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The Grace Alternative

You know the list… Santa’s list… the Naughty and Nice list.
He sees you when you’re sleeping…
he knows when you’re awake… 
he knows when you’ve been bad or good… 
so be good for goodness’ sake.

How many of us have used this song as a motivation/threat with our children when the excited anticipation of Christmas stirs up the ‘naughty’ in them? Yet, while this song and the story behind it encourages us to be “good for goodness’ sake,” the real motivation in the Santa story is the fear that those of us on the ‘naughty’ list will get coal in our stocking. Most of us are pretty sure that we are on the ‘nice’ list, but I remember the year my sister-in-law got coal in her stocking from Santa (her husband). While he claimed that the gesture was meant in jest, we all suspected that he was giving his wife a not-so-subtle message. Imagine what happened as our rather large family gathered that night for Christmas dinner, each with our own thought about whether the coal was merited. There was much laughter that evening at my sister-in-law’s expense. Even decades later, as that tale makes its way into the family conversation at Christmas, we wonder if she has made the ‘good’ list this year.

A few weeks ago, the Philadelphia Inquirer covered a story of someone who definitely should make the ‘naughty’ list this year. Even if you regularly read the newspaper, you may have missed this gem. The story ran in the Thursday edition, Section B- Philly and Region- page 5, below the fold. I’m not usually dedicated enough to notice a story tucked in the corner like this one was, but the headline caught my eye. After Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church Break-in, Minister offers Help. I have followed the ministry of Enon for years. They have the biggest mission heart in the city of Philadelphia. Enon folks serve meals to those who are homeless at Grace Café in Center City. Enon folks walk the streets of Kensington, offering comfort and aid to addicts. Enon folks scrub graffiti off city walls and add their hands to the painting of murals to inspire hope for a new generation. Enon folks clean up parks to reclaim green space for the children of the city. Enon folks volunteer at schools across the city and drive seniors to their doctor’s visits. You can’t miss seeing Enon in action, decked out in Enon swag (t-shirts, sweatshirts, and hats bearing the Enon logo) as they bring the love of Jesus into the hurting corners of the city. Having seen Enon in action, I read that Thursday news story eager to hear how they responded when the ‘naughty’ of the city invaded their space.

The story described a night in early November when a person, dressed in black, carrying a backpack, crossed the parking lot of the church. That person broke a glass door to gain entry into the building and headed straight to the ‘tithe’ box. The thief pried open the box with a flat tool, emptied its contents, and then walked calmly away. During their Tuesday broadcast on Facebook Live, the pastor assured his people that the box had been recently emptied- the gifts secured in the safe for later deposit at the bank. The thief made off with very little. But still… We can imagine the anger, even outrage, that Enon would rightfully feel at the violation of their sacred space and the misappropriation of their hard-earned, sacrificially-given gifts. Yet, Pastor Alyn Waller’s first response was a message to the thief:

Our heart towards you is to help you… to help you with Thanksgiving,
to help you with Christmas, to help you however we can 
to get you back on your feet.

Pastor Waller concluded his comments with this invitation: 
“We can give you more than you can take from us.”

Seeing Enon in action, I can imagine the ‘more’ that they can give: care… compassion… counseling… practical help. But that is not what Pastor Waller meant. He was pointing to Jesus- the Good Shepherd, the Living Bread, the Light of the World, the Redeemer, the Savior… To Jesus, the thief is a precious child of God lost in a broken world. Pastor Waller was inviting their late-night intruder- more gracefully thought of as their late-night visitor- to meet the One who blesses even the ’naughty’ with good.

Pastor Waller’s invitation echoes in my mind and heart. I’m wondering, will we offer that same invitation to the people in our lives, whether they are on Santa’s naughty or nice list? Jesus is the ‘more’ that we can give this Christmas. How much the naughty and the nice need that ‘more.’ Invite the naughty and nice to the Christmas Concert on December 18th @ 6pm. Invite the naughty and nice to a Christmas Eve service- 5pm Family Candlelight or 7:30pm Classic Candlelight. Invite the naughty and nice who share your Christmas feast to enjoy a simple online Christmas Day service- anytime you want. Then begin the New Year with Jesus as He invites the naughty and the nice to gather around the Table on January 1st.

With you offering ‘more’,
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