Early mornings offer opportunities that are more elusive later in the day. Our house is quiet and there is a sense of calmness settled in our rooms. No one is calling, the challenges of the day are somewhat hidden, and new opportunities beckon me onward.
Today it is Christmas Day. December has been a difficult month for our family. It’s been a month of both things and people breaking and all in the midst of a season already bustling with activity. Silent nights have been few, unhurried moments have been rare, and we have been “hanging on by our fingernails.” But, not really. Knowing Christ is knowing that we are in his hands and near to his heart; it is not about our hands, fingers, or fingernails at all. He holds us and He will never let us go.
It is easy to feel guilty about feeling badly because we know of others who are really suffering, who are really having it hard. Our trials seem so minor in comparison. However, they are still our trials and we feel their accompanying loss, and we try to face them as best we can. But, we often fail. We say things that ought not to have been said. We too easily take offense. We sigh the sigh of despair. We forget to “count our blessings” and we let mercies go unsung.
For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength.
Songs of Lament are not tucked away in obscure portions of Leviticus, they jump out from the very midst of the Bible. For example, David climbed the highest mountains of joy and he also descended into the depths of darkness. To adapt from Garth Brooks, he didn’t miss the dance nor did he miss the pain. Psalm 88 describes David at his lowest point. He is crying. His soul is not only troubled, it is “full of troubles.” He thinks that he is near death. His strength is gone. He is wandering in “regions dark and deep.” Waves, one-after-another, are crashing over him. His sorrows have driven even his closest companions away. Darkness is his only remaining companion. Have you ever felt like darkness is all that remains?
Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence
In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp.
It is somewhat difficult to imagine David, the great and courageous king, descending into such a terrifying abyss. He was a man of great power, wealth, and glory. He was a man after God’s own heart. He was a man who penned and/or collected the most beautiful and joyful poetry in the history of the world. He danced unashamaedly before the LORD. Yet, Psalm 88 offers a bleak assessment of David’s situation. God seemed so distant and silent. Yet, David still cried out to Him.
On that first Christmas Eve though the night was long and dark, Joseph and Mary clung to promises delivered by Gabriel. Joseph, a righteous man, had once thought of divorcing the woman that he loved more than life itself; he could see no other pathway. It was a dark time for him. Mary had once been dumbfounded: “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Her question was one of astonishment.
Mary’s journey had been a hard one. She was a young lady; pregnant outside of marriage in a culture of little mercy towards such a situation. But, God’s grace abounded, Mary’s heart was submissive, and from her lips flowed one of the best of songs.
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked upon the humble estate of his servant.For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me,and holy is his name. Luke 1:47-49
Mary’s circumstances changed. Though in town tongues wagged, Mary was vindicated because God was her Savior; He was with her, and His purposes were fulfilled through her.
Joseph and Mary made the journey to Bethlehem, David’s town. She was “great with child.” In David’s town, Mary gave birth to David’s son. Her baby was Son of God/Son of Man. Bethlehem’s dark night was pierced by a blinding light, just outside of town, as angels proclaimed the glory of God to shepherds tending sheep.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14
Grace and Truth descended in the flesh and blood of a totally dependent baby resting in a manger. Christ Jesus, though equal, didn’t grasp after His equality with God. He “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.” Philippians 2:5-8.
After Mary’s baby and Savior was born, she “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Luke 2:19. She spent the rest of Christmas Day and beyond pondering the gift that God had sent to her and to the world because of his love.
David’s Son, like David himself, descended into the depths of darkness. He cried: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Severed from a sense of God’s presence, bearing in his own body the sin of man, darkness seemed to be his only companion. But, then he declared, “It is finished.” This part of God’s plan, dying for sinners, was completed. The Lamb slain from eternity past was slain in time and space for sinners like Joseph, Mary, shepherds, and you.
“He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him.”
2 Corinthians 5:21
Are you troubled today? Is your heart shattered and your plans scattered? Do you feel loss and its accompanying pain? Do you believe in the Savior? Will you believe? Jesus said: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” John 14:1
This Christmas morning, things will not be as we had planned them. Broken things and broken people and broken circumstances have scattered our plans and grieved our hearts. But God. Though David descended into darkness, he was nevertheless filled with hope. Though Psalm 88 marks David’s dark descent, it also reveals that he looked heavenward for hope.
O LORD, God of my Salvation; I cry out day and night before you. Let my prayer come before you;Incline your ear to my cry. Psalm 88:1
The descent of our Lord to Mary’s womb, Bethlehem’s manger, and Calvary’s cross prepared the way for his glorious ascent from Joseph’s tomb and finally upward through the clouds to the Father’s right hand. Might our Lord who descended to the lowest depths and was raised to the loftiest heights be trusted with our cares? The Apostle Peter wrote: Cast all your anxiety on Him, for He cares for you.” I Peter 5:7
On this Christmas Day, wherever you are and whatever your circumstances, mountain or valley, plans in tact or plans strewn beneath your decorated tree, there is a Savior. In the quietness of the morning or the noise of the day, treasure him, treasure the Christmas story. Your story and your plans, marred by sin as they are, have been visited from on High. He was in the womb on Christmas Eve. He burst forth with hope for the world on Christmas morning.
Ray Rhodes, Jr. is pastor of Grace Community Church of North GA (SBC), president of Nourished in the Word Ministries, and author of Yours, till Heaven: The Untold Love Story of Charles and Susie Spurgeon and Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon from Moody Publishers. He is presently writing a full biography of Charles Spurgeon for B&H Academic. Follow Ray on Facebook here, Twitter @susiespurgeon1 and Instagram @spurgeonbook. Visit his website here.