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.

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After the Last Tear Falls

[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jill Slywka lives and works as an optometrist in Merritt, BC. She loves the mountains of BC, but always loves being able to come home to the prairies and to her family here.]

merritt bcI’ve lived in Merritt, BC for over 6 years now, and for most of those 6 years, I’ve spent my Tuesday evenings with a fun and quirky group of teenagers.  Spending time with them is often the highlight of my week, and I know I’ve gained more from them over these years, than anything that I’ve given to them.  We try to give them many things on Tuesday evenings – a safe place to come and ask questions about life and faith, a fun place where they can come and hang out with friends, and if nothing else, a place where they can come and have a snack.  But as I look around at these kids week after week, I can see that so many of them know brokenness, hurt and pain intimately.  I don’t know all their stories, and if I did, I’m sure my heart would break to know what some of them have gone through in their short lives.  I wish I could wipe away all their tears, and get rid of all of the pain that has been a part of their lives, but it’s precisely because of the hurt that I see in them that I know in my heart that one of the most important things we can ever give to them is HOPE.  They may not even realize that we’re trying to give it to them – but through our actions and our words, we’re trying to show them there is HOPE in this world.  HOPE, through Jesus, that the brokenness you feel in your life doesn’t have to be the end of the story.  HOPE for healing, for justice, for belonging.

So how can I show them this hope that we have, that we as Christians have access to?  Especially at the end of a long year, and I’m weary and tired, and find it hard to even see much hope myself.  How can my heart even dare to feel hopeful when we’re bombarded by brokenness on every side?  Does hope even matter in these days?

While sometimes my head tries to tell me that it doesn’t, that hope is just ‘wishful thinking’, my heart knows otherwise.  My heart knows that it does absolutely matter, and that we would be lost without it.  The other day, I was reading a blog by one of my favourite writers, Sarah Bessey, on why Advent matters.  I often find in reading other people’s words that they say something exactly the way that I wish I could, so rather then stumbling through and trying to find those words myself, it’s easier to just share what they have said.  You can read the whole blog HERE (and you should!), but the words that particularly struck me on that day were these:

But how could we possibly celebrate Advent if we are paying attention to this world?

How do we make merry when our hearts are broken by Paris, by Syria, by Kenya, by Beirut, by Japan, by Burundi? When, in response to every crisis, our communities seem splintered and divided in how to respond, and careless words are flung like rocks at our own glass houses? When, closer to home, perhaps we are lonely or bored or tired or sick or broke?

In these days, celebration can seem callous and uncaring, if not outright impossible.

But here’s the thing about Advent: we celebrate precisely because we are paying attention.

It’s precisely because everything hurts that we prepare for Advent now.

We don’t get to have hope without having grief. Hope dares to admit that not everything is as it should be, and so if we want to be hopeful, first we have to grieve. First we have to see that something is broken and there is a reason for why we need hope to begin with.

Advent matters because it’s our way of keeping our eyes and our hearts and our arms all wide open.

‘We don’t get to have hope without having grief’.  It’s in times when we feel like hope is impossible, that we need it the most, and somehow through all sorts of chaos and brokenness, hope is able to spring forth.

Andrew Peterson has been a favourite musician of mine for several years.  I often find his music strikes a chord within my heart, and while I can’t even always put into words what it is that touches me about his songs, I think that part of the reason is that so many of his songs have an underlying message of hope.  A couple months ago, I stumbled upon this performance of one of his older songs, ‘After the Last Tear Falls’, and I knew immediately that I needed to share this as a part of this blog focused on hope this year.  His words at the beginning, while somewhat specific to a particular event from a couple years ago, could just as easily be applied to us today, and the events that we’ve witnessed over the last couple months.  The song just gives me hope that yes, this world is broken, and yes, hard, hard things will happen in this life, but we know that this brokenness is not the end, that one day all things will be made right.  And if that doesn’t give me hope, then I’m not sure anything else can.

Hope for the World

For years, I have been appreciative of The Work of the People, a collective of beautifully-spirited folks who labour to produce films and resources that might bless the church.

The piece below features Jenny Flannagan, sharing a piece called “Hope for the World. (I purchased this video for use in our Small Groups and have posted it for ease of use. If you appreciate it, please feel free — nudged — to support WOTP with a donation or subscription.)

Perhaps, like me, you’ll feel as though Jenny’s telling of the “old story” helps you hear — or feel — parts of it for the very first time.

Heart Sickness

[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jared Oberkirsch is in the home stretch of completing his training in family medicine. He lives in Regina with his beautiful wife, Haleigh, and together they battle the craziness of life; feeling as though they were never properly advised about this adulthood business. 🙂]

Words make more sense to me when they are compared with their opposites.  To better understand hope, it’s helpful for me to consider hopelessness.

DepressionIn this little experiment, the first word that pops into my mind is depression. Depression is a big expansive word that can mean many different things to many different people. Depressions are low points. They manifest as economic recessions and downturns where money and financial securities are suddenly lost in a puff of smoke. Depressions are the sunken places in nature – the hollows of forests and valleys of mountain ranges. They are indentations in wood furniture and footprints along the beach.

Depression also refers to sadness. We use this word to describe our mood all the time. It’s a word that rolls off our tongues all too freely and we can miss its darker undertones. In truth, depression is stone cold. It’s this crippling darkness that steals the joy from our eyes and the smiles from our faces. Depression is pounding waves – over and over – that erodes the stable places where we feel safe. At its worst, a depression can convince us that our only option is to just jump in to those waters and be swept away entirely.

Tough stuff. But this is real life for some of us.

There are two simple questions that I often ask people who pass through my office. These questions are just part of my routine. They have to be because if I don’t ask, some people would just hide behind forced smiles and small talk. Usually I open with, “And how has your mood been recently? If you consider the past two weeks, have you had:

1.     Little interest or pleasure in doing things that you usually enjoy?

…or have you been…

2.     Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless?”

There it is – hopeless – right in front of me. One of the most common barriers to mental wellness is this state of being without hope.

Proverbs 13:12 reads, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” That’s not really surprising is it? Those who cannot find hope experience suffering. Whether you see it on the news or in the stranger you pass on your way to work, suffering is all around us. This world is broken. Hopelessness is all around us.

Take HeartBut take heart, friends. Hebrews 6 describes hope as, “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” It’s a beautiful metaphor. Everyday the world washes over us – wave after wave – trying to catch us off balance and sweep us away, but our hope keeps us secure.

Hope is that feeling that drives away the darkness. Hope gives courage when all our previous efforts have failed. Hope lifts our downcast eyes and fixes them on our Saviour – the one who has already conquered the night.

“Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear.” [President Snow, The Hunger Games].

 

Learning How to Hope

For years, I have been appreciative of The Work of the People, a collective of beautifully-spirited folks who labour to produce films and resources that might bless the church.

The piece below features Brian Zahnd, speaking on the theme of “Learning How to Hope”. (I purchased this video for use in our Small Groups and have posted it for ease of use. If you appreciate it, please feel free — nudged — to support WOTP with a donation or subscription.)

Truth be told, I’m blessed simply by the title of of this video. It suggests that hope is a skill to be learned, that our default tendencies bend toward fear or worry or despair, but that the Master who disciples us is intent on leading us in a better way. Hope can be learned, so let’s pay attention.

 

I Wish I May

[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alicia Krogsgaard has exchanged the white-sanded beaches of Mexico for the white-covered lawns of Saskatchewan.  She loves being back with family, but misses Mexico’s warmth, beaches and beautiful people!]

It was a balmy summer night.  Fireflies were but dim torches in the evening’s twilight.  Oh, how I longed to catch a glimpse of the first star, as I perused that vast southern Alabama sky!  The scene is forever etched in my memory.  I don’t recall the object of desire in my achy heart, but I do remember the profound hope of having that desire met, should I wish upon that first little star.

With the passing of time, the disappointment of my unanswered hope dulled, but my innocent heart had hardened under the dashed, disillusioned hope.  I don’t recall ever wishing upon another star….

How many other stories could we all recount of disillusioned dreams, unfulfilled desires and dashed hopes?  The fact is—in this fallen world, disappointment is an all-too-familiar part of life.

Eve’s easy reach for the forbidden “pomegranate” led to disappointment, as the blood-red juice trickled from her expectant lips to her trembling chin.

Abel’s righteous sacrifice fueled Cain’s disappointment, which led to the grievous cries of a brother’s spilled blood.

Sarah’s crafty orchestration of God’s birth-plans led to her dashed hopes and to hateful racist encounters that endure to this day.

David’s desire and deviously hopeful plans led to the death of his innocent, illegitimate child.

Jeremiah’s prophesies of change and hope landed him in a muddy pit.

The message of other countless prophets of God floated upon deaf, hopeless ears and hard hearts.

The world had become a mess; there was no hope.  Disillusionment and disappointment reigned….

Then, one night, beneath that one special star—not a wishing star, but a star of hope—a star of certain expectation, a baby was born.  He was a God-baby wrapped in human flesh—the very one of whom the prophets had spoken—the very one who would give REAL HOPE to this lost world.

The baby grew into a man—a man with an affinity for the feel of wood in his hands.  He gathered a following.  He touched the people’s hearts and hopes, as He cast his vision of reconciliation and victory.  Hope was restored.  God’s people would again be conquerors through the leadership of Jesus.  But, alas, it was not to be….Hope was again shattered as the “Jewish Salvation” hung on a tree.  Despair and disappointment once again filled the streets and hearts of God’s chosen ones.

But then, only days later…the earth shook.  The temple curtain was torn.  Dead men walked away from their tombs.  Meanwhile, a stone was being rolled away from a borrowed burial-cave.  Hope was soon to be restored.  It was not a hope of wishfulness.  It was not a hope of human-making.  It was a God-designed, God-ordained gift of expectation—a gift of restoration and reconciliation—a gift of salvation, not from a physical malady, but from a spiritual one. THIS was a spiritual hope that could not be understood by the flesh.  THIS was a hope that would be offered to a hopeless world, a hope that extended from Adam and Eve, to you and me!  THIS hope is not fleeting. THIS hope does not disappoint.

Consider Romans 5:1-2,5:

We have been justified through faith; we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…; we rejoice in the HOPE of the glory of God.  HOPE does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.

JOY TO THE WORLD, HOPE HAS COME!!!

 

The Paradox of Hope

[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jason Bandura works with the Glen Elm Church of Christ. Married to Shannon, he is Dad to three delightful daughters. He lives on the Canadian prairies and writes occasionally HERE.]

hope street signHope gets overlooked.

Recall the famous summary of 1 Corinthians 13:

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

In our hustle to award the gold medal to love, with an awareness that faith “obviously” receives silver, we miss an obvious question: What is hope even doing on this podium?

To even be part of this triad, hope is apparently a big deal.

In fact, my friend Andy Dufresne would argue that you can hardly underestimate the power of hope.

Connecting a sense of hope to the music exhibition that landed him in solitary confinement, Andy argues that places like prison make the need for hope that much more pronounced. His friend Red disagrees, and strongly: “Hope is a dangerous thing. It can drive a man insane. It’s got no use on the inside. You’d better get used to the idea.”

Perhaps you’ve heard that whisper in your heart: “Hope is a dangerous thing.” It’s a sense that hope is weak or wishful, a too-fluffy sentiment in a world of harsh reality. And it tempts us to give up hope in realms of life where disappointment is getting old. Why bother?

Screwtape LettersThe classic “Screwtape Letters” depicted the mentoring of a junior demon by his senior, with instruction and strategy on how to ruin the life of a believer. Even today, this book can make a thoughtful reader curious: “If the devil were targeting my life, on what would he set his sights?”

My guess? Hope.

Hope fuels and fertilize every one of the Fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5), while a sense of hopelessness sets about tainting and shrivelling that very same set of fruit.

As we said, hope is a big deal.

But here’s the paradox: While hope is indeed a big deal, it typically involves very small moves

Popular imagery of hope consistently depicts smallness:

  • Speck of Light: The human eye is said to be able to perceive a single candle miles away, illustrating the power of even a sliver-sized hope to draw us forward and call us on.
  • Anchor: Perhaps an anchor strikes us as a well-sized item, but in relation to a ship, it’s astounding that such a proportionately-small object, securely grounded, can root an enormous vessel.
  • Dove with Branch: One imagines the wild excitement of eight ancient people on an Ark, reasoning that a cilanto-sized piece of greenery was indicative of the impeding existence of a tree and then a forest and then a plot of land and then a future.

And that’s how hope works. Hope is the tiny thing that turns “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t” just a micro-measure into “Sigh… well… maybe I can.”

Consider Psalm 147:10-11:

10 His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of the warrior; 11 the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.

How shocking are these words to folks who obsess over proving and improving ourselves! We take pride in our abilities to “stick it out” and “buckle down” and “measure up”. Imagine that the Mighty One delights not in our massive efforts to impress Him, but in our small motions toward trusting Him. We hold that God is great and grand, so we theorize that He is impressed by “great and grand”. But it appears that our steering hope – often feeble and flimsy and faulty and fickle – toward His unfailing love is actually what thrills His heart.

Hope is a big deal.

But hope involves small moves.

And Advent — with all its smallness of infant and stable, of manger and Mary — seems a timely point to once again set our sights on hope and the One who provides it.

What small move might you make today?