Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.
Today, thanks to Tommie Marshell’s excellent devotional for the Advent Begins In The Dark series, I was reminded of some words from the phenomenal preacher Fleming Rutledge:
“The sermon should end with a promise because God’s purposes cannot be defeated; that’s God’s promise. So that if we have received the gift of faith, we need to know that God is present in that gift of faith and even when we think we are losing our faith, God is still there.”
God is still there…
Many years ago, when I was a teenager, I used to run the sound system at my home church. Every Sunday I could be found in the back of the sanctuary tinkering away with all the knobs and slides so that everyone could hear whatever it was the preacher was saying. And, on Christmas Eve, I would do the same.
On one particular Christmas Eve I drew the short straw and was asked to run the board for the 11pm service. The preacher that night was exhausted by that point, having already preached at 3, 5, 7, and 9pm services, and the sanctuary was not as filled as it had been earlier in the evening. But nevertheless a faithful remnant stood vigil and offered the hymns with gusto. To be honest, I don’t remember much from the service that night except that the sermon ended with a promise: “God is born in Jesus for you.”
After we blew out the final candle and turned off all the lights, I got in my car and drove home to my parents’ house. Longing for the warmth of my bed, and the hopeful joy of presents in the morning, I drove with anticipation.
Until I saw the fleshing red and blue lights ahead of me.
My home was down the street from an old stone bridge that runs across the George Washington Parkway in Alexandria, VA and as I pulled up to the bridge I went into Boy Scout mode without really thinking about what I was doing. And before I knew it I had parked the car and ran down to the road offering to help in any way that I could to the first police officer I encountered.
He looked up from the road and said, “Son, go home and forget that you saw any of this. Merry Christmas.”
And I wish that I could forget what I saw.
But I can’t.
Because that night, shortly before I arrived in my car, a man from our community had been standing on the edge of the bridge for a long time waiting and waiting. He waited until he saw a large SUV coming down the road, and when he felt that it was the right moment, he jumped.
The SUV was carrying a family on their way home from their own Christmas Eve service, a family ready for the warmth of their beds, and the hopeful joy of presents in the morning, a family that would be forever changed.
In the many years since that night I have tried my best to forget what I saw on the road. I’ve tried to fill that memory with the light and the glow of the sanctuary instead of the red and blue lights.
But I can’t.
And that’s okay; this world of ours is broken and flawed and people are hurting. It doesn’t do any of us any good to sugar-coat this season like the candy-canes we have displayed in our homes. But we mustn’t forget the promise: “God is born in Jesus for you.”
For the man who jumped.
For the family in the car.
And for you.