Sunday, December 14, 2014

An Unlikely Christmas Letter

Advent. The season of anticipation, where we look forward to the coming Christ. It's also a time when many of us look back over the year, reflect and evaluate. As we prepare to write those Christmas letters, we look for highlights and focus on the positive. No one wants to read about hardship and suffering, so we all become spin doctors, putting a shine on the stories we choose to share.

And while I understand the heart behind these glad tidings, while I rejoice that your child is on the honor roll and I'm thrilled that you finally took that long-anticipated vacation, and I'm excited that your remodeling project turned out even better than expected (if not a wee bit over budget), I find myself asking if maybe we are missing something.

Don't get me wrong, I hear (and I share!) your genuine gratitude for the many ways that God has blessed you this year. And there is nothing wrong--in fact there are many things right--with taking time to recognize the hand of God in our lives. We bless God for the good things. As well we should. But have we learned to bless God for the bad things?

Can we appreciate the sovereignty and grace of God in the messy parts of life, and bless him? I wonder what would happen if, in all sincerity, my Christmas Letter read like Habakkuk 3, where the prophet speculates about a season of total and utter disaster. The fig trees don't blossom, there are no grapes on the vine, the olives fail, and the fields produce no crops. To top it all off, there are no sheep in the pens and no cattle in the stalls. Remembering that Habakkuk was speaking to a group of people whose total livelihood was dependent on agriculture, this is a pretty grim picture.

Can you go there? Maybe, in fact, you have been there this year. Maybe everything that you attempted failed. Maybe your child is not on the honor roll, but is struggling to earn passing grades. Maybe you didn't take a vacation--and you can't imagine that you will ever be able to afford one. Maybe remodeling isn't in the picture because you can barely keep up with the mortgage. Add to that the death of a beloved pet, a scary health diagnosis, and a fractured friendship, and we'd be getting close to the what Habakkuk was talking about. In essence, the Christmas Letter in Habakkuk 3 reads like a tragedy in verses 16 and 17. Which is why the following verses are so profound. Habakkuk basically describes a worst-case scenario, and then he says this:

yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Why is Habakkuk joyful? Is this that fake Christian "paste a smile on your face and don't let anyone see your pain" sort of rejoicing? Is this some platitude of what "should" be, but something that no one actually experiences? Or does Habakkuk live in the State of Washington, where pot is now legal? The following verse gives even greater depth to what Habakkuk is describing:

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights.

No, this is not a shallow joy. This is the hard-won joy of a weay traveler. The sovereign Lord--that is to say, the one who allowed all of the crops to fail, the one who had the power to stop my suffering and didn't, the one who may have even ordained such pain for my life--the sovereign Lord is my strength. Have I learned to let the sovereign Lord be my strength? Do I trust the one who brought me TO the hard places to take me THROUGH the hard places?

Here's how I'll know. My feet will be agile, able to tread on the heights. Agile feet don't get bogged down by rough terrain. Agile feet keep moving. Agile feet love to run broad meadows, but they are not detered by steep cliffs. Many of us want to tread on the heights, but we are not willing to scale the mountains. The heights are often discoved through the depths. 

When I finally grasp that, then suffering becomes a welcome friend--an invitation to climb a mountain with the one who will make me sure-footed. 

To be continued...
Later this week, I'll share our Habakkuk 3 experience from 2014.

1 comment:

  1. Jennifer, I am blessed to know you and share lives and stories. God bless your Christmas. He is so very, very good. All the time.