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The Gospel of Grace and a Starbucks Barista

With almost five dollars left on my gift card, I could not resist the opportunity to buy a coffee drink on my way to work. Feeling the need for a morning pick-me-up, I pulled into the drive-through lane at our neighborhood Starbucks on what promised to be a very busy day. I ordered my drink and I was only too eager to pull out my gift card. The barista scanned my card, gave me a receipt, and then he said, “You’re all set; you just owe five cents.” Now that might not sound like a lot of money, but after you’ve searched your pockets, the console in your car, and your wallet only to find nothing, five cents seems like an insurmountable amount of money. One nickel stood between me and a coveted coffee drink that a loyal Starbucks worker was hesitant to hand over.

 Drowning in a sea of embarrassment and desire, I made my plea: “Look, I just work down the street. I promise to come back later and pay the difference.” I could tell the man behind the counter was less than convinced of my plan; I knew he was busy; and I was fully expecting him to say, “Oh yeah…I’ve heard this one before.” But instead, he handed me my beverage and he said, “It’s OK. I’ve got this one for you. Have a good day man. OK?” All I could say was “thank you” as I reached for the cup and noticed the words to this year’s campaign on their signature red and white holiday cup: “Give Good.” I slowly drove away stunned by a random act of kindness.

 One simple gesture reminded me of the enormity of God’s grace. In a world where news of violence, greed, human suffering, and natural disaster seem to flash across our television and computer screens with more alarming regularity, I need to be reminded of the profound gift of God’s grace. God sent the Savior into our world because God refuses to give up on us no matter how much we fall short of God’s righteousness. No matter how good I am, no matter how hard I try, I will never meet God’s standards. And just like that five-cent difference between a gift card and the price of a coffee drink, we will always fall short.

 The child whose birth we celebrate at Christmas came into our world to give what we could never provide for ourselves. God gave the world the gift of a Savior to pay the difference between our feeble attempts to earn God’s grace and the measure of God’s righteousness. Christ became poor so that we might become spiritually rich. The Apostle Paul speaks of God’s extravagant grace in a verse that inspired one of my favorite Christmas Carols, “Thou Who Wast Rich Beyond All Splendor.” Paul writes, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

As you open your Christmas gifts this year, take a moment to say, “Thank you, Lord” because God gave the world the supreme gift of goodness and grace. And don’t forget to enjoy that morning cup of coffee wherever you find yourself in the busyness of this wonderful season and look for every opportunity to do good because God did good in our world!

© Adrian N. Doll, Green Valley Presbyterian Church, 2017

Starbucks Logo and Graphics used with permission by Starbucks.

Photo by Allen Merritt 2017.

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in Advent

Christmas: The Promise of a New Home


While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:6-7).

When you’re in the market for a place to call home, life can be unsettling. Recently we learned that our landlord will be selling our rental home. Obviously, this unexpected news has created some unwanted anxiety. As my family and I get ready to celebrate our first Christmas in our new community of Henderson, we can’t help but wonder what side of town we’ll be living in next year. And as we pull out the Christmas decorations we moved from Ohio, we question how much we even want to unpack if it only means packing everything up again for another move in a matter of weeks or months. As much as our housing situation has given me concern, it has also compelled me to imagine myself as one of the players on the streets of Bethlehem on the night the Savior was born.

 Like Joseph and Mary, all of us want to know that we have a place to go to at night: a place of safety, protection, shelter, belonging and love. Perhaps that is why I was struck with embarrassment as I studied a contemporary portrayal of Joseph and Mary by comic artist, Everett Patterson. On a rainy night, José is using a payphone outside a convenience store in Bethlehem as a tired Maria dressed in typical teenage gear (jeans and a “Nazareth High School” sweatshirt) sits impatiently on a broken, 25-cent, mechanical pony. And in the background, one can read the marquis from nearby Dave’s City Motel: “Free HBO – New Man_ger.” Given that I’m not drawn to comic art, I quickly dismissed the work. But then, I found myself being undeniably pulled back to this stunning portrayal of Mary and Joseph’s rejection in Bethlehem. As I looked into the weary faces of José and Maria, my mind was overwhelmed with questions: “Would I have been any different?” “Would I have even stopped to help a teenage girl and her frightened fiancé?” “Would I have made room in my house?”

 At Christmas, it’s so easy for all of us to get wrapped up in sentimentality as we tell the story of Jesus’ birth. We want to whitewash the manger scene. We imagine a serene Mary, holding her child, with no trace of the labor of childbirth. And who of us doesn’t like to think about the beauty and wonder of a newborn child as his mother glances into his face for the very first time? But this child’s birth means absolutely nothing if we don’t think about the whole of his life.

 This year as I prepare for Christmas in the middle of our uncertainties, I keep thinking about an unusual Christmas ornament I was once given. The gift was a four-inch nail attached to a red ribbon meant to hang on our Christmas tree. Of all the ornaments I could put on my tree, it is always the one I least like to put up. But it is the one that tells me why we celebrate this child’s birth. God sent his Son into our world to do what no other child could do. Jesus came into our world to save us from our sins and to offer us the gift of a new home, an eternal home.

 Yes, I’m praying that God will help my family solve our housing dilemma this year. But I have an even greater prayer. I pray that the message of Christ’s birth would inspire millions to open the door of their hearts to the One who came into this world as the Babe of Bethlehem.

 God is ready to take up residence in our lives. And still I wonder...

Would I have made room?

Would you have made room?

Will we make room in our lives this Christmas season?

© Adrian N. Doll, Green Valley Presbyterian Church, 2017

Illustration of "José y Maria" used by permission by the artist, Everrett Patterson.

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