It has been a hard year, struggles abounding in too many places, peace seeming hidden and lost amidst the confusion. The hard stuff of life looms so large, doesn’t it? Too many friends are entrenched in similar battles of the heart and soul, alongside us in their own quiet places. Too many neighbors searching for comfort in their innermost places. Too many people worldwide seeking light in the darkness that too easily envelops us any moment. Too many of us lost in what feels like hopeless helplessness, in the shadows we can’t escape, in the fears of what could be and missing the hope that is.
This year I have been blessed with opportunities to listen, to be invited into the lives of others, to share in their stories and to face their battles with them.
Brain cancer’s ravages claimed one and breast cancer returned to attack a twice-widow.
Family connections were severed irreparably and new grandbabies were born and celebrated.
Abusive childhoods and adulthoods unraveled into teary prayers.
Churches in tumult over money and policy and open doors, while the answers to heart-hole-y questions are sought in other places less complicated but less hole-filling.
Sicknesses of long and short terms threaten both mental and physical health.
Domestic violence waged against women and children bring shelters and ministering.
Parent friends whose hearts break over miscarriages and infant loss and fertility struggles, whose minds reel over diagnoses for children’s needs, whose bodies are weary from care-giving and life-bearing, whose souls bleed in fear as their children’s future world erupts in chaos and terror.
Job losses strike without warning and questions of career paths leave minds in confusion and bank accounts draining.
Deaths of loved ones, of strangers, of hundred thousands worldwide weigh heavily on hearts already beaten and bruised and worn…
One after another after another. The trials just keep piling up, the fears compounding, the worries bringing us to our knees. Emotions run wild. Prayers abound and abandon. The need to know what lies ahead, to know where all of the heartache and pain and suffering will lead, to know what redemptive power actually looks like. Hope feels elusive, peace impossible, comfort craved.
I’ve spent more time crying and arguing and seeking this year than I have in several years, trying beyond might to effect change and to find answers, to see what lies ahead and to beg for vision and wisdom, to trust.
The world has seemed dark, and even God’s voice has seemed more quiet than I think it should be.
Maybe noisy gongs or clanging symbols would be better, yet I know that’s not always His way. It would certainly be nice if He would be so obvious, and although I’ve known His voice to be quite loud at times, much of the time, much to my impatience and stubbornness, He is not.
For this very reason, one of my two favorite Bible passages is 1 Kings 19:11-13… not so much because of the battles that lead up to these verses (I hate conflicts of all kinds), although God was faithful to Elijah in Elijah’s obedience to His call, but because of this illustration of God’s gentle whisper in the torment and cacophony of noise around us…
“11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by. Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”” (1 Kings 19:11-13)
God is here. He is present. He hears the prayers abounding and abandoned. He knows the pain. He listens to the innermost places and the silence of our struggles. He hears the cries of frustration and the panic of fear. If neither power of winds, nor quaking of earth, nor burn of fire can cover the gentle whisper of the Lord, then neither should the looming-large helpless hurts of day or sleep-stealing thought-churningness of night.
I’ve read many different writers’ Christmas-time comparisons between the refugee-ness of Jesus’ family and the refugee crisis occurring today, and its an eye-opening reminder of the Greatness of God’s Wisdom and Provision, even so long ago.
The idea that the Savior of Earth arrived in the most vulnerable of forms, in the most vulnerable of places, at the most vulnerable of times, to the most vulnerable of women… It rocks me to my soul (how many times are unwed teen mothers disparaged for their choices, and yet this is who God chose as the mother of His earthly, human form).
I have two Christmas-time babies, one on either side of the sacred day itself, and every year it brings me to my knees and puts tears in my eyes to remember how tiny each little one was, how needy and helpless and vulnerable.
I remember the immense, overwhelming love that still envelops me, for them. I remember the pain of bearing them and the fears of what could have gone wrong. I remember holding them, soothing their cries, feeding their tummies, waiting for soft sighs of sleep. I remember the utter feeling of crushing responsibility for each of their lives and futures, hopes and dreams. I remember the next year and years for each of them, watching them struggle to sit and crawl and walk, trying to keep them from harm and hurts, praying for help and protection and grace to mama them as best I could and can.
And then I remember sacred baby Jesus, born in the muck and mire of animal messes, with tiny curling fingers and toes, with sharp cries of hunger and loneliness, with precious dependence and trust for those who love and live His life.
I remember a mama much younger than I was, who bore innumerable hurts from mean people who did not understand her most special of jobs, who bore searing pain to bring forth the Savior, who bore the incredible responsibility of caring for God Himself, soothing baby cries and feeding a baby tummy, waiting for His soft sleep sighs, protecting Him from harms and hurts, watching Him learn and grow and teach.
I remember His daddy, who was criticized greatly for his young, pregnant, unwed fiancee who he still took as his wife and joined in the raising up of the Child Most High, who bore the responsibility of loving and growing and leading God Himself on Earth.
I remember a Father who knows better than the mama and the daddy, who understands the needs of the world past and present and future to be greater and needier and hungrier for a Savior that knows struggles, that knows searing pain, that knows criticism and hurt and harsh reality.
I remember a Father whose strength shackled darkness in the star shine over a stable, whose power destroyed mountains and brought fire and came to Earth as a tiny, vulnerable, needy baby.
I remember a Father who watched baby steps and temple teachings carefully and loved healing hands immeasurably more than the chosen mama and daddy, who suffered horribly and died brutally upon Calgary’s hill, whose heart ached untold more than the beloved mama and daddy upon death and loss as sin claimed Life.
I remember a Father who knows this life better than I could ever.
And thus… there’s my other favorite passage, Isaiah 40, which is so foretelling of God’s amazing providence, His incredible gift of a little baby to save the world that valleys shall rise up and mountains made low in His presence, the comfort He offers as nations may fall under His Kingship and the weight of islands are as dust to Him, as Creation’s might overcomes the ignorance of our understanding, as His weariness never comes and yet strengthens our exhaustion, offers hope to our hearts, brings wings to our souls.
Hope in the Light of the dimly lit stable. Hope in the star shine overhead, guiding Love’s way through the darkness. Hope in the wisdom and mercy and grace of God, who came as a tiny baby, so that you and I could find comfort in His understanding of us. Hope in a Love Story so great that it took Heaven and Earth to proclaim it, that its Word will transcend time and trials and triumphs, that its Peace will hold you in the palm of His hand today and always.
Comfort for God’s People – Isaiah 40
1 Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand for all her sins.
3 A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.
5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
6 A voice says, “Cry out.”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
“All people are like grass,
and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
7 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God endures forever.”
9 You who bring good news to Zion,
go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,
lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him,
and his recompense accompanies him.
11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.
12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,
or weighed the mountains on the scales
and the hills in a balance?
13 Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord,
or instruct the Lord as his counselor?
14 Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him,
and who taught him the right way?
Who was it that taught him knowledge,
or showed him the path of understanding?
15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales;
he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
16 Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires,
nor its animals enough for burnt offerings.
17 Before him all the nations are as nothing;
they are regarded by him as worthless
and less than nothing.
18 With whom, then, will you compare God?
To what image will you liken him?
19 As for an idol, a metalworker casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and fashions silver chains for it.
20 A person too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot;
they look for a skilled worker to set up an idol that will not topple.
21 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted,
no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.
25 “To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.
27 Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”
28 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.