The Shepherd, the Light, and Hoping in the Dark

December 23, 2020

We tend to think the winter solstice happens over a period of time because of the length of time our days appear to be shorter and colder. The opposite is actually true. The winter solstice event only takes place for a moment, specifically when the earth is tilted on its axis as far away from the sun as it can be. Depending on which hemisphere you live in will determine when your solstice takes place. In the northern hemisphere, the winter solstice takes place in December. This year December 21st marked the winter solstice for 2020. It was darker for a few moments longer on Monday, and yet perhaps for you the entire year of 2020 may have felt like one big winter solstice. 

I have found a peace I have not experienced before when reading Psalm 23. This famous psalm is quoted at funerals and weddings of believers and non-believers alike. The psalmist David is preaching the provision, protection and steadfast love of the Lord to himself in the midst of experiencing a bleak and dark season. The relatability of this psalm transcends our lives right now- especially during this holiday season. When depression, anxiety and fear drive us from the rest our Savior offers, we know in the proverbial winter solstice of our lives we have a Shepherd who offers us green pastures, waters of rest, a covering of righteousness unmerited by our own goodness, and mercy to bear us up when the darkness threatens to overtake us. 

When you think about this Psalm, do you view David as a victim of the distresses his enemies pose upon him, or do you see David as the one in dire need to be rescued from a situation he may have gotten himself in as a wandering sheep because of his own sin? I see the latter. Here’s why… 

David begins the psalm with declaring who the Lord is for him: Shepherd and provider. David cannot, we cannot, be found wanting because the Lord makes good on the promise that he satisfies our longing soul with good (vs 1). And if God is the source of all good, then our souls are satisfied, therefore we shall not want anything to satisfy us apart from him. This Shepherd of ours provides himself as a source of our satisfaction, not merely in our human body, but in the depths of our souls. What else does God promise to be for us? He promises to lead our souls to find water of rest (vs 2). If your life proves no rest from busyness or striving for perfection, then you haven’t been led by the Lord. Jesus leads us to waters where we find rest from all this striving, but we must find our rest in him alone. Maybe you need this reminder as you wrestle with the ugliness of your own capability to sin. Maybe you’ve seen a tiny glimpse of what you are capable of and it scares you to your core. Jesus offers us rest from this specific fear. Not only does he offer us rest, but he leads us down paths of righteousness. Are you seeing a lapse in your personal holiness? With isolation due to Covid-19, data suggests higher suicide rates, pornography use, overeating, and numbing social media use. Do you see areas or seasons of your life that are not pleasing to the Lord? Jesus offers us his righteousness in order for us to be restored to himself (vs 3). There is nothing that brings more calm to the soul of a wretched saint than the restoration Jesus offers us time and time again. Finally, we see the  beauty of dawn bursting through the darkness of verse 4 as David reminds us that we do, in fact, walk through valleys of darkness. Some of these valleys can be caused by life’s circumstances out of our control that the Lord allows and even uses in order to bring about more opportunities to come into direct contact with his grace. Other dark valleys are caused by our own wanderings. Verse 1 reminds us that we need restoration. Our souls need the restoration Christ offers when we wander, and wander we will. Pastor Timothy Keller often reminds his congregation that our hearts are idol factories. There are times when our hearts and affections are divided, needing restored. But, when our hearts do become divided, we don’t have to fear ANY evil (vs. 4). The evil done to us, or the evil hiding out in the corners of our hearts we try to keep at bay. We fear no evil, not because of some strength in ourselves, but because the Shepherd has a rod and staff that will both correct and protect us from the evils of the world. This is not a promise that we will not experience the effects of sin. Our rebellious, and fallen world is still groaning under the effects of sin every day. But, we have justice, correction, the process of sanctification that allows us to stay close to the Shepherd. He disciplines, rebukes, and guides us along with his staff and rod. This should bring great comfort to the believer as we seek to pursue personal obedience to Jesus and his word. My dear one, we have in God’s celebratory fashion, a pronouncement of sorts that comes as a result of restoration. When we’ve been corrected and disciplined, Jesus prepares a lavish feast for us to join him and others he has rescued in celebrating his goodness and mercy that follows us all our days. It is upon that day of correction and discipline we return to dwell in the house of the Lord forever (vs.6). 

This year has brought many dark days. It has brought many dark months of isolation, loneliness, falling back into sinful habits you once thought barely had a heartbeat in your life. But, my beloved, there is more hope in these dark days than you can even imagine. For those of us still wrestling with the darkness that looms in our minds and hearts, there is hope. On the darkest day of the year, we are reminded that December 22nd is the day the earth begins to turn again. Morning dawns and the earth begins its cycle of chasing more light once again. As John 1 reminds us, the true light which gives light to everyone, has come into the world, and from his fullness of light we receive grace upon grace (the power to choose light). Today is December 23rd and I have the power, the grace, to choose light. My soul is on its axis spinning toward more light, more grace. Winter ends and spring comes with its new life. While the roots of my soul are winterizing for a time, my heart is being prepared for the life that is promised to come: freedom, rest, lush green pastures, and living waters. While I continue my pilgrimage to my eternal home, I can hope in the light of Christ’s first coming and yearn for his second coming. But, while I wait, I have a Shepherd keeping me. Leading me. 

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