I’m sure many of you would answer this question in different ways, but does your life feel all “Christmassy” right now – like a beautiful Hallmark Christmas card or your favorite “It’s a Wonderful Life” Christmas movie? I don’t mean to be asking foolish questions with obvious answers, but does it feel like everything’s going great in your life — like you don’t have any problems in your life — like you love every single person you deal with every day in your life — like every day of your life is a wonderful-couldn’t-be-better Christmas day in your life? I assume that most of you – and most likely all of you — would say, “Of course not!” “Not everything is going perfectly great in my life.” In fact, some of you might even say, “My life is kind of bad – and maybe even really bad — right now, and I don’t really know when it’s going to get better – maybe not even on Christmas Day itself.”
You know, if you are thinking that way – or even a tiny little bit that way — you might just be in the right spot to have a great Christmas! Look at verse 71 near the end of our lesson from Psalm 119 in bold print: “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” It was good for me to go through bad. As we close out our midweek Advent preparation, I hope we can see why it can be good for all us to be able to say even at Christmas, “I’m Glad Even When My Life is Bad!”
Let’s read the words from Psalm 119 together.
Now obviously we don’t want bad things to happen in our lives, and we don’t want bad things to happen in the lives of others. Our attitude as God’s people is the attitude expressed in the first verse of our lesson, where we pray, “Do good (not bad) – do good to your servant according to your word, O Lord.” We want good things to happen, and we pray for good things to happen, but the fact of the matter is that bad things happen. That’s why it’s so important to understand that opening verse when it says, “Do good to your servant according to your word, O Lord.” When bad things happen, we want to see according to God’s Word in the Bible how we can see those bad things as good things. Hopefully this can be helpful not only to us, but also to people you may know who are wondering if they really can have a Merry Christmas next week in the way they would like to have a Merry Christmas.
The verses of this Psalm give us two good reasons to be glad – or thankful – even in times of bad. One of those reasons is that it makes us talk to God – to pray. If you look at the underlined words in your lesson, you see that two times the writer of the Psalm prays, “Teach me, O Lord.” In verse 66 he says, “Teach me knowledge and good judgment for I believe in your commands,” and later in verse 68 he says, “You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees.”
Did you notice what those words do not say? They do not say teach me, Lord, how I can make things good. They say help me understand your commands; teach me your decrees. In other words, when bad things happen it is a reminder – and sometimes a very painful reminder – that we are not in control of our lives. Someone else is. We are part of a life that has been given us by God himself, and God himself invites us to talk to him in prayer at any and all times that he would give us what he here calls “knowledge and good judgment” – knowledge and good judgment about what is happening when bad things happen.
One important part of “knowledge” is knowing that there was a reason why the Savior had to come on Christmas in the first place. He had to come because of bad – not his bad – but our bad. Not every bad thing that happens in our lives is because of a specific sin, but bad things happen because of sin. That is why as God’s people we daily confess our sin and plead for God’s mercy – mercy he showed so wonderfully on that first Christmas night, when from heaven above to earth Christ came. Christmas will not mean anything to us until we realize we mean everything to God, and that in his love God did not want us to remain in that sin, or to think that life was just one dreary existence because of sin. So he sent his Son to “be sin for us” – to be the one who let bad things happen to him, so that good things would happen to us forever.
And that’s where that prayer that God would also teach us “good judgment” comes in. Good judgment means being able to have a good perspective or outlook about things. For example, there is a big difference in the types of things we might call bad at different times. We might call it a bad thing when we get stuck waiting for one of those Brookfield trains and are five minutes late to an appointment. It is a totally different kind of bad thing if our car gets hit by that train. Some things that we go through aren’t really all that bad in the whole scheme of things.
In God’s whole scheme of things nothing is really bad at all if it keeps us having a good perspective or outlook on whatever we might see as bad. For example, in verse 67 the Psalmwriter says, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.” Sometimes God allows a difficulty to come into our lives to wake us up because we are ignoring him. At other times God allows a difficulty to come into our lives as a reminder not to ignore him down the line. At all times it is in love that the God who sent Jesus to be the way to life does not want us to go astray in life.
And that is also a good perspective or outlook to keep in mind if we have people around us who fit the description of those in verses 69-70 who are “arrogant” toward us and “smear us with lies” or are very “unfeeling” toward us, as they think we are complete fools for talking like the way we are talking tonight or for saying, “I am sorry, Lord, for all my sins; forgive me for Jesus’ sake.” Instead, we can feel sorry for them and by us treating them in the opposite way – by us showing the opposite attitude – by us just being simple, humble Christian people — we can be a witness to them about how good it is in times of good and bad to talk to God in prayer – and to find help from God in his Word.
And that really is the second good thing that comes when bad things happen. It does make us talk to God. It also makes us listen to God. I hope you have noticed that we have been doing this all along as we have been talking to God. We have been listening to what God tells us in his Word, because it is in that way that the Lord answers our prayers – in this case by helping us understand why we can be glad even when our lives are bad. Talking to God can never be separated from listening to God.
The best way to understand what can be easy to say but honestly hard to really put into practice is to again look at the Christ Child and how his life developed. If there was anyone who had a lot of bad in his life, it was the Christ. That same little baby asleep in the hay ended up dead in a grave because the people he came to save had hearts that were dead to the thought that they needed to wake up from their sins – the same sins that you and I need to wake up from every day, but the same sins that have been put away by the One who covered them with his blood. All those bad things that happened to Jesus mean good things for you and me. And the more I listen to God the more I understand how good God is – and the more I understand how great it is to know that the bad things in my life cannot really do anything bad to me. They are meant to help me know that I need to talk to God, and that I can talk to God. And they are meant to help me know that I need to listen to God, and that I can listen to God as he talks to me so gently and so powerfully in his Holy Word.
The last verse of God’s Holy Word in our Psalm says, “The law from your mouth — your Word –is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.” I hope your Christmas celebration is filled with many pieces of silver and gold with gifts and family and things that mean a lot to you in your life. But I pray above everything else that more valuable than anything else is knowing from God’s Word why you can say, “I am glad even when my life is bad.” I am not happy about the reason for the bad, but I am thrilled that in spite of the bad, my dear God is so good – and that not with gold or silver, but with his Son’s holy, precious blood he showed how precious I will always be to him. Nothing in life can really be bad when, after talking to God, you listen to him tell you that. In that way, no matter what is going on in your life right now, have a great and wonderful last week before Christmas –because through Jesus Christ your Lord, all is good! Amen.