Do you know them, too? Beloved friends, kin of all kinds, who are facing their last even as most of us scurry to celebrate the first Christmas?
I know too many, I do, and I can’t help but pray to keep them out of Heaven even when maybe they are already locked and loaded and ready to aim for Home.
All that’s holding them here are the way-stations hosting them: hospitals extending skilled hospitality to the terminally ill, hospice workers compassionately coming alongside their loved ones at home. Family and friends they are loath to leave.
Last night I huddled by a fireplace with a small group of pray-ers at church…warriors who have waged intercession against sickness and death for 60, 70, 80 years. We called out the names of these beloveds on the front lines, those staring down the final Enemy with steady faith.
And in the workplace this morning, we set aside the agenda for our weekly team meeting and prayed instead for a gravely ill coworker. Katie found the page marked “December 19” in a favorite devotional, and read to us the words of Habakkuk meant for us. For them. For what we face together this day.
I will climb up to my watchtower
and stand at my guardpost.
There I will wait to see what the LORD says
and how he will answer my complaint. . . .
I trembled inside when I heard this;
my lips quivered with fear.
My legs gave way beneath me,
and I shook in terror.
I will wait quietly for the coming day
when disaster will strike the people who invade us.
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
The Sovereign LORD is my strength!
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
able to tread upon the heights.
And then Katie read to us an outpouring of powerful words from one who knows suffering, who has seen sorrow, who has walked the broken way:
“There are Christmas trees that have no blossoms.
There are a thousand ways you can suffer brave.
And no one knows.
No one knows that, like Habakkuk, your heart quakes a bit inside. At how headlines hit too close, how in a blink on an ordinary day, it could be one you love who is bloodied by the senseless violence, busted in a crash, begging prayers for life, getting chemo pumped through the veins. We all lose every single person we love. There is never another way. Think about that too long and you find it hard to breathe.
The economy crumbles away under your feet. If one more thing breaks down, if one medical disaster pushes you over the fragile edge, what in the world do you grab on to in this mudslide of debt? Fear is always this wild flee ahead.
Olives fail. People fail. Dreams fail. You feel like you fail. A thousand things mount. Some days it’s hard not to panic. You can feel it—we are driven by fear of failure. For all our frenzied running around, could it be that we are actually fleeing—trying to escape all the fears? All this pain? All this failure? We all live these lives of quiet terror. Of soundless, hidden grief. You could just bow your head in the quiet and weep for all that isn’t. For all that you aren’t.
In the barrenness of winter, Habakkuk offers this gift to always carry close: rejoicing in the Lord happens while we still struggle in the now.
Struggling and rejoicing are not two chronological steps, one following the other, but two concurrent movements, one fluid with the other.
As the cold can move you deeper toward the fire, struggling can move you deeper toward God, who warms you with joy. Struggling can deepen joy.
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms and though the Christmas tree aches a bit empty, even though there are no grapes on the vine and no struggle-free days, even though the olive crop fails, even though I fail, even though so much fails—even now I will rejoice in the Lord.
Even now I will be joyful in the God of my salvation.
Even though, even now—Habakkuk turns the focus. The secret of joy is always a matter of focus: a resolute focusing on the Father, not on the fears. All fear is but the notion that God’s love ends. When does He ever end? When you can’t touch bottom is when you touch the depths of God.
Habakkuk rings it again defiant from the watchtower into a struggling world—I will be joyful in the God of my salvation. Re-joys, re-joices, and again. Soon the angels will sing it: “Fear not! For behold!” The solution to fear is the gift of Christmas. “Fear not! For behold!” We have a Savior. “Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?” (Romans 8:32). He shattered the space between heaven and earth and came naked and breakable for you in a crèche. Then He lay naked and broken by you on a Cross. If He gave you His Son to save you, will He not give anything?
Hasn’t He already unequivocally earned trust? You can take your hands off your life—you don’t have to try to save yourself. Behold Him everywhere, and be held.
Though the fig tree does not blossom, His love always does.
Instead of explaining our struggling, Jesus shares in it—because He knows mere answers are cold and His arms are warm.
The watchtower can be climbed. Stand even now at the guardpost; there are gifts.
Count, recount gifts: rejoice, re-joice. Our worlds reel unless we rejoice. A song of thanks steadies everything.
Behold the goodness of the God of your salvation everywhere, and be held—how His love falls like blossoms of grace in December.” – ANN VOSKAMP
Taken from The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp. Copyright ©2013. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.