What if There’s No Silent Night

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“And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

 – Luke 2:7, NASB –

For every weary and worn and worried…tomorrow is Christmas.

You may think that’s bad news, that Christmas is peeking over the edge of tomorrow and driving you distracted with to-do’s and undo’s and what-to-do’s.

Your Christmas won’t be like other people’s. You’ve known that for a while. It’s inevitable. You can’t just pretend that all the pain or trouble, sickness or grief, conflict or loss will just evaporate for one snow-covered day on the calendar.

And as much as you’ve struggled to identify with that serene nativity scene you unpacked a few weeks ago, maybe you can’t quite manage it. The silent night, calm and bright, is far away for you today. It is a whirring, bright, noisy day, and where on earth is the place where we can identify with that Child sleeping in the straw?

Not here.

While He sleeps in heavenly peace, you wish you could sleep straight through Christmas too.

How could you hope to meet Him here? Crazy life, rocketing stress, messes that make the Christmas glow grow dim. Hardly a quiet Bethlehem night. Hardly a place for a holy baby. Hardly a place for celebration, because the inn was full and life is full too…full of circumstances that crowd out the joy and the wonder.

They ring the bells on the corners and your head rings right along, because you’re flurrying toward Christmas and there’s no quiet space for a manger cradle and a silent night.

Christmas is coming for you, ready or not.

Not. Not ready. Not really sure how you could be. Not sure when things will be sane enough to be ready for a jolly day of cheer.

But you see….dear, dear friend, that’s the good news.

Because we’re never really ready for Christmas….So Christmas had to come for us.

And, so often, we get it all upside down and backwards, like we have to get something ready. We have to clean the inn and change the hay in the manger. We have to do something to make this Christmas a fit place for a King to be born.

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But that’s the whole point, you see.

Jesus didn’t come for clean streets and silent nights. He didn’t come for the well and happy and put-together (Mark 2:17). He didn’t come so you could show Him that you’re worth it, that you’ve got it, that you don’t need Him desperately after all.

He came before you knew Him, before you could ever be ready for Christmas, before you could ever get yourself good enough, ready enough, or peaceful enough for a King’s welcome.

And He didn’t come into a silent night.

He came into packed-out Bethlehem in the throes of tax season. He was born to a teenage mother, into poverty (Luke 2:24) and pain and noise and racism and political tension.

That first Christmas was like yours. Loud. Bright. Certainly not quiet. Certainly not merry. Certainly not full of gifts and soft lights and warmth.

It was raw and broken. It was real. It was just like your life.

Because that baby in the manger was not just a royal guest. He didn’t come for all those things we think makes a perfect Christmas.

He came because your Christmas day, your every day, is broken and impossible and sin-stained. He didn’t come to make your Christmas perfect…He came to save you from yourself. The ceaseless driving, striving, never-satisfied you can come to rest in this kind of Christmas day.

God’s rescue plan commenced with a bloody, squalling infant laid in a mound of dirty straw.

Your Christmas may look a lot like that first Christmas so many centuries ago. There may be noise and tears and tension. There may be inadequacy. There may even be the aching question…

Is God truly Emmanuel? Is He truly in this mess with me?

But He came in blood and He died in blood, and He rose to wash us in the triumphant blood that says Yes!

Yes, Emmanuel is with us in all the joys and agonies of life, and He has made a way.

In this way, Christmas is not about the number of shiny ornaments or the quantity of gifts wrapped under the tree…or even if you have a tree.

Celebrating Christmas becomes an exhale into the grace of what God has done.

He did it.

Somehow, He took a mess and made it beautiful.  He took the worst of this world and flipped it on its head to win the day.

So, you see, tomorrow is your chance to believe that Jesus is making something beautiful. And He loves to use a mess to make a miracle.

For every weary and worn and worried…tomorrow is Christmas. 

Emmanuel.

God is with us.

Weary souls, rejoice. He is with us to drive out the dark. And so He will.

“There’s a statue of Jesus on a monastery knoll
In the hills of Kentucky, all quiet and cold
And He’s kneeling in the garden, as silent as a Stone
All His friends are sleeping and He’s weeping all alone

And the man of all sorrows, he never forgot
What sorrow is carried by the hearts that he bought
So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God
The aching may remain but the breaking does not”

 – from “The Silence of God” by Andrew Peterson

 

Treasuring Me

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“Then, as the sun was setting, all those who had friends suffering from every kind of disease brought them to Jesus and he laid his hands on each one of them separately and healed them.”

 – Luke 4:40, Phillips –

Healing was more than a job for Jesus.

He healed very few people en masse, although He did heal the ten lepers with only a word (Luke 17:11-19). But ten isn’t a very large crowd for a God who spoke a galaxy into motion.

“Our God is at home with the rolling spheres, And at home with broken hearts.”

– M. P. Ferguson –

He could have very easily said the word and healed everyone at once.

But He didn’t.

When He called a rag-tag group of disciples to follow Him across the countryside, He could have used supernatural revelation to reveal His vast knowledge to them in an instant. Instead, He spent three years walking and talking with them. He didn’t infuse their minds automatically with Himself–He let them slowly soak in and learn of Him.

He lived in moments and worked in the context of time. More importantly, centering His will on His Father’s plan, He concentrated on whoever was in front of Him.

Not to say that Jesus had a people-centric view of life. He was always God-centric.

But that divine fellowship daily overflowed into moments focused on loving others. Complete in His triune nature, God, in His great grace, overflows to those who could never repay it. We are poor companions, yet He delights to know us. We are unfaithful partners, yet He is pleased to wash us and bring us back home.

I was listening to the Daily Audio Bible this week and heard a passage from Luke 4. Eager crowds flooded Jesus with friends in need of healing, and the passage takes great care to record His response: “Then, as the sun was setting, all those who had friends suffering from every kind of disease brought them to Jesus and he laid his hands on each one of them separately and healed them” (Luke 4:40, Phillips).

He put his hands on them.

Separately.

Each and everyone one of them.

And they were healed.

This is how my God does business. He works in subtle moments and cultivated relationships. He moves in compassion, not just addressing a problem with a general, one-size-fits-all solution, but with a wise plan tailored just for me, just for you.

He stopped and poured Himself into each precious moment with whoever stood before Him.

He paused in a crowd to search out the woman who had grasped His robe in faith. He stopped His sermon for the lame man being let down from the ceiling. On the roads, He paused for cripples, the blind, and lepers who called out for His mercy.

And when we are stumbling along in our own confusion, He is there, also. The God of galaxies smiles upon us and puts His hand on us.

Separately. Individually. Specially.

The Church is the Bride of Christ, all the members together making one body. But individually, we still matter to our Father. We are not faceless appendages in the body. We are treasured children.

“See what an incredible quality of love the Father has shown to us, that we would [be permitted to] be named and called and counted the children of God! And so we are!

 – 1 John 3:1, AMP –

The gospel is not people-centered. God’s love doesn’t revolve around me. I am not the center of the universe or the focal point of heaven. And I was never meant to be.

But oh, what grace is mine! What have I done that He would stop and look upon me?

We should not be surprised to hear that heaven and earth does not wait for our beck and call.

But we should be surprised, eternally surprised, that God would ever stoop to look at the specks upon this planet–specks that, somehow, He has seen, and loved, and filled with the image of Himself.

Take courage.

We serve the same Jesus that lovingly attended to each person He met. He has not changed.

Sometimes God is silent. Sometimes He does not move when we think it is time for something to happen. Sometimes He says no.

But He comes when we call. He places His hand upon our heads when we cry out in need. He cares about our cries.

Always.

 

“Be strong and courageous; don’t be terrified or afraid of them. For it is the Lord your God who goes with you; He will not leave you or forsake you.”

 – Deuteronomy 31:6, HCSB –

When God Doesn’t Show Up

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“Our sorrows are all, like ourselves, mortal. There are no immortal sorrows for immortal souls. They come, but blessed be God, they also go. Like birds of the air, they fly over our heads. But they cannot make their abode in our souls. We suffer today, but we shall rejoice tomorrow.”
– Charles Spurgeon –

She didn’t have John 11 in her Bible.

And she didn’t understand.

Maybe, as the quiet, cold countryside air drifted through the house, she leaned against the wall and held her breath, waiting for her sick brother to inhale one more time.

A slow breath just beyond the thin wall.

She exhales, waiting for the next sound of air in fragile lungs.

It doesn’t come.

Her throat tightens. Hands go still where they’ve been digging a thin place in the hem of her skirt. Oh God, let him breathe.

It still doesn’t come.

A thin, reedy wail bubbles up from her chest, rising into deep sobs.

It didn’t come.

And neither had Jesus.

Other cries begin–her sister’s weary, husky choking, the softer wails of watching friends, a baby stirring on her cousin’s hip.

She closes her eyes and tastes the hot salt wetting her lips. “Why didn’t you come?” she whispers in the dark. “You could have stopped this.”


Have you seen a night that dark?

A death that tore out your heart. A friendship that melted away in the forge instead of being tempered by the flames. A dream that withered again and again.

We all ask this question, don’t we? “Why weren’t You there, Lord, when that happened? Where were You when I needed you?”

There’s the theological voice in our heads, telling us that God is omnipresent, that Jesus promised to never leave us, that He sent us the Holy Spirit to dwell within us and be our Comforter.

But…honestly? You can’t always feel truth. That theological voice can tell me all it wants, but there’s no doubt that sometimes we cry and it seems like there is no reply. No comfort. No easing of the pain. Just silence.

I think that’s how Mary felt.

She sat, perhaps, in the dark and wept for her lost brother Lazarus, and wondered why, why on earth, did Jesus fail them.

He could have stopped this. He’d done it before–healed so many. Healed those that didn’t even follow Him, healed beggars on roadsides, healed servants of Gentiles long-distance.

But the man he loved, whose sisters he loved? He didn’t show up for him.

Don’t you know that Mary cried in the dark and couldn’t wrap her mind around the lostness. It was bad enough that her brother was dead.

But the ache of Jesus failing them…that must have been a thousand times worse.

She’d sat at his feet (Luke 10:39). She thrown her soul into following Him. She’d tossed everything aside as unimportant, secondary to knowing Him.

And yet He hadn’t come.

So Mary buried her brother, perhaps helping her sister Martha wrap him in spice-soaked cloths. So Mary cried until her eyes were red-rimmed and swollen, until her heart felt drained of tears, and then she kept crying.

It was another four days, four days after the tombstone was shoved across the cave’s mouth, when Jesus finally showed up.

Late. Too late to heal. Too late, even, for the funeral. Just too late.

The Bible records Jesus’ reaction to Lazarus’ illness this way:

” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was” (John 11:5-6, NKJV).

Wait…what? This seems like a bad joke.

He hears about Lazarus…and stays away?

So, when he comes four days after the funeral (John 11:17), I wonder if Mary had stopped looking for Him? The passage doesn’t say. It only records,

“Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house” (John 11:20). 

Did Mary hear? Why did she stay at the house? Perhaps she she was too swallowed by her grief. Maybe she didn’t know Jesus had arrived. Or maybe she had given up on Jesus, because He hadn’t been there when she needed Him most.

But Martha–strong, capable, warm–went running in her tears and met Jesus as He approached:

“Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21).

But then, as Matthew Henry suggests in his commentary on the passage, she seems to regret her hasty, grieved words. Thought probably still asking “why” inside, she corrects herself:

“But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You” (John 11:22).

This is a grief-stricken, somewhat-shaken faith. “Lord, I don’t understand,” she seems to be saying. “I still believe in you. I still know you have power. But I don’t understand.”

Under Jesus’ gentle questioning, she affirms her conviction that He is the Messiah, even the Son of God.

Then he sends for Mary.

Remember, Mary hadn’t read John 11. She didn’t know what would happen. We who have the whole Bible, who have grown up with the narratives, become numb to it.

But this wasn’t a flannel graph, two-dimensional story for Mary. This was real.

Her brother was dead. Her Savior had abandoned her.

Then He called for her and she hurries to meet him.

“Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32).

The same words as her sister–this same theme that resounds in our own hearts when God doesn’t show up in our pain.

“If you had been here, God…If only You had been here.”

And what does Jesus do? He had given Martha the theological answers. For Mary?

For Mary, He cries.

With Mary, He cries. Yes, God in flesh sees her tears, the tears of her sister, and He openly weeps (John 11:35).

What comes next?

A glorious rising. A heart-stopping, mind-blowing resurrection right on the fringes of Jerusalem. The world was shaken up that day.

Because Lazarus rose and walked out of that tomb!

But if we walk away from Mary’s story with the idea that Jesus will immediately come along and undo all our griefs, set it all right, make it not hurt anymore–then we’ve not learned our lesson.

You see, Mary didn’t know what Jesus was going to do. 

But, behind Mary’s grieving, Martha’s questioning, Lazarus’ dying–behind all this was a much larger Story at work:

The Story of God glorifying His Son in the world (John 17).

In fact, in the very next chapter, we see the results of Lazarus rising:

“Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. 10 But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus” (John 12:9-11).

The Bible never tells the end of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha’s story.

But that passage–rather than scaring me, or making me worry about Lazarus’ safety–reassures me.

See what God did?

The whole mess of grief and then wonder, death and then life–all of it was a master-design to point the world to Jesus. Lazarus was such a testimony to His God that the Jews wanted him dead just to get people to stop believing!

God doesn’t always ride in and fix our problems. He doesn’t always come and heal our loved ones, raise our dead dreams, or mend our broken relationships. (One day, yes, He will! He will make all things new!)

But Mary’s story teaches me to hope.

Because whatever God is doing in the pain–however silent He seems to be–I know two things.

I know He knows my sorrows and is moved by my pain.

And I know that He is up to something glorious.

Grief is hard.

Pain hurts terribly.

Prayers don’t always feel like they’re going through.

But whether my Lazarus rises or not, I know that “God’s absence”–when He decides not to intervene in my hurt–is part of plan that makes God look amazing.

When He doesn’t show up, I will cling to the knowledge of His love and presence. He won’t always tell me why I have to hurt. He doesn’t owe me an explanation.

But I will believe.

And then I will watch His beauty be put on display.


 “And He’s kneeling in the garden, as silent as a Stone

All His friends are sleeping and He’s weeping all alone

And the man of all sorrows, he never forgot
What sorrow is carried by the hearts that he bought
So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God
The aching may remain but the breaking does not
The aching may remain but the breaking does not
In the holy, lonesome echo of the silence of God.”

– Andrew Peterson, “The Silence of God”  –

* All Scripture verses come from the New King James Version