Receiving Grace to Receive Grace

No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me” (John 6:44)

We Methodists speak a lot about prevenient grace. The Wesleyan concept of prevenience speaks of a divine grace that goes before us, leading us evermore into God’s righteousness. Too often we forget that the nativity story speaks very powerfully about God’s prevenient grace. God’s grace is evident throughout the entire story, empowering each character to respond in faith.

It is Zechariah’s turn for temple duty (Luke 1:8). He was a priest and was chosen by lot to go into the Holy of Holies. As he was standing in this most holy place, the Archangel Gabriel appears and tells him that he will be given a son in his old age who will herald the coming of the savior. It is important to remember here that the early Jewish practice of casting lots was not a concession to chance. Rather, Jewish people understood that God directed the lots, and that the decision that was achieved by casting them was guided by God’s divine hand. Here we see God’s prevenient grace at work. Did Zechariah enter the Holy of Holies that day as a result of chance, a fortuitous role of the dice, a happy coincidence? Or was he guided to that particular place on that particular day by some mysterious grace so that he may respond faithfully to God’s proclamation?

The angel Gabriel appears to Mary and he tells her that she will give birth to a son who will be the savior of the entire world. Gabriel says, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). Indeed, this will happen. He continues emphatically, “For no word of God will ever fail” (Luke 1:37). I find it interesting that Mary is not given a choice in the matter. However, her response is powerful: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Here we see God’s prevenient grace at work. Did Mary respond faithfully to the angel’s proclamation? Or did the angel’s proclamation empower her to respond faithfully?

A group of magi from the east follow a bright star as they seek a savior they had anticipated for years. These wise men followed this star for many miles traveling through dangerous areas and over difficult terrain. One might say that the wise men found the savior by their own searching of the scriptures, by their own reasoning and study. But here we see God’s prevenient grace at work. Were the wise men seeking after Jesus by their own intellect and power? Or were they being drawn to Jesus by a prevenient beacon of heavenly light, a light that quite literally goes before them leading them to the savior?

Indeed, God’s grace goes before us. It is grace that allows us to receive grace.

Where do you see God’s prevenient grace at work during this Advent season?


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