December brings with it unrivalled expectation.
The lights; the songs; the constant sense of celebration;
The world around us has been preparing for Christmas since the middle of November,
And as the time draws near, it becomes clear that this is not (in the eyes of the world)
the season to admit uncertainty.
For many of us, this is a season of exhaustion,
and it is the expectations that exhaust us,
because other things have required our energy and attention –
there is nothing left to help us “deal” with the expectations of the season.
And those other things are not inconsequential;
our grief, our sense of loss; our loneliness and our deep questions
all compete for our attention.
At this time of year especially, despair and delight seem to be at war
within us and around us.
Such times hold no joy – And it is to this struggle that the Psalmist speaks.
The Psalmist knows that God is good.
That has been his training –
it is the tradition of his faith, and the hope of his every moment.
And yet, the conditions of his present moment
cause him to doubt everything he has ever believed.
‘Will the Lord spurn forever…
has God forgotten to be gracious…
has God’s compassion been shut up?’
The Psalmist, in short, has his doubts
about even God’s ability to render assistance.
“It is my grief”, he says, “that the hand of the most high has changed”
This verse puzzled me for some time –
but my best source came to the rescue this afternoon –
The Hebrew might also be translated “Has God lost his grip on things?”
That such questions might be asked, even in Scripture, is a source of some comfort to those of us who wonder how things can ever be right again.
But the greater comfort comes from this faithful poet –
whose very despair becomes the reminder of God’s true nature.
“I will remember your wonders of old…”
The gift of this time is not in the frantic rushing to meet the unattainable expectations that are thrust upon us. The gift of this season is that in recognition of the triumph of Easter – the victory of Resurrection – the church traced Jesus journey back to its beginnings, and tried to find something of God’s majesty in his humble birth in an unremarkable town.
While the rest of the world troubles itself with that story,
we would do well to heed the conclusions of the Psalmist:
You are the God who works wonders;
you have displayed your might among the peoples.
With your strong arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
God has promised guidance and goodness; grace and peace;
these too the Psalmist finds, not apart from his problems,
but even in the midst of them.
Our Christmas celebrations are not always as they ought to be –
our expectations cannot compete with our circumstances.
But God’s intentions – God’s expectations –
are that we might meet with that promised peace
in this child we hail as Emmanuel –
which means God with us.
Praise God – who meets us in Jesus,
and accompanies us through our pain –
and offers us real peace. Amen