What is your sense of things going into Christmas 2021?
Unrest from Covid-19, variants, natural disasters, political partisanship, geopolitical tension, culture wars, and ministry strain all seem a little calmer and quieter to me, but I could be totally wrong.
Even if I’m right in my assessment, I still sense an uncomfortable uncertainty rumbling beneath our collective surface. I hate “Damocles’ syndrome,” the idea that we are just waiting for the next horrible shoe to drop on us individually or collectively. It’s hard to avoid that way of thinking in a world that has so much randomness to it.
It’s strange to live a faith that proclaims “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present strength in times of trouble” (Psalm 46:1 NIV) on the one hand and Jesus’ warning in John 13:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
I sometimes have difficulty grasping how it is that God saves us from some trouble and at other times he saves us through trouble.
I prefer the former, always.
On this topic, a psalm of Asaph spoke to me about the present and the future.
A cry for help
Psalm 77 begins in desperation.
There are times when the only thing that matters, the only One who can help, is God.
I’m thinking of the young husband and father of three whose wife didn’t wake up last week. Only God can handle that kind of pain. Our world, our lives, our sin can only be redeemed by his work in our circumstances.
The poet speaks of deep contemplation, remembering music (v. 6). Maybe our holiday rhythms need to include some solitude and time for pondering.
He wonders, as we do, if God’s favor has left us. Pain, uncertainty, and darkness can cause us to question his compassion. As pastors and church leaders, we don’t want to go there but we do. I sometimes think, “Does everything have to be this hard?”
I preached about Simeon in the Christmas story yesterday. Luke 2 says that God’s Spirit was “on him” and “guided him” (vv. 25, 27). Isn’t that what every Christian should experience? I wonder if I know the difference, especially in the hard times.
A remembrance of God’s faithfulness
Admitting his grief in the moment, Asaph shows us what to do next. He remembers through Scripture and history who God is and what he has done. He is the unrivaled God who is good in the deepest sense of the word. That is his character. The thing we stand on and trust in forever.
He recalls the greatest event in Israel’s history up to that time, God’s rescue from Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea on dry ground, the salvation of God! I love how he notes, “Your way went through the sea and your path through the vast water, but your footprints were unseen” (v. 19).
I’m sure you’re thinking of the “Footprints” poem, right?
God often chooses to be less than obvious as he moves and works among us. He leaves the right amount of room for us to connect the dots of evidence and to choose faith in him rather than coincidence. He could step in so boldly at any moment that there would be no question as to his identity and involvement. One day he will do that before all the created universes. When that happens, the choice of faith will be gone.
An honor beyond measure
The final verse says, “You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron” (v. 20). That’s a strange but wonderful statement. God doesn’t need to share leadership and ministry with anyone. But he chooses to involve the available, believing ones in his story!
What an honor that is.
Beyond our doubts, fears, questions, cries, and complaints, he adopts us in mercy and involves us by grace in his redemptive mission. From Mary, Joseph, Simeon, and Anna to you, God claims us as his children and invites us to work alongside!
Now that’s a Christmas gift worth opening!