Sunday, December 11
“The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down....”
- Psalm 146:8b
After a fairly long dry spell, we have been getting a little rain, recently. A warm breeze came through in the middle of the day today, which combined with the dampness to make it seem more like a spring day than the end of the autumn. Our Valley of Virginia climate has always featured more variety than a lot of places, but some of these little odd intervals can be quite surprising. Nancy B tells me, her grandmother said she saw it snow in June, once. You can’t be quite sure what weather tomorrow will bring, at least not around here.
Isaiah talks about the weather in chapter 35 of his prophecies. He says,
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
Maybe the blessing of water Isaiah is talking about is coming from underground— I’m not totally clear on that. Either way, the One who provides water to the earth is getting the job done. Places which usually are dry and barren are coming to life.
One of the weirdest things that takes place this time of year has to be the tradition of taking photos of children with Santa Claus in shopping centers. I have participated in this bizarre ritual a few times: I know how it goes. The child is kept in line for a long time, watching other children disappear into the zone of Santa and later come out crying or looking bewildered. Finally, her turn arrives, and she is placed beside or on the lap of a total stranger, surrounded by strangely-dressed people. The parent and photographer try various stunts to try to get her to smile or at least stop crying; the flash goes off; then she is dragged out again into the world of more shopping.
We still have a photo of one of our boys in that situation. I’m sorry !
I wouldn’t do it again.
The letter of James has practical advice for many situations, including the crazy run-up to the North American Christmas Extravaganza: You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors ! (James 5:8-9)
When Isaiah prophesied about the desert blooming and becoming fertile, his neighbors in Judea were suffering, under siege by the Assyrians.
Many years later, the Christians in James’ community were also very stressed and upset. James says, Strengthen your hearts.
Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear!”
You may be saying to yourself right about now, “I’m at the end of my strength: where am I supposed to get more?” Good question.
I hope you find it encouraging, to reflect on the fact that the Bible was written during really bad times, by people who had experienced suffering first-hand. God was there for the Psalmist, to lift up those who are bowed down and uphold the orphan and the widow. The LORD was there for Isaiah’s people, to promise a solution to their exile in a foreign land: a new way to get home, straight across the wilderness.
And the LORD was there in Jesus, healing the handicapped and giving good news to poor people. “Congratulations to anybody who doesn’t feel offended by me,” Jesus says. (Matthew 11:6).
People say, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” but much of what goes on in this season is not about Jesus at all. We will have more strength to enjoy the abundant life Jesus offers if we can drop some of the worldly decorations and expectations which we have piled on top of Christ’s Feast Day.