In the course of the past week, I both attended a memorial for a family member who passed away and held for the first time the newborn baby girl of one of my very best friends.
I have close friends experiencing the happiest times of their lives while others are walking through the hardest, wondering when they’ll see light at the end of the tunnel. Some afraid to hope, because that might mean experiencing heartbreak once again.
Isn’t that one of the bittersweet realities of life? The fact that moments of deep suffering and utter joy coexist simultaneously?
Today holds a few more hours of Christmas Eve and then tomorrow we celebrate the event in which all of the waiting represented in the 25 days of advent finds its fulfillment: the birth of the greatest newborn.
Tomorrow morning, the pitter patter of little feet will hasten to thuds as children everywhere go racing down hallways, beckoning tired parents to wake long before they’d like so the merriment of the morning can begin.
Or, if the “kids” are older, the roles may be reversed. At my house, my brother and I will likely sleep in until my parents decide they’d better wake us so we don’t miss Christmas dinner (only a slight exaggeration).
Gifts will be opened, giggles will be shared, and cozy PJ’s will be snuggled up in, curled up on the couch beside the Yule log.
But beyond all the bells, baking, and bows lies the true meaning of it all: a Baby, born in the town of Bethlehem. The Thrill of Hope who entered a weary world over 2,000 years ago.
The joy of this season is easy to recognize, but what’s easy to miss is its context of pain and suffering.
For hundreds of years before Jesus was born, God’s people lived in exile, enslaved. They lacked belonging and peace, and they were intimately acquainted with the pain of unmet desire. They’d been promised a coming Messiah who would bring freedom and restoration, but many generations lived and died without tasting the fruit of that promise.
The idea of advent sounds wonderful, full of anticipation. But it represents a period of waiting. And the very existence of waiting means that the Israelites lived without that which they longed for most desperately. Considering the gap between the promise and its fulfillment, they must have wondered when God would come through, or even, if He would at all. And I’m sure they didn’t expect His deliverance of that promise to come in the form of a baby.
Maybe, like some of my friends, this season for you is full of immense joy. That should be celebrated.
Or maybe it’s full of waiting. Waiting for some end in sight to the suffering, waiting for healing, waiting for God to fulfill His promises to you.
Waiting often involves yearning deeply for something, but it being completely out of your control. Waiting hurts.
Maybe like mine, your life is woven with both: joyful things to be thankful for, exciting opportunities ahead, and the best friends and family. But also waiting. For growth and restoration in certain areas. For the fulfillment of His promises. For desires to be met.
That’s the tension of this world we live in, here between the first and second comings of Jesus. Joy and peace exist but so do pain and suffering. So we rejoice with those who rejoice and grieve with those who grieve. And in the midst of both, we must hope.
Recently at church, the speaker shared a story during her sermon about a surprise birthday party she had thrown for her husband on his 30th. They’d been living in a small apartment in San Francisco, so friends had graciously opened up their slightly larger space.
Ruthie, the speaker, spent weeks lying to her husband and running around the city like a madwoman trying to get everything bought and planned and cooked. She worked tirelessly to bring together his loved ones and gather his favorite foods, all with acute attention to detail and all without him having the slightest clue.
As they walked up to their friend’s apartment the night of the big surprise, Ruthie thought she saw some people who were supposed to be at the party already, so she quickly tried to distract her husband. A close call, but she managed to keep the surprise intact. A few moments later they made it up to the apartment and the doors opened.
A look of utter shock and joy spread across her husbands face as he received his surprise. And as Ruthie recounted the story, so happy simply to have blessed her husband, you could see the same joy beaming from her own face.
She then asked us the question: for a human to love her husband and find such joy in blessing him, how much more does an infinite and perfect God wish to do the same for us?
God is, right now and always, working behind the scenes to orchestrate His blessing in our lives. He wants to surprise us. He is redeeming the painful moments and crafting into the joyful ones details so intricately tied to who He created each of us to be and to the stories He’s written for us. Even in the moments we can’t see it.
There’s a verse on hope I absolutely love. It reads:
Isn’t that a fear when it comes to hope? That we’ll hope for something only to be exposed a fool? That we’ll have gotten excited about something that doesn’t happen? That’s why it can be so difficult to acknowledge a desire that is as of yet unfulfilled. It’s vulnerable.
But God tells us that those who put hope in Him will NOT be put to shame. In other words, we can trust Him with our hope. We have security.
Jesus is good when hopes are fulfilled and He is good when they are not. His answer may not be what we expect, but hope is never wasted because He uses it to draw our hearts deeper into His own.
Sometimes we can catch glimpses of what God is orchestrating backstage. If we look, even the painful moments have in them slivers of beauty that point to a coming joy. At the memorial I attended earlier this week, there as well was the childhood friend of the man who had passed away. In his nineties and there to support the family, this man shared memories from a friendship that had endured from childhood until the last days. As he spoke he provoked in the rest of us wonder at a friendship spanning a lifetime, and all that it must have seen the two of them through. In his words were hope and beauty.
God wants to plant hope in us. He wants to grow it until it pushes up again all that surrounds it. Against the doubt. Against the pain. Against the worry. He wants to grow that hope to full term and birth it from within us.
A thrill of hope, the weary word rejoices.
Advent points to the Light coming into a season of darkness at its peak.
Through yonder breaks, a new and glorious morn.
As my friend with the newborn will tell you, on the heels of the most excruciating pain rides the most unimaginable joy.
Whatever season you may find yourself in, I pray that you’d know the one true Hope sweeter than any earthly satisfaction. And if you don’t, send me a message because I’d love to talk.
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