“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his
glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (St. John

As we fast approach Christmas, many of you will be well on with
your preparations. Others may be less so. I am probably
somewhere in between. I probably began slightly earlier this
year with certain elements when I was asked to write a piece
for the December Edition of Life and Work in mid-September!
Traditionally at Christmas time we frequently turn to the Gospel
according to St. John probably more than at any other time of
the year. We will soon read again those words from the opening
of St. John, often referred to as the prologue. They announce
the birth and arrival of Jesus in a more ‘theological’ manner than
the versions found in Matthew, Mark and Luke. I love to read, as
many of you know. I like to read a range of reading materials.
And I love to read that section of St. John each year. Those
words “full of grace and truth” always catch me. They are for
me hopeful words. And I think we are all in need of some hope as
we go into another ‘covid19 Christmas.’ Often we look for even
small signs of hope. Just the other day I was reading of one
such sign. It was an announcement made by the New York Public
Library (NYPL). And it was beautiful announcement for me, full
of grace and truth. The library will no longer charge late fees
on overdue items, and it will waive any past accrued fines. This
may sound like a small thing, but I suspect its impact will be

NYPL is the largest library system in the USA and the fourth
largest in the world. It is home to 53 million items spread
throughout 92 locations. Before its recent decision, more than
400,000 New Yorkers were barred from accessing books
because they owed more than $15 in late fees. Many of them
lived in poor neighbourhoods – those with the lowest income and
the least capacity to pay fines, many of them children thereby
deprived of basic learning tools. As a Scot, with knowledge of
the work of Andrew Carnegie and his love of local libraries this
story has touched me.

This act by NYPL is a gracious institutional move of an enormous
library reaching out into an ungracious world. To unexpectedly
erase late fees and trust patrons to return books sounds like
the arithmetic of grace. And that’s the thing about the five
letter word G R A C E – it’s undeserved, unexpected and often
astonishing. Grace has a way of displacing what we have been
taught: Pay your dues or else. There’s a charge for that. There’s
no such thing as a free lunch.

A colleague was apt to say, “grace happens when it finally dawns
on you that, in Christ, your past isn’t going to catch up on you.
Is it any wonder I like St. John 1:14, “And the Word became
flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as
of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”