At a time in my life when things were not like I wanted, I sat in a restaurant booth across from a friend as tears streamed down my face explaining how everything was going wrong.
The holidays were around the corner. I was short on cash. I was helping other people but no one asked me if I needed help. I needed to find a new place to live. I was pastoring a church and thought I was a failure. I was doing a Christmas concert and felt unprepared. I was a stressed-out, overwhelmed mess.
We had just left a service that was part of an Advent observance. Though I smiled through it, tears welled up in my eyes when the candle representing hope was lit. I didn’t let tears fall as Scripture passages were read and we sang O Come, O Come Emmanuel. But sitting across from my friend, I sobbed. For me, in a season where I was expected to celebrate Advent, I felt like doing no such thing.
My friend let me cry and then encouraged me to remember that my hope was not in my circumstances, but in my savior. My friend encouraged me to reread the Christmas story and to do things to be a blessing to other people.
For many people, this season can be a challenge. Life is hard. Things happen that catch people off guard. And it is never just one thing. It seems that difficult circumstances and situations come in waves that overwhelm.
For the first time in 20 years, a friend will celebrate Christmas without a spouse. It is not only the separation and impending divorce that rattled the friend. It was all the things that happened leading up to the separation and divorce request that has my friend in a place that seems hopeless.
And hope looks different for people. For the mother of an addicted child, hope is her child completing rehab, returning home and the family resuming its daily routines. For the child, hope is completing rehab and moving 2,000 miles away from the environment that cultivated and fed the addiction.
In this season, they are overwhelmed as they seek to find what hope looks like.
What circumstances or situations overwhelm you or someone you know? The breakup of a marriage? The death of a spouse or a loved one? The loss of a job? An addicted child? Aging parents? An undiagnosed illness? A terminal illness? An out-of-control child? An estranged relationship? A difficult job situation? Tense living conditions? Financial pressures from student loans, medical bills, or unexpected expenses? Car repairs? A crazy political climate? Difficulty find a job? Difficulty keeping a job? Mental illness? Depression? Oppression? Constant criticism? Unacknowledged achievements? Homelessness? Unemployment? Underemployment? Unmet expectations? Feeling like a failure? An unexpected transition? Family pressures? Chronic illness? Lack of health insurance? Injustices? An unjust situation?
Sometimes, people feel like they have no hope even after they have been successful because it doesn’t seem to be enough.You can fill in the blank for yourself about what overwhelms you or someone you know. For some people, it’s not just one thing, it a combination of things.
However, as we prepare our hearts to remember the birth of the Christ child and anticipate his impending return, know your hope is not in your circumstances, but indeed, in Christ, who is with you. The promise was made in Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (God with us).”
Word that the promise is being fulfilled comes as Jesus’ birth is announced in various New Testament Scriptures. One of my favorites is in Matthew 1 when Joseph is told he should still marry Mary even though she was pregnant, because the child is from the Holy Spirit. A fiancé pregnant with a child you didn’t father probably did dimmed the hope Joseph had for the future of his relationship with Mary. However, the hope for his relationship was likely restored after the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream telling him: “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).”
In this season, if your hope is gone, waning or in short supply, my prayer is that as the candles on the Advent wreath are lit, it will reignite hope in your heart. I pray you are reminded God is with you. If your hope is gone, may the flame not only rekindle hope, but may it also remind you God loves you.
As his love surrounds you, I pray you feel the peace and joy celebrated in this season, even if you don’t feel like celebrating. Know this — God’s promises are true and God is with us. May the light of this season illuminate your way to restored hope in the resurrected Christ!