If you are interested in reading along, the passages from the lectionary that inspired this post are: Jeremiah 31:7-14, Psalm 147:12-20, Ephesians 1:3-14, and John 1:1-18. They can be read at http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=11.
Scripture speaks of the same tendency over and over, a theme that seems inextricably woven into humanity: the tendency to veer quickly off course when left to one's own devices. Throughout the Old Testament, God revealed himself to the people of Israel-- his ways, his power, his provision, his righteousness, his love, his mercy, and his comfort. And yet continually, they turned away as soon as they lost focus on him.
Then God came in the flesh through Jesus, and still many of his own people did not recognize him. He embodied grace and truth; he gave them an example of what God is like. Yet they were so focused on their own expectations and traditions that when God himself walked among them, they rejected him.
But another theme is revealed throughout scripture: amidst the chaos and brokenness of the human condition, God loves so fiercely that he continually makes a way.
Heaven knows if I were God, I would eventually throw my hands up in disgust and give up on the whole mess. But that isn't who God is. I've heard so many negative statements about the Old Testament through the years. A punitive God, wars, bloodshed, and so on. But if you take a closer look, you see God's mercy and love revealed again and again. God doesn't give up on his people, no matter what. He promises to lead them back, to gather and keep them, to comfort them, to turn their mourning to joy, and to redeem them.
His love and provision are evident; his tenderness and mercy are always present. God doesn't give up; he makes a way because it is clear that they cannot do it without his help.
And this is not just for the people of Israel. No, it is for anyone who will receive him. Despite our human tendency to miss God when he's right in front of us, he is able to shine through into our hearts so we can recognize him. And that, to me, is a beautiful mystery: it's not something we are able to do on our own; it is something that is done through his grace.
Ephesians speaks of receiving an inheritance, and the Holy Spirit is the down payment. This means that through God's grace, we have received even more than forgiveness; we have also received his spirit so we can live out his love and grace toward others. We won't do it perfectly, of course, because we are in fact still human. But we can do it; or rather, God can do it through us.
This leads me to seriously consider the ways in which God's spirit is evident in my life. Am I loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, gentle? No, not always. And yet God remains merciful to me, and continues guiding and discipling me in love!
I'm unspeakably grateful for a loving God who lavishes us with grace. In his perfect love, he has cast out fear and he has made a way for us, a path of forgiveness, freedom, and mercy.