"City sidewalks, busy sidewalks
Dressed in holiday style,
In the air there's a feeling of Christmas,
Silver bells, silver bells,
It's Christmas time in the city..."
I always loved that song. Not growing up in a city, I never really knew what it meant. But years ago a friend took Arielle and me at Christmastime to a big department store in the city that my friend visited with her parents as a child, and we heard carols played on a big organ and saw the city dressed in lights. The sidewalks were full of wide-eyed children bundled in their coats and scarves, and then the song came alive for me.
Last week I took the train into the city on a cold and windy day, and yes, in the air there was a feeling of Christmas. But soon I entered another world far removed from Christmas--a big city hospital where a friend's husband is dying of a disease that the best minds in this big city can't figure out.
As our family rejoices in our blessings this year, it is not a joyful time for many families close to us. Serious illness casts a shadow over any happiness this Christmas might bring. My heart is heavy as I think of them. Earlier, I posted this verse that always makes me think of Thanksgiving around our table.
"May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown, our daughters like corner pillars cut for the structure of a palace,
May our granaries be full, providing all kinds of produce,
May our sheep bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our fields,
May our cattle be heavy with young, suffering no mishap or failure in bearing,
May there be no cry of distress in our streets.
Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall.
Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!" Psalm 144:12-15.
How do we reconcile those words with these from Habakkuk 3:17-19?
"Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold,
and there be no herd in the stalls,
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength,
he makes my feet like the deer's,
he makes me tread on my high places."
This reminds me of what Job said, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust him." I think if we really knew what lies ahead after death, we would have a different perspective on suffering. We would have God's perspective. In trusting God, we can find joy--not in the circumstances surely, but in God and in his presence. He has promised never to leave us and to walk the journey with us.
At this stage in life it is inevitable that we will see friends (and ourselves) suffer. Do we despair or do we trust in a sovereign God? Today I read Daniel 9, Daniel's prayer for his people during desperate times. His words tell us how to respond to calamity. We are to entreat the favor of our God. We are to turn from sin. And we are to gain insight into God's truth. Daniel ends by saying:
"O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear. O Lord, forgive, pay attention and act. Delay not..."
Pray for others.