Commentary: Grace is the greatest gift of Christmas


Christmas Eve came on Monday in 1951. My dad and I went to the church that morning to pack “goodie” bags for all the children who would be coming to church for the annual Christmas pageant produced by our church. Families would come to watch the rather pedestrian depiction of the Christmas story unfold in mid 20th century Western North Carolina fashion. The shepherds wore bathrobes. The wise men also wore bathrobes, but theirs were made of silky-looking robes. I often wondered if they had borrowed them from their wives.

There was singing and the recitation of the Christmas story from Luke 2. Angels appeared in white choir robes and wings made from what looked like the feathers of the White Leghorn chickens we raised in our backyard. At the end, we gave out the “goodie” bags to the children. Each one contained one apple, two oranges, a tangerine, a handful of unshelled peanuts and pecans, a couple of candy canes, and a 10-piece pack of Bazooka bubble gum.

On Christmas Eve I did something that I should never have done, and to be honest I cannot remember what it was. I might have pushed my six-year-old brother, Truman, down. I could have refused to do something my mother had asked me to do. I could have gotten into an argument with another child when we were packing the “goodie” bags at church. I can only remember that my untimely misdeed provoked my dad enough to give me a stern rebuke, and I was feeling the guilt of my sin.

The lecture I received before I went to bed that night increased the shame I had regarding my transgression. It did not help that my dad reminded me of the words to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”: “He’s making a list, and checking it twice, Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice. Santa Claus is coming to town. He sees you when you’re sleepin’, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so, be good for goodness sake.” It was a penetrating reproof.

Now, that was bad enough, but then my dad, who was my hero and seldom had to scold me, decided to add Scripture to his reprimand; and he quoted Galatians 6:7: “Be not deceived, God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

I went to bed that night fearing that I was not only on Santa’s “naughty list,” but God’s list of reprobates as well.  I could not sleep, and I did not at any time hear “the prancing and pawing of each little hoof.” Neither did I see anything close to a character dressed in red or “a wink of his eye and a twist of his head, (that) gave me to know I had nothing to dread.”

At the crack of dawn, I woke up my brother and we quietly descended the stairs to go to the living room to look under the tree. I was hoping against hope that I was going to get the bicycle that I had asked for and dreamed that would be beside the tree.

When our parents heard us looking for some evidence that Santa had not forgotten us, they also arose and brought our baby sister into the room with them. My brother had gifts under the tree and my sister, not yet two years old, had gifts as well. There was nothing there for me. When my dad saw that I had suffered enough. He said, “Son, do you remember what I told you last night about having to pay for your misbehavior?”

I said, “Yes sir, I remember.”

He said, “Do you understand grace?”

Donald Duck bicycle

I replied, “Yes, sir, I think so. Grace is getting what you do not deserve.”

My dad answered, “You are right. This is Christmas – the day long ago when we all got what we did not deserve in the birth of our Savior. Look behind the door in the kitchen. There is something for you there. It is a gift of grace.”

I slowly made my way into the kitchen, looked behind the door and there it was – a beautiful yellow and blue Donald Duck bicycle with eyes that lit up in the dark. I got what I did not deserve and learned a great lesson about grace.


J. Gerald Harris is a retired pastor and journalist who served as editor of The Christian Index for nearly two decades.