December 1, 2007
A vagrant lives near the Fulton Fish Market on the lower east side of Manhattan. The slimy smell of fish carcasses and entrails nearly overpowers him, and he hates the trucks that noisily arrive before sunrise. But midtown gets crowded, and the cops harass him there. Down by the wharves nobody bothers with a grizzled man who keeps to himself and sleeps on a loading dock behind a dumpster.
Early one morning when the workers are slinging eel and halibut off the trucks, yelling to each other in Italian, the vagrant rouses himself and pokes through the dumpsters behind the tourist restaurants. An early start guarantees good pickings: last night’s uneaten garlic bread and French fries, nibbled pizza, a wedge of cheesecake. He eats what he can stomach and stuffs the rest in a brown paper sack. The bottles and cans he stashes in plastic bags in his rusty shopping cart.
The morning sun, pale through harbor fog, finally makes it over the buildings by the wharf. When he sees the ticket from last week’s lottery lying in a pile of wilted lettuce, he almost lets it go. But by force of habit he picks it up and jams it into his pocket. In the old days, when luck was better, he used to buy one ticket a week, never more. It’s past noon when he remembers the ticket stub and holds it up to the newspaper box to compare the numbers. Three numbers match, the fourth, the fifth - all seven! It can’t be true. Things like that don’t happen to him. Bums don’t win the New York Lottery.
But it is true. Later that day he is squinting into the bright lights as television crews present the newest media darling, the unshaven, baggy-pants vagrant who will receive $243,000 per year for the next twenty years. A chic-looking woman wearing a leather miniskirt shoves a microphone in his face and asks, “How do you feel?” He stares back dazed, and catches a whiff of her perfume. It has been a long time, a very long time, since anyone has asked him that question.
He feels like a man who has been to the edge of starvation and back, and is beginning to fathom that he’ll never feel hunger again. (1)
During a debate focused on identifying, among all the religions of the world, what belief was unique to Christianity C.S. Lewis nailed the answer. He said, “It’s grace.”
All religions of the world offer a way for us to earn approval or a way to higher consciousness. At the heart of the gospel is the supreme truth that God accepts us with no conditions whatsoever when we put our trust in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Although we are helplessly sinful, God by grace forgives us completely. It’s by His grace that we’re saved, not by our moral character, works of righteousness, commandment-keeping, or even going to church. When we do nothing else but accept God’s total pardon, we receive the guarantee of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)
It has been said that, “Grace is everything for nothing to those who don’t deserve anything.” (2)
The birth of Jesus is an unfathomable act of God’s grace. It is like standing and staring at a winning lottery ticket with the dawning realization that for some unexplainable reason your whole life has been changed.
There are times when we need to be reminded of God’s grace. In the midst of being shredded at work. When home becomes a battlefield. While we go through the hard things of life. As we’re tempted to focus on our own failures.
God is gracious to us and will remain so. His offer is continually given, “I love you. Trust Me with your life. I will take care of you.”
During this season of the year may each of us grow more trusting of the God of grace. May we learn to share His grace with others.
1. Philip Yancey, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?”, Zondervan, 19972. Our Daily Bread, 10.31.1997