Christmas is doubtlessly a busy season for most of us. It can be overwhelmingly full of the chores of shopping for gifts, cooking for family get-togethers, and decorating our trees. Not that it’s all bad, mind you. We love the excitement and expectancy of the season as we sing our Christmas carols, hang our Christmas lights, and send out our Christmas cards all while we wait for the fun of receiving our gifts and enjoy (hopefully) the giving of them.
But perhaps what we love best about this time of year is the rekindling of hope in our hearts like a cold and dark fireplace suddenly springing to new life when a small and hidden ember bursts into a cheery blaze that once again warms a home.
Hope is an essential ingredient for life, its sweet savor making bearable and even pleasurable a dining table set with circumstances that we would otherwise find unappealing and even revolting. Without hope, peace is an illusion, joy is hollow, and faith is empty. Hopelessness can be a spectral wraith haunting not only our dreams but also our waking moments, draining our labors of purpose and our suffering of meaning.
It is probably obvious that hopelessness is rampant today. It not only wounds and wears upon those who have been overcome by sickness of body, but also men and women who are sound in body, but are afflicted with illnesses in hearts and minds that others cannot see. Hopelessness not only holds drug addicts in its ruthless and merciless grip, but also successful business people who have come to realize that they have acquired plenty of material benefits but have not acquired any lasting fulfillment from them. Hopelessness not only torments victims of years of cycles of abuse, but also those who themselves possess power and prestige but have found such baubles to be pointless in affecting change in lasting and meaningful ways.
Hope is something we desperately need, but so rarely find and sustain in the dark watches of winter and in the long seasons of trials of this life. It is like the hoped for oasis in a sprawling desert after finding only mirages along the way. Hope is essential to every one of us no matter who we are or where we’ve been. But ironically everyone who is now tortured by the pangs of hopelessness once actually had hope… but such hope was placed in the wrong things.
Our hopes are placed wrongly in our political leaders as we look to them to remedy our society’s hurts, yet they fail… either from their own corruption using our trust to advance their selfish ambitions or from their own limitations as we find them simply unable to do all that they promised.
We place our hopes in education, but we find that head knowledge cannot change hearts as it becomes clear that hurt, fear, prejudice, and violence continue. In a similar way, some of us place our hope in media in the belief that it can inform and inspire people to action. Often it does, but we have learned (from nearly a century of broadcast news) that often it is the wrong kind of action and that it is sometimes no more than a propaganda machine, uncommitted to truth but a skewed perception of things that leads us astray.
There are so many other things in which we hope, yet time and again we find that we have reached for mere phantoms. And each time we close our hands upon a promise that evaporates into nothingness, we are left a little more calloused and suspicious and even reluctant to endure the pain of once again placing our hope in something or someone.
The ultimate tragedy is that when we are finally met by the Source of true hope, we often dare not believe it. On the day that God shows up in our circumstances, wooing us by His Spirit to forsake sin and become His child forever, we feel so burned and disappointed by our pasts that we listen to the lie that, “Surely this is not true. God cannot or will not love me.”
This happens so often to us who have resisted His call and spent ourselves on things that appealed to our spiritually childish inclinations, flashier and easier substitutes for Christ’s call to forsake all and follow Him. The world is not lacking in its proposed alternatives to Jesus nor is the devil lackadaisical in inventing them.
Yet there is no path surer than that of Christ though it lead us through valleys under the shadow of death. The Living Word Who became flesh effectually offers you hope because He both desires for you to be His victorious child and also has power to achieve it.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made…. By Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together…. If God is for us, who can be against us? He Who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (John 1:1-3, Colossians 1:16-17, Romans 8:31b-32 ESV).
Hope spent in what is eternally able to deliver us and fulfill us is hope spent well. Hope that is misplaced is always eventually a disaster. Christmas is a season of hope, not because of gift-giving, nostalgic traditions, and families spending time together, but because it marks the occasion of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, leaving the glory of heaven so that you and I might be saved from our sin (*Matthew 1:21).
The Lord, speaking of Jesus says, “Here is My Servant Whom I have chosen, My beloved in Whom My soul delights…. The nations will put their hope in His name” (Matthew 12:18a, 21 HCSB, citing the prophecy in Isaiah 42:1-3).
So let the story of Christmas turn your eyes from mere temporary things to the eternal hope of heaven. If you will allow God to kindle within you His divine spark, it cannot be snuffed out however furious the winds of discouragement may blow. Hope, therefore, may be one of the greatest gifts given to you this season… or any season.
(Thom Mollohan and his family have ministered in southern Ohio the past 21 years. He is the author of The Fairy Tale Parables, Crimson Harvest, and A Heart at Home with God. He blogs at “unfurledsails.wordpress.com”. Pastor Thom leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at [email protected].)