s world, is a mess. Every day the fall darkens everything. God gave his creation everything it needed, but it chose to take the one thing that was not given. One would think that in order to fix this God should take something back. He doesn’t. Instead he comes to give even more away. In fact, he comes to give everything away.

God’s response to our rebellion is stunning. It is to give us even more. No wonder the Apostle John, while writing about the incarnation, exclaims, “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16). Just when you think God couldn’t possibly give us more, he does. He heaps grace upon grace upon grace on us until we can hardly bear it.

This is why the message of Christmas invariably creates a response of radical generosity. It is because in looking upon the child in the manger, we realize that we are looking on the face of the one who sang the world into existence. We see in the squalor of a stable, the God of unending abundance. We look out at the world and see a creation teeming with the riches of God. But most importantly, we look at ourselves and see that the way God responds to hostility, ingratitude, and rebellion is to give us even more — even his Son.

So, during this Advent season, reflect on your own generosity. Does it bear witness to the God who, out of his fullness gives sinners grace upon grace? Does it look different from the generosity of the world, extending far beyond the giving of consumer goods? Do you live as though you believe that the world is God’s creation, and therefore place of abundance, not scarcity? Are you increasingly becoming a person who can respond to hostility and rejection with even more generosity? Do you give liberally and sacrificially to the poor and vulnerable? Because if Christmas is true, it means that as the image-bearers of a radically generous God, we are most human when we give.

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Articles in this Issue

How a Gospel Movement Works
Tim Keller
Moving into the neighborhood: UWS
David Bisgrove
2017 year end financial update
A heartfelt thanks from the Diaconate
Redeemer Grace and Race: SPOTLIGHT event
CFW evening with Marilynne Robinson
Thank you for giving to His Toy Store!
Join HFNY to see every New Yorker flourish
Elise Chong