Good morning! Well, here we! Next Sunday will be Christmas Eve eve! Remember our Christmas Eve worship services are at 3, 5, 7. And the Sunday after Christmas we’ll have one service at 10 am. I hope you’ll invite your friends and family. We got great news of joy and hope for a weary world. We’re going to sing in the face of the devil and drive away fear.
Question: Where do you suppose Mary and Joseph were 8 days before Jesus was born? Probably in Nazareth! Mary was spending her last night in her own house in the comfort of her own bed. The next morning the journey would begin. The journey God planned for them from the dawn of time. But there was no Cinderella carriage. No Amtrak sleeper. No bed in the back of her father’s Suburban.
The road from Nazareth to Bethlehem was long, winding and uphill. 90 miles with their camping gear, Joseph’s tools and Mary due at any moment. Whether she rode a donkey or bumped along in a rough two wheeled hand cart pulled by Joseph, we don’t know.
We know the journey took at least a week if they didn’t stop along the way which they surely did. Step by painful step, the road must have seemed endless. But there are no shortcuts on the road of discipleship and most often we leave behind us a trail of tears.
In Psalm 13 David describes such a journey. Let’s open our Bibles to Ps 13. Scholars love to speculate about what David was going through when he wrote this Psalm. Was he sick? Was he being treated unjustly? We don’t know. Whatever it was David had come to the end of himself. He was out of strength and ability to cope. We’ve all been there.
But here’s what’s often forgotten when we read a Psalm like this. David wrote this for his people. It was without a personal, autobiographical, but David wrote this to help his people through the difficult places in their lives. It was God’s word through him to us.
The song begins with these words, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” Psalm 13:1-2
If you’ve been on a trip like Joseph and Mary, if you’ve journeyed through the death of a child or spouse, if you’ve worked your way through chemo or radiation, if you’re living through a divorce, or struggling with a physical handicap, if you’ve been laid off and without work or homeless, you know what David is feeling here!
The spiritual depravity of our world, the brokenness caused by sin can cause us to cry out, “How long, O LORD? Are you there, LORD? Have you forgotten me?” Suffering is lonely. So is grieving. Temptation is lonely. People might try to understand, but they don’t - not really. They may try to help, but their advice, like Job’s friends, is frustrating and worthless.
David complains “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts?” What thoughts? How about anger, bitterness, self-pity, blaming God and others, acting out, despair, giving up, taking shortcuts to escape the pain and hard work.
You know about shortcuts don’t you? They don’t work. Satan tempted Jesus with shortcuts on his journey – praise the Lord he refused to take them. We haven’t been so successful. How about marriage? We’ve tried to shortcut the hard work of courtship by simply living together. Statistics bear out how costly that shortcut is to healthy children and families.
We’re tempted to take the shortcut of trying to please the crowd in order to achieve success, significance and security. Doesn’t work! We compromise ourselves only to be thrown under the bus by the very people we are trying to impress.
Instead of trusting God, we try and take shortcuts by putting our trust and hope in money, or government, or even family and friends only to be let down, betrayed, used. A pastor put his struggle with temptation this way. The problem is “I’m in a hurry, but God isn’t.”
The Bible tells us the devil is behind all this. Satan is a powerful, diabolical spiritual being whose greatest pleasure is to lie, deceive, and destroy us. David recognizes this and in the midst of his pain and struggle, he cries out to the Lord. “Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes or I will sleep in death! My enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him’ and my foes will rejoice when I fall.” Psalm 13:3-5
David has learned that God isn’t optional. He understands without the Lord his lamp will be snuffed out. He may continue to be physically alive, at least for a while, but his spirit will die, fruitless, hopeless. No wonder David is so fearful of being disconnected from God!
So how do we keep going when the road becomes more than we can endure? When we don’t believe we can get one foot ahead of the other. Mary and Joseph certainly knew this Psalm. Maybe along the way Joseph sang it to Mary. Or maybe Mary sang it to Joseph.
Maybe we should do the same! Look how the song ends “But I trust in your unfailing love, my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.” Psalm 13:5-6
The term ‘unfailing love’ is a very special in Scripture. It means friendship. Not casual friendship, but steadfast friendship that will lay down its life for another. It’s what Jesus was talking about in John 15 when he told the disciples the night before he was crucified, “Greater love has no one that his, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends…” John 15:13-14
I find it fascinating that Hollywood has created a new show called, “God friended me.” Now friending someone on Facebook is a nice but it doesn’t require much commitment. Your Facebook friends aren’t going to lay down their lives for you. Instead, they friend or unfriend you with a click of a mouse. Not much security in that!
God isn’t that kind of friend. He’s the only true friend that will go to a cross in our place. So if he loves us so much, why does he allow us to suffer? Why is this road of discipleship so difficult? And how do we cope when the struggle becomes unbearable?
I believe David is sharing with his people what he has learned through his own struggles with doubt, betrayal, health, enemies, his own sin, fear, and depravation. David knew about rough roads on the way to paradise and he tells us how he survived.
“But I trust in your unfailing love, my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.” Psalm 13:5-6
David sang! The devil hates it when we sing - especially when we sing in the midst of our suffering and pain. He hated it when Paul and Silas were singing praises to Jesus in the darkness of their prison cell after they had been flogged.
The jailer and the other prisoners thought they’d lost their minds. But their praise unleashed the power of God and the prison doors were torn off their hinges. God’s power is unleashed when God’s people sing his praises in the face of what seems to be hopeless adversity.
Listen to Paul’s testimony in 2 Cor. We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again.” 2 Cor 1:8-9
There is no such thing as instant holiness. It must be refined like gold through fire. Is God there in the fire? Has he forgotten us? Listen to his words in Isaiah 49. “Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” says the LORD.” Isa 49:14-15
Psalm 56:8 says the Lord records all our sorrows and collects all our tears in his bottle. They are precious to him. His tears and his footprints are mixed with ours on this climbing way to the place he is calling us. And one day, we’ll not only understand, we’ll bless him for every ache, every pain, every tear we ever shed in our service for him.
The LORD was there with David. He was there with Mary and Joseph. David sang his way through the difficult places in his life. Paul and Silas sang in the darkness of a prison cell. And I believe Mary and Joseph sang on the impossibly tough road to Bethlehem.
What we need is a traveling song to sing when the way gets rough and our feet begin to stumble and our minds begin to despair. And we have one! His name is Jesus! “Glory to his name now and forevermore!”