We are all standing in God’s grace

We just celebrated Thanksgiving a week ago, and in less than a month we will be celebrating Christmas. We are well and truly in the midst of the holiday season. For many of us, this is a season that, despite its stress, is filled with family, friends, happiness and joy. It’s a time in the year when we can truly be thankful for all God’s love, mercies and grace.

In the midst of all our joy, however, we cannot lose sight of the fact that for many people the holiday season is lacking that happiness and joy. That it is a reminder of the distance and separation of family.

Rather than a time of coming together as a community, it’s a reminder of the stark reality of being alone. As we gather with friends and family, there are others out there who feel like they are the only ones all alone during this time.

Feeling like “the only one” in any situation is difficult. Being in the minority is a hard place to exist, if there’s shame connected to it (like being the only one alone at Christmas), it makes living in it that much harder. When the church was in its infancy, that is where the early believers found themselves.

They were part of a very small minority in their belief and worship of Jesus as the Christ, and in their culture it was shameful. When Paul wrote the church in Rome, he used the phrase, “hope does not disappoint us” (Romans 5:5); that phrase could also be translated, “hope does not put us to shame.” The New Testament writers all lived in a time and culture ruled by honor and shame; honor was to be sought at all costs, and shame, particularly public shame, was to be avoided. You would never boast of your sufferings in Paul’s day because you wouldn’t want anyone to find out you were suffering. It meant you were out of favor with God.

Paul’s letter to the early Roman church is a strong reminder that no matter who we are or where we are on life’s journey, our faith in God through Jesus Christ allows us to stand in grace. If we can remember that we’re standing in God’s grace, there is no reason to be ashamed, there is no reason to hide who we are and how we feel and what we think, especially among each other. We are all standing in God’s grace.

We are standing in God’s grace whether we’re afraid to get on a plane or jump in the deep end. We are standing in God’s grace whether we are fighting ISIS or fighting heroin addiction. We are standing in God’s grace whether we are clean and sober or just getting back on the wagon. We are standing in God’s grace whether our marriage is 40 years old or it is dissolving in anger and sorrow right before our eyes. We are standing in God’s grace whether we can climb the stairs two at a time or need to be wheeled in to the room. When standing in God’s grace, our LGBTQ brothers and sisters don’t have to hide who they are. We are standing in God’s grace whether we have abundant diversified portfolios or are struggling to pay the rent. We are standing in God’s grace with our clean bills of health and through our rounds of chemo. While standing in God’s grace, new immigrants — documented or not — need not live in the shadows. We are standing in God’s grace whether our kid’s going to Harvard or she’s sitting in jail. We are all standing in God’s grace no matter who we are or where we’re at.

Paul wrote to encourage the Romans to remember the promises of God, to ignore the culture of shame around them and to see the strength and character and hope that can come from their own suffering and to stand tall. This same passage empowers us today to stand together as a beacon of hope, in this community, especially to those who are suffering or hiding in shame. And it empowers us to stand and face each other when we disagree within our own faith community with open hearts and open arms and even more love because through our mutual faith, we are all standing in God’s grace.

May we never be ashamed to confess a personal faith in God and may we never be ashamed to accept each other with all our fears and all our flaws. Especially at this time of the year, let us actively work to break down the shame that could divide, those things that make us feel “all alone.” Let us live out our faith in ways that build the community up, that shatter the walls that divide and unite us in one family of faith, giving praise to God, raising our voices in a united and yet diverse hymn of “Joy to the World.”

(Breddin is the pastor of the Zion United Church of Christ in Steubenville.)