Corrupt politics, debauched leaders, racial strife, myopic media, broken families, entrenched poverty, personal heartaches—Christmastime isn’t holly jolly for everyone. We need some good news that transcends mere tinsel and lights and warm sentiment.
The good news is that bad news can’t spoil Christmas. Rather, the bad news reminds us why we need Christmas. Christmas is about hope. We have been given hope in the Christ of Isaiah’s prophecy, whose kingdom of peace will one day fill the earth.
For every boot of tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a Son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
— Isaiah 9:5-7
Bethlehem was the kindling of a cosmic bonfire. The Prince bids you come and throw in your battle garments. He will prevail. No amount of bad news can stop him.
And so we celebrate.
“’The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” — Lamentations 3:24-26
Jesus read these verses of Scripture. Can you see him standing at the desk in the synagogue, calloused hands resting on the scroll, poring over the poetic anguish of Lamentations in light of his future suffering?
He would not have failed to see God’s judgment against Israel. The edges of Lamentations—large edges that we call chapters 1-2 and chapters 4-5—are full of the judgments of the Lord. God has torn apart his disobedient people like a bear lying in wait and a lion in hiding. Perhaps Jesus pondered how he himself, the true Israel, would one day be torn to pieces. Had he not come for this very purpose: to bear judgment, to drink the cup of God’s wrath, to become a curse for us? Yes, he would be torn to pieces. Israel’s judgment was but a foreshadowing of what he would soon face.
Judgment is all around the edges of Lamentations. It encircles the sufferer, taking away every place to stand, until the only ground remaining is a tiny island in the middle. But, oh, the ground in the middle is good! It is solid ground. The middle of Lamentations—what we call chapter 3—is a place of hope, like a roaring campfire on an icy evening. Yahweh is there, blazing in goodness.
How encouraged Jesus must have been by Lamentations 3:24-26! It’s easy to imagine him taking these words upon his lips, speaking them out loud to himself. They were his Scriptures before they were ours. (Indeed, they are now ours only because they were first his.) With the devastation of the cross looming in his future, Jesus would take his stand on the middle ground of the lament. He would remember, when everything else is taken away, that his Father is portion enough. He would hope in the goodness of his Father. He would seek his Father quietly, believing that the Lord would save him from death.
And now, dear Christian, behold the risen Christ! Jesus was no fool to have made the Lord his portion. His hope did not disappoint, and neither will yours. Just as surely as Yahweh raised his Son from the dead, so in him you too will be raised. You will see the salvation of the Lord.
Inscribed on the coins of Geneva, Switzerland, and on the wall of the city are the words post tenebras lux: “After darkness, light.” This phrase is the motto of the Reformation, yet it captures the hope of Lamentations. No matter how deep the darkness encompassing your life, light is coming. If your feelings tell you otherwise, just look at the empty tomb. Jesus is alive, and he will lose none of those whom the Father has given him. So stand with Jesus on the middle ground of Lamentations. Seek the Father in him. Wait quietly on his salvation.
You will see the light.
I think about this song every Thanksgiving. Our gratitude isn’t directed merely to people or amorphous spiritual powers or chance. There is a Giver, personal and ultimate. A Giver of givers, who gives to all mankind life and breath and everything (Acts 17:25).
I just wrote a book on Christianity and politics. But here’s the deal: learning to engage politically isn’t something you learn in a book or a class. You learn it by living with other Christians in peace and love as they sin against you and you against them.
You learn politics by going out of your way to care for an older saint, by becoming friends with people who don’t look like you, by forsaking your rivalries with those who do, by giving money to help the brother in need. Real politics starts there–in your church.
Jeremiah saw a lot of this coming. All he had to do was lighten up a bit, and some of his trouble could be avoided:
Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah…. Come, let us strike him with the tongue, and let us not pay attention to any of his words. (18:18)
Then Pashhur beat Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks. (20:2)
When Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord commanded him to speak…, all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die!” (26:8)
The officials were enraged at Jeremiah, and they beat him and imprisoned him. (37:15)
They took Jeremiah and cast him into the cistern…. And there was no water in the cistern, but only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud. (38:6)
The prophet’s description of persecution includes verbal abuse, death threats, physical assault, and imprisonment. What compelled Jeremiah to keep preaching in the face of such severe backlash? How did he resist softening his message about the Lord?
If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. (20:9)
The word burned like a fire in Jeremiah’s bones. He was combustible with the glory of God. He felt as if he would explode if he didn’t speak in the name of the Lord.
O, for more preachers like this! For more Christians like this! May Almighty God set us on fire in the grace and truth of Christ Jesus, no matter the cost.
It is no small thing that the apostle Paul, uber church planter, would ask the churches to pray for his effectiveness in spreading the gospel. I never had a course in logic, but I figure if Paul needed the Spirit’s help, then we do too.
Below are Paul’s evangelistic requests, summarized in four key words. We can’t go wrong adopting his requests as our own. We should pray for:
“At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ.” (Col 4:3)
“[Pray] that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.” (Col 4:4)
“[Pray] that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.” (Eph 6:19)
“Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you.” (2 Thess 3:1)
Father, please open a door for me to speak of Christ crucified and risen. And when that door opens, give me the boldness to walk through it and the ability to make the good news of salvation clear. Finally, grant a receptive heart in the hearer so that your word may be honored through repentance and faith. In Jesus’ name, Amen.