Mercy, wow, what a concept. It means even if I’m guilty, I don’t get punished. That is such a great gift – and that’s what Christmas really means.

The most precious word in the Bible is mercy, and the most precious verse in the Bible is Hebrews 4:16, “Let us, therefore, come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”

Whenever you see a “therefore,” you need to find out what it’s there for — so said a preacher one day, and he was right. Therefore refers to the fact that we have a “high priest” who can sympathize with us because he lived as a human being, faced the same kinds of stress and temptations and problems we do, and came through it a winner.

When we’re experiencing lack of character, lack of courage, lack of gumption – or the more practical stuff like food, or shelter, or money, or health, we can come to God and get help for free. We don’t have to crawl, or beg, or whimper, or grovel — we don’t have to be afraid that God will hurl thunderbolts at us losers or weaklings, or burn us to a crisp for our shortcomings. No, he created us. He loves us, with a kind of love that always wants to help, not hurt. God is love, he can’t help it.

Through the centuries, authentic love has been watered down, contaminated or mutated into an ungodly form. Lavish gifts distributed without affection, without spending time, parent to child. Big house, no time. Fancy car, no time. Excellent school, no time. Or perhaps plenty of time, all spent in berating, criticizing, controlling, not praising, appreciating, encouraging.

God’s love is expressed in and through grace, that is, freely without payment. When we take a birthday present to someone, we don’t expect them to pay us for it. And when God gives us a birthday (new birth, that is, ours) present, he doesn’t expect us to pay Him for it. What do we have valuable enough to pay him with, after all? But we do have to accept the gift. He won’t force it on us against our will.

Grace means it’s free, no payment expected, and mercy is the free gift that we get from God, when we accept it. This present comes wrapped up in the person of Jesus. He’s why I can take advantage of Hebrews 4:16. He’s the “therefore.”

He took my guiltiness, my cowardice, my wrongdoing, took my punishment for it, then offered me the free gift of mercy, just for the taking. What better present can you get than that?