This afternoon, I sit in my room, my mind caught up in thoughts and painful questions. I’m caught in the tension of the Lord’s provision, kindness, and sustaining grace to keep people going in life – and the ongoing assault on people in this broken and corrupted world. Do you know that tension I’m talking about?
I’m talking about the tension of seeing how God provides, and in the same day, seeing devastation. Like, it was so kind that my missing ATM card was returned to me on Friday afternoon. But, I’d much rather that card have been lost forever and the baby had lived. But, that wasn’t a choice I could make. Life in this broken world can seem so cruel and capricious sometimes.
I’m grieving from a distance for a friend who buried her infant daughter this week, having buried her father only three weeks ago. I have found no words to lift her spirit, just silent prayers that God will carry her. My own questions stand before the Lord, waiting answers in His time. I’m praying for family friends who watch husband and father’s body deteriorate increasingly rapidly, under a 5 year assault from cancer, not forgetting another family I love that said goodbye to their father and husband this time last year. I receive an email that speaks of another friend’s weariness in Kingdom work – how she considers quitting – she doesn’t know how much more of the tension she can sustain. I meet a friend in church who tells me of the death of two family members this month – his mom so shattered by the loss that she’s stopped eating – and he, the oldest son, bearing the weight of concern for his family. I think of a friend who made some wrong choices, and now, stuck in the reality of her mess, looks around frantically for help – only to find all her counselors without further counsel. I pray for two little children harshly confronted with the reality of death yesterday when they were taken to see the body of their mother. I remember a dear childhood friend, walking with his partner through unemployment after the failure of a start-up business, trying to make ends meet as they brush off the dust of shattered dreams. I lock eyes and reach out to a mother, bravely standing strong for her children, having learned that her husband sexually abused their daughter. And I grip the shoulder of another woman who waits a subpoena to testify in court against her husband for producing child porn, and we pray together for his heart to turn and repent – and that Jesus will heal the brokenness in him and the brokenness he has perpetuated through his abuse. And, these are only the situations I’ve been made aware of this weekend. What cries must be rising to our God’s ears today?
One of the trafficked women that I’ve grown to love over the last months – she is quite a philosopher – told me recently that she thinks life grows steadily more difficult this time of year through the New Year. I haven’t done research to know if her theory is correct, but it certainly feels true to me in this moment. Living is very difficult for so many people right now.
And, as I sit here, Christmas music plays, and one line of a song catches in my spirit.
The weary world rejoices.
There’s no question about it. Our world is weary. And, yet, this song speaks of rejoicing?
Yes. At the coming of Jesus. At advent.
I guess, if for no other reason, the brokenness of our world reminds us of our need of Him. When He comes, we rejoice.
What will it look like, Jesus, when you break into each of the situations above? Will it look like the hurt and pain and sickness are miraculously all swept away? I mean, Jesus, I know that You are coming again to make all things new – but what about today? What about the pain today?
Jesus, how do You come today? And how does Your coming cause us to rejoice?
And, I pause, and I ask Him to come into each situation.
And I hear His name. Emmanuel. God. With us. Already here. Already with us.
And my phone pings, and I look, and I read the notification that has just come in,
“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if His love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care – then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put your self aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.”
(Philippians 2:1, MSG)
And, I admit. I’m offended. Really, Jesus? That’s all? You’re depending on us? Have you looked at us lately? We’re self absorbed and wimpy – puny, small-spirited, sad excuses for Your image.
And I hear His name again. Emmanuel. God. WITH US.
And I hear an echo of Jesus’ voice, “It is good that I go away, so I will send the Spirit…”
And I cross my arms and look at the ceiling and as tears roll down my face, I complain that I’m not a very good steward of His Spirit yet, so can’t He please just come back now?
And He says, “I have a plan, child.”
And I tell Him, “I DON’T LIKE YOUR PLAN RIGHT NOW!”
And He reminds me, “You don’t see it all yet, child.”
And I still don’t understand. And, I think that’s His point.
So, yay. Happy Christmas season. Happy days of painful darkness where wimpy lights like us get to walk around and shimmer faintly in the middle of a black universe. Reaching out wimpy hands and whispering wimpy prayers and crying wimpy tears.
But, in my heart burns a longing for the time when the small lights – the little ones shining like stars in a vast, ink black sky – will be eclipsed by the glory-light of our King Jesus, as He absorbs all things into Himself, making the world right again.
And then, another thought. That Spirit – the same one Jesus sent – the same one that raised Jesus from the dead – He’s up to something in the middle of this wimpy mess called the people of God. In our wimpy, faltering attempts at loving and laying down our lives, He is actually doing something. He’s making something. He’s recreating Jesus’ image in us.
So… that’s something.
Well, actually, that is hope. A hope that won’t disappoint?
Holy Spirit is here, and He is working, and He is creating Jesus in me and you so that Jesus can show up in our hands and feet and prayers. Imagine if we looked like Jesus. Imagine.
Imagine if we knew the mind of our Father. Imagine if we knew exactly how to respond to the crisis phone calls and tender grieving hearts and sick bodies. Imagine if our presence caused others to be at peace – to hope again. What if our touch at Holy Spirit’s prompting would cause sickness to bow its knees, and all eyes to look to our Heavenly Father? What if repentance was the order of the day when we walked into a scene of abuse – what if our steps left traces of something of heaven – turning people to the fear of God and love of one another?
Imagine Jesus walking into the funeral of that baby. Comforting the mother in a long, tender embrace, while reaching gently past her to touch the small body, raising the spirit from sleep into life. Imagine.
Teach me, Holy Spirit. Teach me how to live. Shape me like Jesus.
So, I remember hope. We, who shine like stars and wait for the dawn, will not wait forever. Our Jesus has died, risen, and He will come again. Holy Spirit is alive within us, and the image of our Savior will be seen. And the dawn will come. And all the oppression in the earth will cease. And Jesus will be known as Lord of all.
Let the rejoicing begin now, weary ones. Let the praises rise, and as we gaze on God’s glory, let us be transformed into His image, from glory to glory and strength to strength. The dawn is coming. And, until that day, Jesus rises in you and me.
O Holy Night, as sung by Celine Dion (chords)
O Holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angel voices
O night divine!
O night when Christ was born
O night divine!
O night, O night divine!
Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother.
And in His name, all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we
Let all within us praise His holy name
Christ is the Lord!
Let ever ever praise we!
O night, O night divine
O night, O night divine
O night, O holy night