LIGHTING THE CANDLE
He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil for you are with me.
Have you noticed how many of the stories we tell at Advent and Christmas are about light shining through darkness? There is the movie classic about George Bailey, at the end of his rope wanting to end his life. There is the underpaid clerk, Bob Cratchit, and his dying son Tiny Tim; and the story of a financially strapped Jim and Della in O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.” And what child would forget the citizens of Whoville, waking up to Christmas and discovering that the Grinch has stolen all the presents! Even a secular and post-Christian culture is taken by the story of a peasant Baby born in a manger. These are stories of hope and redemption, of light breaking into dark times and places.
In today’s scripture, the light of God breaks into David’s “darkest valley.” In this beloved Twenty-Third Psalm, David testifies to the Lord as his Shepherd who leads him “in right paths for his name’s sake.” By those “right paths” the Lord leads David to green pastures, beside still waters, providing for all of his needs. But then, David tells of those “right paths” leading him “through the darkest valley.”
The Hebrew word translated as “darkest” is tsalmûth, variously translated in Scripture as “black gloom”, “deepest darkness”, “thick darkness”, “deep shadow”, and “shadow of death”. Job uses this word to tell of “deep darkness” on his eyelids, and the terrors of “deep darkness” (Job 16:16; 24:17). The psalmist uses the word tsalmûth for prisoners in dungeons of “darkness” and gloom (Psalm 107:10). The ancient Hebrews used this word for any of life’s darkness or trouble, and any place of grief and sorrow. Read the Bible’s history books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, and see the many times David is led through life’s darkest valley! David is no plaster saint or a stranger to darkness and gloom.
But note the significant change of pronouns that David writes in these lines; David changes from third person singular to second person singular when talking about God. He began this psalm in the third person singular, talking about the Lord: “He makes me lie down…he leads me beside still waters…he restores my soul…”. But as David walks through life’s darkest valley, he stops talking ABOUT his Shepherd, and starts talking TO his Shepherd: “I fear no evil for YOU are with me.” It is in the darkest valley that David truly learns God’s presence with him.
I am starting to thank God for my dark valleys, and learning to say to Him: “I believe that you are with me! No evil can hurt me!” For our Lord Jesus reassures us, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). And His faithful Word promises, “’I will never leave you or forsake you.’ So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5b-6).
To be able to say with David, “you are with me”, drives away darkness and fear. We know that we never walk through the darkest valley alone! Jesus goes with us and leads us THROUGH! We shall not be lost IN it.
Sometimes when I do fear the darkness and what is happening in today’s world, I like to reflect on God’s wonderful promise: “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
Today we light Advent candles, knowing that with Jesus’ coming, God is with us forever! For a virgin has conceived and borne us a Son, and His name is “’ Emmanuel”, which means, “God is with us” (Matthew 1:23). Yes, God is with us. He gives light in our darkest valleys!
PALMS DOWN/PALMS UP
Gracious Lord, we thank you for always leading us in the right paths, even when they lead us THROUGH dark valleys. We thank you that you will always give us what we need, and more. Help us today to trust what we say we believe. Amen.