By Paul Burden
Christmas holds grace and gift.
I found again this piece by Paul Tillich where, having spoken about sin as separation, he speaks about God’s freely given grace bridging that separation and meeting us once again.
I read this thinking of the shepherds, of Mary and Joseph, of Magi, Simeon and Anna meeting the baby. I read this praying God’s grace will strike us afresh this Christmas time, and all who we pray for.
Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness.
It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life.
It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual,
because we have violated another life, a life which we loved,
or from which we were estranged.
It strikes us when our disgust for our own being,
our indifference, our weakness, our hostility,
and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us.
It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear,
when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades,
when despair destroys all joy and courage.
Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness,
and it is as though a voice were saying:
“You are accepted.
You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you,
and the name of which you do not know.
Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later.
Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much.
Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything.
Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!”
If that happens to us, we experience grace.
After such an experience we may not be better than before,
and we may not believe more than before.
But everything is transformed.
In that moment, grace conquers sin,
and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement.
And nothing is demanded of this experience,
no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition,
nothing but acceptance.
Paul Tillich, 1955 The Shaking of the Foundations