What is hope? An expressed longing? A simple want? A wistful wish? I believe hope can be described in a myriad of ways: Invisible goodness. Whimsical. Childlike. Joyful. Ridiculous. Intangible. A chance for heartbreak. In my life, hope is a distant flicker of light. It’s delight ignites a spark in me to continue on. When I consider hope, it keeps me waiting, engaged as to what possibilities are headed my way.
Remembering Christmas’ of long ago, December was a lengthy wait hoping for Santa Claus. There was an excited longing to see what new toys would arrive under my tree. I’ve long been a friend of Santa. His big, jolly red suit appeals and his “Ho, Ho, Ho” lights up a room. On Christmas morning, I’d creep down the large staircase spying the stockings first. Delight would overcome as I saw mine filled to the top with goodies. Pure elation through the morning as gifts were unwrapped and newness was all around. By the afternoon of Christmas, I entered into a gift coma, coming down from my high. The realization of waiting another whole year for the red sleigh to appear settled in. The waiting was over. Santa had come, filled his promise of toys and headed back to the North Pole. A mix of bittersweet joy overtook my childhood self. I couldn’t believe it was over.
As I aged, I became aware of the importance of Christ in Christmas, but still ached for all the newness Santa brought. After Josh and Luke were born, my relationship with Santa became a bit rocky. Jesus and I were becoming better friends and, truthfully, Jesus was freely offering me what Santa couldn’t. Santa always talked about his naughty and nice list while Jesus’ death on the cross declared his radical love for me by erasing anything “naughty” I’d done. Santa brought toys, but better gifts to some and no gifts to others in the world. However, thousands of years ago, a holy angel came proclaiming, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people” (Luke 2:10) meaning the gift of Christ was available to anyone, anytime, anyplace. Santa’s gift of gadgets was amazing for a few days, but Jesus’ gift of spirited life unfolded a day by day adventure of learning, reflection, growth and love. Jesus’ gifts seemed much more life-giving than Santa Claus’ gifts, but Santa had one advantage. Each year, I easily imagine all the stuff I long for from Santa while the invisible hope of Christ is a much larger struggle.
In the rush of buying gifts, sending cards and making cookies, Christ seems a distant flicker. Christmas season lends itself to fast moving cars, long lines, and plentiful preparation. Typical daily circumstances continue in the mix: dinner to make, house to clean, mini irritations poking at me. At the end of the day, turn on the TV for only a moment to have the light of hope snuffed out by angry news, past bitterness and tragic story. In this season of Advent, the blessed month of waiting, the hope of Christ can easily be an abstract desire, not a tangible reality.
So, what is this holy hope we talk about and how does it change things? My hope in Christ began when I learned about His lineage of messed-up people. I hadn’t considered that Christ’s ancestors would be anything less than prim and proper. Thankfully, I was wrong. Christ’s heritage includes (among others) a deceiver named Jacob, a sly temptress named Tamar, a prostitute named Rahab, a foreigner named Ruth, an adulterer named David and one willing soul named Mary. All these past ancestors of Christ show how His holiness was birthed through the ordinary. These were men and women who didn’t have it all together. They were individuals who chose the wrong road at times, but, they believed in a God greater than themselves.
My hope in Christ continued as I understood His entrance into the world challenges what the kingdom of God looks like. This upside-down king didn’t come waving a mighty scepter wearing a majestic crown, but came defenseless, wrapped in swaddling clothes. Jesus came extending his hope to outcasts, foreigners, gruesomely ill and persecutors. Jesus came for those who knew everything about Jewish law and nothing of Jewish law. Jesus came for you and I, because we are all needy through the eyes of God. Yes, Jesus’ love was radical and it brought a different perspective – one that claimed power and wealth don’t reign, but a tiny baby does. A baby of compassion and mercy. A holy child who submitted to a messy birth allowing typical, sloppy love of a human mom and dad to care for Him.
And, now, as I prepare for this holy reckoning headed our way on December 25th, I can’t help but highly anticipate THIS HOPE Christ brings. THIS HOPE promises his flame glows in the darkest places. THIS HOPE extends life to the worn down and weary. THIS HOPE says death does not have the final word. THIS HOPE says nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing. THIS HOPE resides in an inverted world – where the last are first, the meek are blessed, the mourners are comforted.
This Christ hope gives me the ability to name hopes, big and small. Hopes, visible and invisible. And, so I hope. I hope for love to reign and bitterness to end. I hope for reconciliation to mend and hard hearts to melt. I hope for this Christ child to renew minds, souls and spirits. Christ (WAS) a child born from a lineage of common humans; Christ (IS) among us as His Spirit works through ordinary people; Christ (WILL COME AGAIN) reigning victorious as His kingdom has no end.
Hoping in an invisible God doesn’t always come easy. But, this is the blessed month we receive each year to slow down and dwell on Emmanuel, God with us. The God who walked (and walks) among us to show us how to love. When we slow down, our invisible God may become visible. We may see his hope through listening ears, lit-up starry skies and EMS squads running toward the tragedy. We may experience God’s hope through a child’s smile opening a gift, a song sung at church Christmas eve, or the bite of a delicious cookie. When we slow down and acknowledge the simple hope surrounding us, we can’t help but be prompted to join God and spread His message of hope for all. By remembering Emmanuel, God with us, we know a hope who overshadows death, who washes away sin, who proclaims love. So, this Christmas, may we hope past the physical gifts and instead hope for the invisible – an expectancy of Christ to meet us in our days.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13
What are the seeds you are wrapping up this season for hope and growth in Christ? What are you laying down hoping the Holy overshadows and infuses presence into?
With a Child:
Name something invisible you would like for Christmas.
If you have 5 minutes, Hallelujah (Light Has Come) by Barlow Girl: