All I Want for Christmas is Hope

[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sara Barton is the University Chaplain at Pepperdine University. She is the author of “A Woman Called”. She and her husband, John, have two children, Nate and Brynn. You can follow her on Twitter HERE. This article was originally published HERE by Huffington Post.]

Do you ever feel that the 24-hour cycle of breaking news literally might break you?

That it might break your heart?

I have to confess that in light of the heavy news in the world, I’m struggling with hope this year.

The latest quiz online asks, “Which Christmas character are you?”
And I’m afraid to take it because I know with certainty that I am not Elf this year.
Scrooge is toying with me.
Hopelessness is under my tree.

When you’re hopeless, it’s hard to imagine something new.
Hopelessness imprisons imagination.

When you’re drowning in debt, you can’t conceive a way out.
When codependency glues you to an abusive marriage, you can’t see independence.
When you are unemployed for over a year, you doubt that a better resume will make a difference.
When your alcoholic parent makes promise upon promise that she won’t ever drink again, you and hopelessness roll your eyes in unison.
When terror begins to own your country or state or city or neighborhood, you cannot envision safety anymore.

Hopelessness dreams a dead-end nightmare that nothing new can come
or will come
or that God will make it come.

And yet somewhere within us, this tenacious thing we call hope won’t seem to let imagination die. History tells us that people in even the worst circumstances have somehow found hope. Stories of hope inspire us. Movies about hope move us. It’s why we find a Rey of hope in Star Wars. We connect with stories that narrate good overcoming evil, light overcoming darkness. Hope awakening.

Many of us turn not only to Star Wars but also to our holy books for hope, and I wonder if it’s simply because they are ancient that hope uniquely springs from old, old people. People who lived before us had reason to give up, but astoundingly, they maintained imagination for hope. Their stories of hope survived, and somehow, inexplicably, that helps us survive.

When I open my Bible this Advent season, two ancient women, Mary and Hannah, are tutoring me in hope.

Childless Hannah, who begged and prayed and cried for a baby, was getting nothing in answer to her prayers except bullying from perhaps the first Mean Girl ever, Peninah.

Powerless Mary, an obscure teenage girl, was called to believe that her unplanned pregnancy was a part of a powerful plan bigger than herself.

Two brave and courageous women who could have given up, did not give up.
They boldly proclaimed that there are real reason to hope!
Ancient song-writers, they both broke free from the chains of hopelessness and burst forth with new songs.

In contrast to the doubting men in each of their stories,
these women dared to hope,
not some polite, spiritualized hope,
not some cutesy, naïve hope,
not some Miss-America world peace hope.

Despite the political chaos of both their situations, they sang politically-incorrect messages of justice for all, peace for all, hope for all.
Despite their place at the bottom of societal pyramids, they defiantly attested to hope far greater than the false control, power, domination, and greediness that put them there.

They said that God holds the foundations of the earth, even when the earth feels like it is shaking with injustice.
They proclaimed that God is acting in history, fulfilling promises and blessing people, even though circumstances may appear to the contrary.

They believed in hope when it looked like hope was being trumped.

And somehow, perhaps particularly because they were the most unlikely candidates for hope, their songs soared above the chaos and challenged others who were hopeless to look up and imagine.

If, like me, you wonder where hope comes from, open your Bibles and read these beautiful stories of women who spoke out of their days into ours. You can find them in 1 Samuel chapters 1-2 and Luke chapters 1-2.

Their stories cause us to ask,
what made these strong women sing such valiant songs?

Can you imagine hope like theirs?

That’s what I want for Christmas.

What We Get Wrong About Advent

[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stephen Miller is a worship pastor, artist, and author of “Worship Leaders, We Are Not Rock Stars” and “Liberating King.” Follow him on Twitter HERE. This article was originally HERE posted in Relevant Magazine.]

hands on wreathI am, generally speaking, an optimist. I tend to look on the bright side of things, see the glass as half full.

And yet, if I am completely honest, this practice has become increasingly difficult over the last few years—particularly around this time of year.

This month a few years ago, my wife and I felt the sting of death as we experienced our second miscarriage that year. Last year, a long-time friend and father figure called to say he had been diagnosed with cancer, just before my job as I knew it came to an end. This year, the news is oversaturated with bombings and shootings, war and death. So much darkness and sadness and mourning—so much brokenness.

Contrast that with the meaninglessness of the “Holiday Season” that the West has come to celebrate. Commercials cater to our consumeristic comfort idols by showing us beautiful people with smiling faces, enjoying the good life and telling us we need more and more stuff if we want to be happy too. Radio stations fill our ears with a sonically shimmering, polished veneer of jolliness and cheer.

Advent is About Reality

I have historically been the guy who would put up my tree the day after Halloween and listen exclusively to Christmas music until I was forced to stop. It was as if, for one holly jolly month, I could just take a break from all the brokenness around me and pretend all was right with the world.

I don’t want to sound like the Grinch, but it has all begun to feel a bit hollow. It often seems we are looking for happiness and hope where it was never meant to be found—in facades and fake smiles. This has robbed an entire season of the meaning and beauty it inherently has; not one of an over-realized eschatology where everything is already perfect, but a realistic hope that though things are broken now, Jesus is making the world right again—and He’s on His way back to finish the job.

We shouldn’t ignore the fact that we are in the middle of the mess, but we can celebrate the fact that we have a God who is above all the mess, sovereign and wise.

This is the hope of Advent. We shouldn’t ignore the fact that we are in the middle of the mess, but we can celebrate the fact that we have a God who is above all the mess, sovereign and wise. He is in control. And He is coming to make all things right.

When the rest of the world is acting like nothing is wrong even while it spirals in despair, Christians can sing songs like “O Holy Night” and “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” which remind us of the “thrill of hope” we have in Christ. Though the world lay “in sin and error pining,” our weary souls have a promise that some day soon He will break our chains and set the captive free. He will disperse the gloomy clouds of night and put death’s dark shadow to flight.

We have the hope of Revelation 21:3-6, where the voice of the Lord spoke to the Apostle John of the glory that awaits us.

“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away… Behold, I am making all things new… Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true… It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”
God gives us an amazing promise and then ends with, “This is as good as done. I am who I say I am and I do what I say I will do. And not one thing can stand in My way or stop Me.”

These words are the glue that holds believers together when everything around them is unraveling. In miscarriages and cancer, job changes and terrorist attacks, God is still a God who keeps His promises. When He says He will do something, He will do it.

Advent Is About a Promise

In the garden, when Adam and Eve first sinned and all the world broke, God promised to send a Son who would redeem all that was lost and save the world from their sins. When Jesus came, God proved that He keeps His word.

The first Christmas wasn’t about warm fuzzies and fake smiles. It was an act of war on death and darkness—planned from before the foundation of the world by a God who doesn’t lose.

Look at the extremes to which Jesus has gone to win us back from the death we had earned; to give mercy in place of the wrath we deserved.

Though very nature God, He didn’t hoard that. Instead, with kindness and compassion, He emptied Himself, and the King of Kings made Himself a servant. He got up from His throne where He ruled and reigned with all the riches and perfection of Heaven, wrapped Himself in flesh and moved into our poverty and brokenness.

The One who hung the stars and created all things was born to a virgin in a barn so that He might be hung on a cross by the very ones He created. He lay down His life that we might live.

This is our God—the One who fulfills all that He says. If He has done all this before, proving Himself faithful, then we can surely count on Him to keep His word now!

Advent Is About the Future

Advent reminds us that this same God has promised that just has He has come before, He will return to make all things right and all things new. To fix all that is broken. To destroy sin, sickness, and sorrow once and for all, and to shine the perfect light of His glory on us forever.

He won’t return as a baby in a manger, but as a conquering King who puts death and darkness under His feet for good and lets us share in His victory for eternity.

Advent is the realistic hope that the Church holds out to a world that’s playing house in Stepford. It is the truest joy in the midst of deepest sorrow. It is the beauty we see through the tears.

We are waiting, sometimes painfully, but our Help is on His way. And so we join in the song of Advent. The song that John so concisely taught us in his last words of Revelation, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Our God who keeps his promises will surely keep this one too.

My Best (and Worst) Christmas

[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Skye Jethani is an author, writer, and pastor. This post in its original format can be found HERE on his fantastic blog.]

dark christmasEleven years ago this week, my son Isaac was born prematurely. We spent everyday with him in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the hospital. On Christmas Eve, however, to give our three-year-old daughter something resembling a normal holiday, we went to church as a family. When we returned to the hospital later that night, Isaac looked weak and slightly jaundiced. He was so small, just under four pounds, that we put him inside his stocking for his first Christmas picture.

The next morning we awoke to grief rather than gifts. Isaac’s tiny body hemorrhaged and went into shock. We nearly lost him. For weeks he was kept alive with feeding tubes and blood transfusions. Eventually a consensus among the doctors started to form: Isaac’s liver was failing, and even if he recovered, which was unlikely given his size, we were told children with his condition do not live to reach ten years old.

UCLA’s basketball coach John Wooden said, “Adversity is the state in which man most easily becomes acquainted with himself.” In the weeks following Isaac’s birth, I became well acquainted with my anger. It was cruel and unfair, I told myself. Once before I had experienced the pain that comes when a family loses a child. Now I must experience it again, but this time as the parent. The effects of my brother’s death had reverberated through my parents and their marriage for over 20 years. How would Isaac’s loss now change my life and marriage? Our son’s illness also tested my hope in Christ.

Looking back to that Christmas in 2004, Isaac’s condition did not cause me to question what my faith said about the future. Instead it caused me to question the usefulness of Christianity in the present. I still believed Christ would someday redeem all things, but with a sick and possibly dying child, a grieving wife, and an angry soul, I needed to see evidence of that redemption now. It wasn’t enough for Christianity to offer a hope for tomorrow, my weak faith—like the faith of so many others today—was searching for evidence of God’s power today . That became my prayer. I needed my eyes opened to see that God was with us and the power of his resurrection was at work in the ordinary brokenness of my world. He answered that prayer.

Isaac’s symptoms seemed random and contradictory. For weeks doctor’s struggled to understand what was happening inside his three-pound body. From this chaos they began to construct order. Using their skills and tools they pieced together theories to explain his bleeding and his malfunctioning liver. They ran tests and patiently helped us understand what they were doing to our son. Some of the doctors, aware of their own limitations, prayed for Isaac. They recognized some things were beyond their ability heal, and they humbly submitted to God. In the chaos they gave us glimpses of order.

As the weeks passed, Isaac’s stable in the NICU filled with flowers, balloons, toys, and hand-made blankets. Neighborhood kids and those from our church drew cards and pictures. The most beautiful sight, however, was arriving early in the morning to find Isaac being rocked in the arms of a volunteer. Women gave their time to hold infants in the NICU at night so that parents could rest. These surrogate grandmothers knew many of the children would never live. It was a useless offering—and all the more beautiful as a result. In the ugliness of those days these wonderful women were glimpses of beauty.

Unlike the teddy bears and flowers, many of the gifts we received were very practical. We did not cook a meal for two months. Food arrived at our door every day from friends at church, and sometimes strangers who’d heard about our need. Others cared for our older daughter so we could spend more time at the hospital. Anonymous checks came to assist with medical bills, and some came with notes explaining that God had placed it upon their hearts to help. In our scarcity, these generous gifts were glimpses of heavenly abundance.

Through these people and many others who faithfully engaged their callings, God was helping me see his presence within our wilderness. He was showing me that my hope could withstand the reality of this fallen and fearsome world. I felt like John the Baptist racked with fear and doubt in Herod’s dungeon asking Jesus, “Are you the one? Because everything I see tells me I was wrong.” Jesus responded to John’s doubt with kindness by sending John’s friends back to him with reports of his kingdom’s reality. They helped John see what he could not see from his place in the shadows—the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk. Similarly, Christ graciously offered me glimpses of his kingdom even in the darkness of those days through doctors, friends, nurses, volunteers, and generous Christian brothers and sisters. As my vision was restored, I slowly found my anger dissolving and replaced with a peace I could not explain. This peace was most noticeable while waiting for the definitive test results on Isaac’s liver. My wife and I sat by the phone all day. Before it rang, we each expressed our trust in God, we affirmed our hope for the future regardless of the outcome, and we took comfort in the many ways we had already seen his kingdom through the faithful people manifesting order, beauty, and abundance all around us.

When the call came, we learned the test results were not good. Based on the doctors’ explanation we accepted the fact that we were going to lose our son. I had given him the name Isaac before I knew his story would mirror the Biblical character’s. The Lord asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Now he was asking me to surrender my Isaac as well, and like Abraham I could choose to trust his life to God or cling at anger, control, and fear.

That evening I found myself reading the words of Saint Augustine in his book, The City of God, where he describes our eternal home as a place of perfect peace. Augustine emphasizes the pervasive shalom that will fill the age to come. He writes, “There we shall rest and see, see and love, love and praise. This is what shall be in the end without end.” The last phrase lodged in my—the end without end—and it soaked me with hope the way a summer downpour drenches the ground. The truth of it ran from my head to my toes and I knew it was true in a way that went beyond knowledge. I knew the loss of Isaac would not be the end. We who belong to Christ do not believe in ends. We believe in the abundance of life. Isaac’s life would never end, and neither would mine. As the ancient prayer of the Church says, we believe in a “world without end.” Having seen the evidence of God’s kingdom in the present, and having a renewed hope in the unending kingdom yet to come, I found the faith to surrender Isaac to his care. My vision of tomorrow had given me strength for today.

Like Abraham at Moria, I did not know that God had also provided a ram in the thicket for me. Days after the definitive test on Isaac’s liver, a new specialist was brought onto his case. He offered a very different explanation for his symptoms and test results. He concluded that Isaac would recover and be perfectly healthy. No need for transplants, or transfusions, or more tests. It seemed too good to be true, but time proved the specialist was right. Isaac did pull through. It was a long process with a number of set backs, but today he is a perfectly healthy boy. The takeaway is not that outcomes are always positive, or that faith will spare us from the harsh realities of the world. Scripture, history, and our own experiences prove that is not the case.

Instead we are to recognize that the wilderness will not endure forever. Our hope, rooted in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is that a day is drawing nearer when the power of his resurrection will transform the world and the chaos, ugliness, and scarcity of the wilderness will be overcome by the order, beauty, and abundance of the garden city of God. Until then, we also find hope in the message of Christmas. Jesus Christ is Immanuel—God with us. We must pray for the eyes to see the evidence of his presence all around us in the lives and faithfulness of Christ’s people and their work, and we seek to cultivate these glimpses for others walking in darkness.

How Christmas Confronts My Faulty Thinking

[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jeff Peabody is pastor of New Day Church in Tacoma, Washington. This article was published HERE by Leadership Journal.]

mountains

For my entire life, I have been a “resolution” person. I am uncomfortable with things being open-ended, whether that’s in an argument or transformation in my own soul. If you’re a Meyers-Briggs aficionado, picture me with a big fat “J” in my temperament type.

But I’ve concluded there is faulty theology lurking behind my need for closure. At the root of my impatience is the mistaken sense that being in process inherently falls short of God’s will; that I am perpetually not measuring up.

Here’s how the graceless part of my mind works: If God is holy and perfect and if his desire for me is to be holy and perfect, how could anything less truly be his will? He wants more than my progress–he wants my completion. How can I be okay with continued struggles and suffering? How could he be the author of a slow process that allows sorrow and ungodliness to remain in and around me? Why not eliminate it outright? “Partial” translates to “less than,” and process suggests compromise, a less than ideal state to be grudgingly endured rather than embraced.

Of course, I would never agree to that thinking once it is spelled out. But that’s how I’ve functioned.

From what I can tell, I’m not alone. Christians find process troubling. We want to rush people through their grief. We’re uncomfortable when forgiveness takes time. We look for instant healing and push for total transformation in others without any incubation period.

Reflecting on the birth of Christ, here’s what I realized: Jesus becoming a baby automatically put God’s seal of approval on a slow process.
Reflecting on the birth of Christ, here’s what I realized: Jesus becoming a baby automatically put God’s seal of approval on a slow process.

The angel announced salvation to the shepherds, but what they saw in the manger was an ordinary-looking infant—an infant who needed time to grow up. It would be more than three decades before the meaning of God’s redemption plan would be visible.

In the intervening years, Jesus had to endure teething and potty training and puberty. He had to learn to walk and talk. He had to experience sleepless nights and countless conversations and calloused hands and fish breath and stubbed toes.

Why would God do that? Why not send his son as a grown man who went straight to the cross, or at least straight to his public ministry?

Jesus spent the bulk of his earthly life in process, “growing in wisdom and stature,” as Scripture says. Yet Jesus always did his Father’s will and never erred once. That means God’s full and unreserved blessing must rest on process as well as completion. The “becoming” was as much part of his plan as the ending. Grace for slowness is built into the very nature of the Incarnation.

I can’t concoct a human rationale to justify the existence of evil and suffering. Not all things are mine to know. What I do know is that God is good and loving, and he can never be anything other. When I can’t comprehend God’s timing, here are truths that are clearer.

THE PATIENCE IS GOD’S, NOT MINE.

We think we’re the ones learning patience. We complain about God’s delays. But remember what Peter says: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

When we bought our house 12 years ago, the builder was pumping out homes at record pace. That was just fine with us; we couldn’t wait to move in.

But some aspects of homebuilding weren’t intended to go quickly. We learned that when the sewage pipes backed up five days after we got keys. To this day there are “character flaws” we live with in the house, thanks to rushed construction.

God moves slowly for our good. What is needed on our part is not patience but surrender.

GOD IS AT WORK EVEN WHEN I DON’T SEE IT.

That first Christmas, after the shepherds returned to their fields, they probably never saw Jesus again. Most of his life was hidden from them. But it didn’t diminish the truth they had believed.

And the fact that the shepherds couldn’t observe Jesus growing up and healing people and teaching and dying and rising didn’t change the fact that he was doing all those things. They may have been entirely in the dark about how God’s plan was unfolding, but it was unfolding nonetheless. What Jesus said in John 5: 17 is true today: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”

We can get discouraged thinking nothing is changing because we can’t see it. But that is a misperception.

PROCESS IS NOT THE SAME AS PARTIAL.

When the shepherds went to the stable, they saw the real Jesus. Granted, he was only a few pounds of baby, but it was all of him there. He still had to grow up and die, but the cross was part of his identity already. He was as much God in the flesh as a baby as he would become as a man. God’s commitment to the rescue of humanity was fully there in the hay. God’s love moves in step with the pace we can handle. The proof was right there, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

This is why God doesn’t need to scramble. From his perspective, the work is already accomplished. We are in process, but we are also complete. He is satisfied with what Jesus has done. Our job is to trust that his work applies to this moment. As God looks at us, he is not seeing our failures and struggles as central–he’s seeing the blood of Jesus that is more than enough to cover our broken, sinful, stumbling process.

Here’s a radical thought: Instead of striving for sinless perfection, what if I focused on learning what it means to live like I’m forgiven? Maybe that sounds like being soft on sin, but in reality it takes it even more seriously. It acknowledges the fact that I am helpless to complete the work myself. I need a Savior who has more grace for me than I do.

It also creates room to be gracious with other people, because we’re all in process. If God isn’t expecting you to have arrived already, how can I set a higher bar for you? P.T. Forsyth said it well: “We do ill to force the ripe experience of the cross on those who can as yet feel but its dawn.”

I’m still weary of sin. It is right to want the struggle to be over. One of the cries of the Bible is, “How long, O Lord?” But Jesus coming as a baby gives me permission to accept—and yes—even enjoy my own slow progress.

 

It Was a Night Like This

[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Eric Bailey lives in Prince Albert, greatly enjoys his wife and two sons, and is woven into the fabric of the Glen Elm Church of Christ in more than a couple ways.]

I grew up listening to Irish music. Mostly just the Irish Rovers and the Clancy Brothers. The Irish Rovers sang the silly songs and the funny songs while the Clancy’s sang about war and pride in their homeland. Even now the Irish Rovers are often remembered at Christmas for their great Christmas song, “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” a moving song about the loss of a loved one and the dangers of letting just anyone drive a vehicle (or something like that).

A few years ago I was gathering some of the Christmas songs from my youth and on the same album by the Irish Rovers was this little song that captured my thoughts for Christmas time, “It Was A Night Like This.” I have not been able to find the song online by them but there is a Tom Paxton rendition of the song here:

As a Bible student I learned many of the problems with the different Christmas songs. Talking about snow, talking about Christmas Trees, the little Lord Jesus no crying he made and all those inaccuracies. This song has its problems with describing the Christmas scene but as it hits the chorus something happens and I find myself moved with the story of the birth of Jesus. This song describes it so clearly so succinctly “Nothing’s going to be the same in this whole world, everything changes tonight.”

Advent is when we are looking forward to Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the beginning of the earthly life for God in the flesh. Christmas is marking when history, when the fate of the world took a turn for the better. God entered the world in the form of a baby. I remember feeling like my parents did not understand as if they had never been my age. Our God, our creator changed history, experiencing life as we do before he sacrificed himself for us.

As we focus our minds on through the themes of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love leading us to Christ my mind marks this with the lines from that song “Nothing’s going to be the same in this whole world, everything changes tonight.”

Luke 2:4-20 (NIV)

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

The Hopes and Fears

[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jonathan Slywka lives in Regina with his beautiful wife Sarah, and his darling 9-month-old daughter, Annabelle.  He is passionate about cycling, and about seeing people live in the light of who God is.]

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

This line from the famous Christmas carol has been ringing in my head throughout the Advent Season.

As you surely know (if you have been following this Advent Blog) we have been reflecting on the theme of ‘Hope’ together as a faith community – gladly embracing the hope of Christ as we celebrate his birth, both in history, and anew in our lives each day by the Holy Spirit.

hopes and fearsLord knows we need this, for it seems to me that hope is everywhere opposed by fear.  The fear that springs from daily reminders that our world is so desperately broken; that human-kind is so awfully adept at terrorizing one another.  The fear that manifests itself in the movements of empires, warring for control of the earth and the allegiance of men; just as it does in my own heart and mind, when I exclude, when I withhold, and when I draw the line ever sharper between “us” and “them”.

And still the words of that carol resound in my mind.

How could it be that the spiralling lines of mankind’s hope and fear converged upon that manger in Bethlehem?

The desperate cry of God’s people, for deliverance from the hands of their enemies, and the evil emanating from their own souls – that his salvation might be revealed and peace restored.  The yearning of every human heart for the tyranny of evil and death to somehow be ended, and our yearning for unspoiled beauty and loving relationship to be finally, fully realized.  All questioned by the nagging sense that maybe our hopes have been misplaced, that maybe we are abandoned to this mess – our hope for deliverance nothing more than a wishful dream – that life is just a meaningless charade, and death the final word.

As we again approach the manger this Advent Season, let us be captured anew by the significance of what we find there; of Who we find there.  And as we gather to light candles and sing carols, let us not mistake what is going on here – what we celebrate at this time: this is not just a quaint tradition to warm our hearts and briefly still the clamouring voices of doubt and fear that ring in our heads; this is nothing less than the recreation of all reality.

In the light of Who was found in that manger – in the light of the Incarnation – everything has changed.  God is ever and truly “with us”.  And having been joined to God in the person of Jesus Christ the Son – “by whose descent among us the worlds are reconciled” (Richard Wilbur) – we can now stand together with the Apostle Paul to boldly proclaim: “…nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Hope and fear are themselves redefined in the light of Him who is “the light of all mankind”.  In Him our hope for deliverance, for renewal, for the restoration of peace, is now secure.  And what of fear?  It can be nothing but an illusion, in the company of Him who has defeated every enemy – evil, brokenness, mourning and pain, even death itself.  “The hopes and fears of all the years” are surely answered at the manger in Bethlehem, as God’s Word breaks the silence of that night.

The world was lost, but Christ was born.  Rejoice, all creation!

When Waiting is Hard

[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Janelle Ross is a mom, mostly, which is great fun, frequently hilarious, and occasionally heart-wrenching. She writes about mom stuff and Jesus stuff on HER BLOG.]

I dropped into the middle of Advent from travels in a country that doesn’t celebrate Christmas. I landed at the Toronto airport after a fourteen-hour flight, bleary-eyed and definitely not bushy-tailed, and after clearing customs I did what any good Canadian would do. I sat down and enjoyed a Timmie’s coffee in a red holiday cup, thank you very much. And the season began.

It’s been a strange week, since. I’ve tried to feel the feels. I’ve tried to connect with Mary, the way I’ve been able to in Advent seasons past. I’ve tried to remember my own pregnancies, and to conjure that sense of wonder and anticipation. I’ve attempted to settle into the hush, the pause, the pregnant preparation.

waitingBetween you and me, it’s not happening. Waiting, this year, has not been sweet or simple or celebratory. I’ve been jetlagged and bronchitis-y and struggling with those post-adventure, now-what-am-I-going-to-do blues.

Waiting is often hard, you guys. I’ve waited for babies I was told I might not ever conceive. I’ve waited in stormy darkness for children to arrive home. I’ve waited for bad news to be confirmed and I’ve waited for promises to be kept and it’s not all fun and games and happy endings.

Bah, Humbug? Sorry.

Now, maybe Noah would seem an unlikely guy to restore my hope this Christmas season, but scripture does it’s thing in strange and mysterious ways, and Genesis 8:1 has been my Advent verse.

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.

God remembered Noah, after ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY DAYS of being packed into a floating zoo.

If I’d been Noah, it wouldn’t have taken long for me to tire of the waiting. Maybe that’s my problem this year. I’m simply tired. I’m tired of reading stories of displaced people waiting for homes. I’m tired of hearing of yet another shooting in yet another school or mall or church. I’m tired of seeing pictures of missing people and I’m tired of poverty and I’m tired of myself and my silly concerns.

Maybe you are in the midst of a difficult season of waiting. Maybe you are feeling tired, this year. Maybe waiting is taking it’s toll rather than filling you with hope. Maybe life feels like Day149 on the stinkiest cruise ship ever and maybe it seems like you’ve been forgotten. But, praise God, He loves us even beyond our ability to make our traditions meaningful.

If your Advent has been less than joyful, consider Genesis 8:1 with me, and know that He remembers, even as the rains fall and the floods rise. He remembers. And so, once upon a time, Hope was born in a stable in Bethlehem, into a confused and waiting world.

Hope is Sure

[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mike Parker lives in Saskatoon with his wife Michelle and their two boys where he serves on staff at the Saskatoon Church of Christ. He is the author of “Holy Toast” and continues to enjoy writing every chance he gets.]

Consider this well-known passage from Hebrews 11:1:

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (NIV)

What an oxymoron!  Wait, before you get upset and think I’ve insulted you as the reader or the writer of Hebrews – whomever that may be, let me explain.  Merriam-Webster defines an oxymoron as “a combination of words that have opposite or very different meanings”.  According to my understanding of English vocabulary (which I concede is rather limited at times), “being sure” and “certain” are about as opposite and different from “hope” as you can get.

  • I hope I got through that intersection before the traffic light turned fully red and the camera captured my license plate.
  • I hope the Riders will win the Grey Cup next year, or at least end the season above 500.
  • I hope it won’t get below -10 or snow more than 10 cm this winter.
  • I hope that a relative I didn’t even know I had passes away peacefully in his sleep at a very old age having lived a wonderful life and leaving me as the sole heir of his billion dollar estate.
  • I hope that at the end of my life I can look back with very few regrets.
  • I hope that my kids grow up to love and serve God faithfully.
  • I hope you will find this BLOG post encouraging and uplifting.

Hope is not being sure or certain.  Hope is crossed fingers and lucky rabbit’s feet.  Hope is holding your breath and knocking on wood.  Hope is a shooting star and throwing salt over your shoulder.  Hope is the roulette wheel of life – you put your money down and pray your number comes up.  That’s what the world has always told me hope is: luck, chance, wishing.

But to the writer of Hebrews hope is something different altogether.  Hope is confidence.  Hope is promise.  Hope is assurance.  And hope can be all these things, not because we become so great at hoping, but simply because the one we are hoping in is so great.  That’s where my list above falls short.  It hopes in football teams, the weatherman and my writing ability – all of which are long shots at the best of times.  But the writer of Hebrews hopes in the creator of the universe.  He hopes in the Messiah who was willing to die to save your life.  He hopes in the Spirit that lives within us.  He hopes in the Christ who will return and take all His faithful followers to be with Him forever.  When God makes a promise it’s no coin toss.  There is no drawing straws.  No one asks you to pick a number between one and thirty-six.

It is a certainty.

It’s a sure thing.

It is hope.