God’s people have many ways of expressing godly grief over our own sin or over tragedies we endure in this fallen world. Here are a few examples.
 
From 2 Samuel 13:
 
[19] And Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long robe that she wore. And she laid her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went.
 
From Esther 4:
 
[1] When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and he cried out with a loud and bitter cry. [2] He went up to the entrance of the king’s gate, for no one was allowed to enter the king’s gate clothed in sackcloth. [3] And in every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree reached, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.
 
From Jonah 3:
 
[5] And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
Of course, we are never required to perform such outward rituals when we grieve over sin or the fallenness of the world. But to condemn all such rituals is Gnostic. They have their place, as physical manifestations of a repentant heart, just as feasting and gift giving are proper manifestations of a thankful and joyful heart.
 
In Matthew 6, Jesus condemned outward fasting and mourning rituals done to look pious or as a kind of religious showmanship. But we know he was only condemning the hypocritical abuse of these rituals, not the rituals themselves, because a few chapters later, he tells us what real repentance would look like if those cities that saw his mighty works had humbled themselves. In Matthew 11, we read:
 
[21] Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
 
So disfiguring your face to show others you are a superstar believer and a holier-than-thou Christian is forbidden. Do not be a Pharisee. But manifesting genuine brokenness and contrition over sin, even in sackcloth and ash, is commendable.
 
Welcome to Lent.

The absurdist Albert Camus once wrote, "Death is philosophy's only problem." For Camus death is the ultimate problem because if every human story ends in death, it renders the rest of our lives meaningless. The wise man Solomon expressed a similar concern over death in Ecclesiastes 2:12-17 when he pondered the sobering fact that the wise man and the fool both come to the same end: If "the wise dies just like the fool," what good is wisdom? In chapter 3, Solomon extends this line of reasoning when he notes that what happens to beasts also happens to men -- "as one dies, so dies the other....They have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts."

Yes, we are technically still in the Advent season for a couple more days, but this is the time of year folks begin to greet one another with "Merry Christmas!" The origin and exact meaning of the phrase "Merry Christmas" is somewhat debatable, largely because the word "merry" has carried different connotations at different times.

This time of year, many Christians say things like, "Remember the reason for the season." The point, of course, is that the real meaning of Christmas must not get lost amidst the presents, the parties, and everything else that typically goes with the Advent/Christmas season. I agree and disagree.

The times we live in require courage on the part of God's people. Our faith is assailed from various angles in our culture. We need courage to hear and do God's Word. We need courage to preach the gospel in a culture that is increasingly hostile Jesus and his truth. We need courage to stand against influences that come from the entertainment industry, civic leaders, and news media. We need courage to resist the temptation to panic in the face of pandemics and politicians, rioters and newscasters. Remember: There are people out there who want you to live in fear. If you become fearful, you are easier to control, easier to manipulate.

C. S. Lewis rightly regarded courage not a separate virtue but as the testing point of all the other virtues. If we lack courage, all our other supposed virtues will fail when they come under fire, which is perhaps why Scripture is so emphatic that cowards will not inherit the kingdom of God (Revelation 21:8). The Christian faith is not for cowards.

G. K. Chesterton rightly captured the paradox at the heart of courage: "Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. A man must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water, yet drink death like wine." We can further unpack Chesterton's insight: Courage means a strong desire to be liked taking the form of a readiness to be despised and vilified. Courage means a strong desire to be successful taking the form of a willingness to lose everything, if faithfulness requires it. And so on. Anais Nin further underscores the value of courage: "Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." Courage means doing the right thing even when facing your worst nightmare for doing so, but this is precisely why courage opens up new possibilities and brings us maturation.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn noticed the waning courage of Western man in famous speech: "A decline in coruage may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days." He then went on to ask the question: "Should one point out that from ancient times decline in courage has been considered the beginning of the end?" Our culture is undergoing a failure of nerve, and many in the church are contributing to this deficit of courage. Billy Graham once made the point that courage can spread: "Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened." But of course, cowardice can also spread like a virus through a community or a culture, leaving it in shambles.

We must set an example of courage for our children. We need to teach our children stories of noble bravery. Lewis again: Since it is so likely our children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least heard stories of brave knights and heroic courage." We can especially draw courage from Scripture. In J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Gandalf tells the fearful King Theodan, "Your fingers would remember their strength better if they grasped your sword." But in our case, courage will be fortified if our fingers grasp the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12).

We must remember that as Christians we are a race of dragon fighters and serpent-skull crushers. God commands us again and again in his Word to "Fear not." Our courage arises from our faith in the God who is with us. It's been rightly said, "Courage is fear that has said its prayers." Saint Patrick sang, "I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity" -- and thus he did not fear any thing or any man in all of creation. We can do the same, and God helping us, we will.