The sky hung weighty and pale. Backyard held a foggy hush, but inside the whole household glittered with candlelight and beamed with courage.
Christmas togetherness circled a long table laid with evergreen. The year had been mostly good, aside from an unwelcome medical diagnosis in the midst, and this could have disheartened the season.
But . . . joy and light and great news for all people.
In Psalm 112, the ones who fear the Lord are described as blessed and fearless. Light arises in the darkness for the upright, those who delight in His commandments (vv. 1,4).
“For he will never be shaken; The righteous will be remembered forever.
He will not fear evil tidings; His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord. His heart is upheld, he will not fear . . . “
The reason we’re not cowering in fear of more evil news, tonight or next year, is because:
“…The gospel makes genuinely good news out of every other aspect of my life, including my severest trials.” ― Milton Vincent, A Gospel Primer
Are you clothed in Christ’s righteousness? Be steadfast in heart, trusting the Lord; there’s nothing left to fear.
Think about the shepherds, faced with a reason for terror.
When the sky split, it wasn’t Christmas-pageant, Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy imagery. An angel army began shouting in the sky.
I, too, would have been stricken with fright. I think the shepherds anticipated evil reports, judgment, or end-of-the-world pronouncements. Perhaps their sheep scattered.
No wonder the angel declared “do not be afraid” first of all. Their presence necessitated it.
And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people. For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among menwith whom He is pleased.”
The shepherds’ fear of bad tidings was overwhelmed by good news in a manger.
The shepherds had sinful souls destined for wrath, and so do we. It paints the bleak night stage, set for the desperately needed good news/great joy of Christ’s birth, His death, and His resurrection.
Still today we have no need to be afraid because the light arises in the darkness. Sinners are called to hear and know the gospel, which changes everything about everything. We are considered “the righteous” because Jesus bought us. Each medical diagnosis is about glory to God in the highest. And He leaves peace with us, but not the kind the world gives.
Nothing can truly shake the righteous one’s position before God. No terror of the night can steal the peace promised that surpasses all understanding.
It’s why my family doesn’t need to fear evil tidings but can rejoice in the knowledge of our eternal security, the goodness of God’s perfect plan, and the desire for gory to the Prince of Peace, come what may. This is the good about the bad.
The eagerness mounted last year as I watched people all over the world bring Christmas to their hearths in golden creams and woodsy sparkle. I couldn’t wait to capture all I had learned about decorating into my first Christmas in a new home.
After Thanksgiving, I sat amidst the Walmart bags and bubblewrap wrapped around my ornaments and nativity set. My collection of childhood ornaments and hand-me-down castaways stared at me, as my vision for coco-bombs and neutral threads met . . . . what I had to work with. How could I make any theme out of mismatched snowmen, a painting of a cardinal, and ornaments chipped from my childhood? My taste in style had changed with the trends, but my decor bin hadn’t.
The feeling of unmet expectation peaked when we pulled out our sparse four-foot tree. What perched cozy and perfect in our apartment, now the most Charlie Brown tree that ever Charlie Browned.
We stood it on a table to keep it from being swallowed in our new space. “It looks like it’s trying to be something it’s not,” my husband pointed out, and then we burst into long laughter. So I made the best of our Christmasy mess and enjoyed it all December.
But I made mental notes for next year.
First, truth be told, I found a much grander tree, and today I decked the thrifted 7.5-footer with strands of red beads. It fills the room with announcement of light and honor brought to our humble ornament-shaped memories.
Secondly, remembering my decorating despair of 2020, I’m choosing to admire the lovely Christmas-card moments on “the ‘Gram,” but also pray a guard of contentment for myself. May I rejoice in my gifts of my own home and my Savior.
Material beauty will never be enough. The best of earth will never meet the deepest longing of our brokenness. We long, like pining Bethlehem, for our Mighty God to do great things for us. And He has.
I see it in the shiny gold letters that spell out the names of Christ, draping our tree. Prince of Peace. Emmanuel. Savior. Mighty God. Wonderful Counselor.
I see it in my little elfish helper, who will fully enjoy his first Christmas if cardboard boxes and people are involved.
I see it in how our Charlie Brown tree from the apartment days (now gracing the back room) reminds me unmet expectations are a mercy because they can set our eyes on God’s wondrous light. Each seasonal disappointment, shattered ornament, or sickness gives another reason to joyfully worship a perfect God who meets all our true needs.
I wish you an unfiltered, real Christmas where real truths, like “veiled in flesh the Godhead see . . . born to give them second birth” are the brightest theme of this season.
“Christ, by highest heav’n adored, Christ, the everlasting Lord: Late in time behold Him come, Offspring of a virgin’s womb. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail th’ incarnate Deity! Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.
Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of righteousness! Light and life to all He brings, Ris’n with healing in His wings: Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die; Born to raise the sons of earth; Born to give them second birth.”
Our church camp almost didn’t happen this year … because it’s getting difficult to reserve entire campgrounds in our state.
Thankfully, camp still occurred in all its glory, even if we were prevented from certain traditions. First, there were no water sports due to some kind of weird algae bloom that could make you sick and allegedly made a dog die from drinking it. So we had to miss the usual staples of camp life like boating, swimming, tubing. Second, the state issued a fire ban so no open campfires allowed. Third, we set up camp in a new-to-us place. We had finally outgrown our beloved Huckleberry Campground where I personally have enjoyed each of my church camps for the last 10 years in a row.
However, the core of everything I love about this annual camping trip stayed true despite missing iconic water sports, campfire, and Huckleberry. It’s like that one time when someone stole the church trailer with the piano, cushions, chairs, pulpit, and sound equipment. We were still a church. Or when we had to watch the sermon virtually since our building was closed up because of covid. Still the Bride of Christ. So of course, a simple location change wouldn’t stop us from packing up our cars and coolers with bright attitudes to be together!
And it was a wonderful weekend.
I grow more impressed with the immeasurable means of grace in that God gifted us each other. Without a church family, a person could literally have no one to trust, no one to turn to. But I have layers and layers of saints who have proved they would drop everything if I needed anything. There are local churches all over the world who would pick up where one left off in ministering to a sheep like me. It’s overwhelming and humbling.
My top three highlights of camp this year were 1) sharing the tangible joys with my little family, 2) the baptisms, and 3) the spiritual gifts in action.
It was such an honor to introduce a small flannel-clad boy to a weekend of outdoor fellowship. Judah approved of it, and heartily participated in everything he could, which was mostly just making people’s days with his bear hugs.
Pine trees infused the air with the fresh woodsiness. Corn hole brought out our competition. The claps of dramatic thunder begged the question, “How did YOU sleep last night?” Without our Sunday best, but a sunburn instead, observing each other’s realness and coffee habits is easy. We talked about goldfish, about weddings, about the gospel and about this new corner of the lake. We were relaxed and had nowhere to be except dinner and worship.
Now, the baptisms. How good is God to give us a tangible picture of a new spiritual life? To see an outward representation of Christ’s rescue from sin?
It’s inevitable that I’ll cry. As someone in my family coined it, “Life and death will make me cry.” About ten testimonies ranged from someone saved by grace out of a generationally godly family to first generation Christians, to trusting at a young age to tasting what the world has to offer first — all a clear picture of sinful hearts washed with the blood of Christ. We all rejoiced deeply in each public announcement of faith in the Savior. What struck me listening to the testimonies was the inclusion of fervent prayers for these ones gone astray, and the evidence of plenty of seed planting by an older brother here, a sister there, a pastor, a friend, an acquaintance. God chooses to use us in Gospel work, as seen in the many familiar names brought up in the testimonies, but He brings the increase.
Finally, I enjoyed the extra goodness of the Lord to grant us spiritual gifts and hearts that long to serve one another. Not only did He save us from hell, make us His cherished bride, but He also equipped us uniquely so we could bless each other and thus bring glory to Him.
At camp I noticed we were served by someone sharing their special green avocado creamy sauce for taco night. A young man with a ton of energy willing to bring up the tube from the bottom of the slip n’ slide hill over and over. Hands that played guitar chords, emptied trash, held babies, acted as the hospitable camp hosts, provided a listening ear and mercy. On Sunday we were taught from the Word.
Those gifts in action are all for His glory wafting up like the campfire smoke we didn’t have because, remember–fire ban.
God didn’t have to give us each other to help in suffering or to laugh about slip n’ slide wipeouts. To serve each other hamburgers with caramelized onions, to share truth with, to worship Him on a wooded mountainside or in the suburbs back at home base. Isn’t His Body beautiful?
I can hear it. “But there isn’t a perfect church! She’s clearly wearing rose-colored glasses.”
It’s true. There is no perfect church. Of course, I have a little loyal partiality toward my family, but I still work to give grace for the failures I see and even for the ones I can’t see. Because there is masterpiece work going on. A bride is getting prepared for the marriage of the Lamb.
And gratefully, there aren’t any rose-colored glasses needed to appreciate God’s beautiful goodness in giving us the broken and beautiful Body of Christ. His plan is good. Even in hard, ugly times we can acknowledge His design is lovely, and He’s building His church, even though that won’t make the headlines. Whatever imperfections are now, we look toward the day of endless, perfect, better-than-church-camp worship. Even the righteous acts of the saints at camp are helping clothe us for that day.
“Let’s rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, because the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and Hisbridehas prepared herself.
It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean;
for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.’”
And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”
As I’ve studied Psalm 37 with my sisters in Christ this summer, I’ve quoted the above verse often. Opportunity upon opportunity for anger and worry rolls my way, but the truth always wins out.
This is a summer where one headline can make your heart heavy for hours. Friends of mine are facing a clear and present danger as they seek to escape from evildoers. We’re surrounded with those who are prompt to call good evil and evil good. From Olympic platforms to the offices in D.C., the wicked are spreading themselves out like luxuriant trees in their native soil.
This earthly soil is the wicked’s turf . . . for now.
Can I draw your attention to Psalm 37 for the encouragement carrying me today? There’s nothing better than a soul-watering reminder from the One in charge. God won’t leave His throne for one moment of break or flee the scene when “the wicked have drawn their sword and bent their bow to cast down the afflicted and the needy, to slay those who are upright in conduct” (Ps. 37:14).
The wrongdoers are quite busy prospering. They’ve plotted and eagerly carry out violent schemes. Teeth gnashing, they gather in envy-worthy abundance, borrowing without paying back, spying, and certainly seeking to kill.
Though they appear to have the strength of a Redwood, their roots are like a dandelion. They’re making themselves at home in the earth’s soil, reaching their roots in all directions, but the LORD laughs at them.
He sees the day coming when they’ll be no more. Cursed. Cut off. Broken bows. Perishing. They’ll vanish like the smoke from wildfires finally snuffed out. They’ll wither like autumn grass, fade like the herbs, shrivel like a neglected garden. The Lord loves justice and giving us visuals for it.
Not only will God one day destroy wickedness, but He is protecting the righteous with unending promises. He is One who gives the desires of our heart and honors our trust in Him. As sure as the noonday, right judgment will be seen. Our King sustains us. He knows our days, each of them. Establishes our steps and delights in our way when we keep His. He holds our hand so we won’t be hurled headlong. He’ll never forsake His godly, but preserves and exults us a gift of inheritance. He is our saving refuge.
Psalm 37 also addresses the righteous in this war-torn world. We are described in this way:
“The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. The law of God is in his heart…”
We’re not to be busy taking up revenge, but dwelling in the ground we’ve been given. Our role is to boldly utter wisdom and speak justice amidst the chaos. This won’t be easy, but He sustains us.
Instead of fretting, we cultivate faithfulness. May we be faithful in prayer, in cleaning the kitchen, in worshiping God through the ordinary, in sharing our faith with unbelievers. The passage calls us to do good, delight in the Lord, and commit our way to Him as we keep His way. Cease from anger – vengeance is the Lord’s.
Our friends close enough to hear the gnashing of the wicked’s teeth hold these same promises. We can rest that He won’t forsake His righteous saints who are in danger, nor their children. Our descendants do not need to beg for bread. They will have nothing to be ashamed of in this time of evil. We are inheritors, holding the hand of a Kingly Helper and Helping King, who won’t allow our steps to slip.
Can we forsake wrath against those who desperately need the righteous robes we wear? Can we wait patiently as God unfolds His Sovereign plan, responding graciously to others? Can we trust and wait when we wish we were the ones prospering? Can we wait in meekness for the Lord to bestow our grace-purchased inheritance? Will we speak the words of wisdom and justice we have from hiding God’s law in our hearts? In God’s strength, yes.
As we picture the blameless man, the upright and the afflicted in the line of the enemy’s fire, may we stand boldly for them and uphold them with faithful prayer.
And let’s not forget:
The wicked seem to have the center stage. But God’s eyes are on His people, delighting in our way, and we delight in Him. One day soon we’ll look for the evildoers, and they’ll be no more. We won’t find them in all our searching.
The evildoer and the righteous couldn’t have a more perfect diamond-cut contrast in Psalm 37.
So fret not. Wait patiently and rest in the Lord, because we know that the little of the righteous is much better than the wicked’s temporal abundance. Today we carry on with God’s law in our hearts, deliverance in our futures, and strength in time of trouble.