Here in the Gloomy Clouds of Night | Advent Devotional Series: 2 Samuel 11:2–12:24, December 24, 2020
Read and pray through: 2 Samuel 11:2–12:24
Introduction | The Christmas story begins with Jesus’ family tree. And over these next few weeks of Advent, we are looking more closely at the four women highlighted in Jesus’ lineage as recorded by Matthew in his gospel: “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham…” (Matthew 1:1). If you’re new to this devotional, we encourage you to read the Introduction to this series that explains both the structure and purpose of Matthew’s genealogy. The overall focus of this devotional is addressed as well. You can find the Introduction to this devotional series by clicking here.
Reflection | When I first heard the focus of this Advent Devotional series and was asked to participate, my answer was immediate, “I want to write the reflection about Bathsheba!”
There is something about the story of Bathsheba and David that compels me, something that I continually come back to and reflect upon. One dimension of this “something” is, I believe, a feeling for responsibility to give Bathsheba her due; to untangle this biblical woman from a traditional portrayal that has lacked nuance and empathy. I want to give Bathsheba her voice. We must acknowledge, at least briefly, that Bathsheba is the only woman listed in Matthew’s genealogy who is not referenced by name. Pastor Chris has offered some perspective on why this may be; that this is not a slight against Bathsheba, but a reminder of David’s culpability in the sinful situation presented in 2 Samuel 11. Nevertheless, there is something…uncomfortable about the way Bathsheba’s personal identity is reduced to almost proprietary language connecting her both to David and to Uriah. She, as a person, becomes like a footnote, used to remind us that Jesus is of David’s line, even in the midst of David’s sinfulness.
But the broader element that draws me to Bathsheba’s story is that in many ways it invites us to sit in the mess, in the grief. Hers is not a story that ends wrapped up with a bow. Throughout this series, we have seen the ways in which God has entered into the mess and redeemed broken people and situations for His good. We anticipate the ultimate restoration and salvation that Jesus brings for all the world. But as we sit in this present moment, there is a lot of pain around us. On this Christmas Eve, it can be hard to lift our voices to wish ourselves and others a “Holly Jolly Christmas” in the face of so much unsurety. Many of us have experienced loss this year; the loss of loved ones, of jobs, of expectations. “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” but does it feel that way?
Our western, American culture is not particularly comfortable sitting in grief. We rush to focus on the bright side, the silver lining. We paste on smiles and offer platitudes that everything will work out for the best. Don’t misunderstand, there is reason for hope! God is good and in control of all things; the Christmas story is indeed good news! But hope and good news do not erase the pain we have experienced. That suffering is still acute. This is a reality reflected in the biblical practice of lament. In lament, we give voice to our longing and loss and look to the Lord for acknowledgment, recognition, and comfort. Practicing lament is an important part of our lives of faith. When we bring our sorrows and longings before God, we are aware that God cares. Our God desires to be in relationship with us, and that level of intimacy requires that we be able to bare our souls to Him. There is room for lament this Christmas.
Bathsheba’s story has much to offer us as we navigate the conflicting emotions of this season. In fact, I am struck by the significant points of comparison between the 2 Samuel 11 narrative and the Christmas story. There is a marital scandal, an arguably inconvenient pregnancy, and the loss of children. This last point might make us raise our eyebrows. We often skip ahead in our reading to Solomon, breezing by the child Bathsheba and David lost. But they both grieved this lost child. His premature death was not erased by Solomon’s birth. Likewise, as we focus (rightly) on the Christ child lying in the manger, let us not forget the many mothers and fathers crying out in anguish having lost their children to Herod’s murderous decree.
What is important about lament is that in entering into it, we are not alone. Bringing our griefs, our anxieties before the Lord, we join the company of Bathsheba, of Tamar, of Naomi. We share their burdens with them, and they share ours. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ”(Galatians 6:2). But more importantly, God enters into the lamenting place with us too. In the bleak midwinter, a Christmas that might feel particularly cast in shadow, Emmanuel still comes. The joy and miracle of the Nativity is itself in the shadow of the Cross. The life the baby Jesus has come to lead is marked by the ultimate suffering and sacrifice he will endure at Calvary. Jesus himself will cry out in lament, quoting a psalm of David, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Christ’s pain is real, our pain is real, but by the grace of God we are still here and death will not have the final word.
God hears our laments; His heart breaks with ours. I think of 1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” God did not abandon Bathsheba, God has not, does not, will never abandon us. The dawn of a new day is coming, hallelujah! But Jesus is here with us even in the night.
O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel
Consider & Discuss | Think of the people around you. Think of the lament, the hard times, and the pain they may be going through this holiday season. Pray for their situations, their heartaches. Now think of how you may be a listening presence for them during these tough times.
Prayer Focus | Lord, as we enter into the miracle of Christmas, we ask for comfort for those of us who feel trapped in the shadows. We invite you into our brokenness and come before you as we are–imperfect and in need of our savior. Jesus, make known to us the places in which you are calling us to come alongside one another. May this Christmas, one in which many are physically and geographically isolated, be a time of togetherness and community in spirit. Amen
Come, Lord Jesus, come!