There was a memorial service at our church yesterday and as is often the case at these events, one of the songs that rang out was “Amazing Grace.” It’s a song that people love to sing—a song that touches us on a deep and personal level. For a variety of reasons, it is a very appropriate song to sing during times of mourning and remembering.
It is also a song that my children know well. During kindergarten in Vancouver, their teacher had them learn “Amazing Grace” for a Remembrance Day ceremony. The only thing was, there was a slight modification to the second line of the song. “That saved a wretch like me” was deemed unsuitable for five year-old consumption (and performance!) and was altered to say “that saved a child like me.” I had no problem with this alteration at the time and still don’t today. However, as far as our kids were concerned, that’s just how the song goes. It was the only version of the song they knew.
Until yesterday. Naomi was humming/singing the song after the funeral around suppertime and came to that line. The kids were in the room and were singing along. They sang “child” where Naomi sang “wretch” and the stage was set for an interesting conversation.
Naomi: Nicky, did you know the original version of the song says “wretch” instead of “child.”
Nicky: What’s a wretch?
Naomi: It means something like a “sinner.”
Naomi: Do you think you’re a wretch?
Nicky and Claire (in unison): No!
Ryan: How come?
Nicky: Because I believe in God.
Ryan: Well believing in God doesn’t mean that we stop sinning does it?
Nicky (after a brief pause): No. I sin when I tease Claire (there had just been an episode).
Dad: So who’s a sinner?
Claire (pointing at herself): I am.
Nicky (pointing at himself): I am.
Nicky and Claire (pointing at mom and dad, with noticeable delight): You are!
Naomi: That’s right. We’re all sinners. That’s why Jesus came.
Nicky: Yeah. To “un-sin” us.
It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I have found my children to be one of the most delightful and reliable sources of theological insight/inspiration God has seen fit to give me. So often, they have a way of saying something or doing something or asking a question in a particular way that communicates truth to me. Kids seem to have a unique way of understanding, processing, and verbalizing some of the most profound truths that face us. Nicky’s little phrase—”to un-sin” us—has given me a memorable window into one of the important themes we celebrate as we move toward Christmas.
Sin—whether on the personal or corporate level—affects us all in more ways than we can probably even articulate. We are people who sin and are sinned against. We live in a world where our sin leaves trails of wreckage and destruction and where the effects of sins we know little about and contribute nothing to continue to trickle down to our little stories and big stories, leaving their mark on us and those we care about. From the little sins that plague our individual consciences to the reality of cosmic evil, sin is an enormous problem. It many ways, it is the problem of existence.
We are a people who need to be “unsinned.”
There are many different ways to think about the significance of Christmas, but Nicky’s little phrase reminded me that Christmas is, fundamentally, the story of God, in Christ, coming to “un-sin” his world. Jesus’ birth, life, teaching, death, resurrection, ascension, governance, and eventual return—the whole package is about signaling the beginning of the end for sin. Sin is still real, obviously. We still sin and sin still affects us. But Christmas reminds us that the grace of God is stronger and deeper and wider than our sin.
Thanks be to God for sending his Son, the Un-sinner, who has come, who comes, and who will come to bring healing, peace, and transformation to our sin-soaked world.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.