While I cannot guarantee that I’m back forever, I’m back for now. Coming at you with some thoughts on key themes of Advent: Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. I’m going to try to write these every Sunday afternoon up until Christmas. Key word there is “try”. 😉
So… Let’s talk about hope.
This time of year is supposed to be all about that, right? From the simplistic hope of kids wanting a certain gift under the tree to the deep longing to make amends with a loved one to the intangible “feeling” the season is supposed to bring in general.
But let’s be honest, the reality of the season so very rarely matches the hopeful expectation. Kids can’t always get what they want… Sometimes estranged loved ones stay estranged… And sometimes that “feeling” you’re supposed to have just makes you feel even worse when you don’t have it.
I know, I know… “What’s with the downer, woman? Uplifting! Think uplifting!”
Yes, yes, I’m getting there. But we have to be real before we can be uplifting. Stick with me.
I believe that the reason so many of us get so depressed around the holidays has to do with misplaced hope. I might even go so far as to say that misplaced hope is the main cause of a lot of depression year-round. And it’s completely self-inflicted.
(Disclaimer: I am not talking about clinical depression. That’s a whole other thing! Sometimes your body needs help, and while this stuff I’m talking about can definitely go hand-in-hand with that, don’t ignore your body’s needs. Okay? Okay. Disclaimer over.)
We hope in presents, family gatherings, friends, consumerism, nostalgia, dreams, expectations, etc. etc. etc. Then when those hopes aren’t met or are disappointing in some way, away we go into a spiral of negativity. And come on… when are our hopes ever not in some way disappointing? Life isn’t a Hallmark Movie, and it most certainly doesn’t tend to turn out the way we envision it.
What’s even worse is when we project those disappointed hopes onto God. We quietly think to ourselves that if God loved us… if He cared… He would have done something about those disappointments. We don’t usually say it out loud, but boy do our subconscious thoughts scream it.
How do I know? Because I live that too. I get angry at God when something goes horribly wrong. Shoot, I get upset when something goes a little wrong. I start getting depressed and thinking things like “Of course I had too high of expectations… why did I even hope for that?” with the quiet background noise of “why did I think GOD would do this for me?”
And so often, it’s over piddly little crap (can I say crap? Oh well, it’s done now) that God never promised.
So with that in mind… here are some things I believe are worthy of hoping in. Some things that God has promised us.
I have a favorite worship song that centers around this idea of hope (even though it may not seem like it at first). I’m going to use it to help me make my points. Here are the lyrics (minus repeated choruses and such):
You say come, ye weary, come and find your rest
In the arms of Mercy and the One who knows you best.
You are good. You are good. Let my heart remember this.
You say come ye broken, bring your burdens here.
There’s a healing fountain that is flowing deep and clear.
You are good. You are good. My deliverance is near.
In the pain I will sing, every tear an offering
To my God, to my King, Who’s redeeming everything.
Even now, You keep Your promise.
Even now, Your heart is kindness.
In the dark, I shall not fear
For You are on my side in battle.
God, my strength, my shield forever.
Where my hope is found, I will praise You even now.
The first promise to hope in: rest for the weary.
In Matthew 11:28-30 it says:
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heaven burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
If you’re like me, you’ve read that before and thought, “Nothing about this yoke is easy to bear and nothing about this burden is light.”
But if we’re being honest, so often the things that are wearing us down didn’t come from God at all. They came from us: rules we’ve made for ourselves and those unmet expectations that weren’t given to us by God.
The house isn’t perfectly decorated. The family gathering wasn’t all smiles and joy. The kids are looking at the naughty list as a “challenge accepted” situation. Nothing is going the way you hoped!
When Jesus was talking about his yoke and burden, He was talking about the love, mercy, and grace He came to offer versus the heavy list of rules, do’s and don’t’s, and suffocating expectations the Pharisees enforced at the time.
What Jesus came to offer was unearned grace and love. No checklist required… just simply reaching out to Him and saying you need it… you need Him.
We don’t do that very well in our society. Checklists must be made. Rules must be followed. Do’s and Don’t’s must be enforced. Expectations must be met.
That’s not His yoke or His burden, folks.
Let it go. (Stop it, I know what you started singing. Focus.) Let go of your expectations and just live in grace and mercy. It doesn’t mean you don’t decorate for the holidays or try to make happy memories with your loved ones. It does mean your hope no longer hinges on them going exactly as you envisioned.
The second promise to hope in: healing for the broken.
He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)
God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)
We live in a broken world full of broken people. You’re one of them. So am I. God has promised healing for that brokenness, however.
Sometimes we are broken by our own bad decisions. I giggle any time I see the saying “Everything in life happens for a reason… sometimes the reason is you’re stupid and make bad decisions.”
I mean… harsh, but is it wrong though? Still, even in the midst of your self-inflicted brokenness… God is there offering healing. It doesn’t mean the consequences will disappear, but you will heal.
Sometimes, we are broken by other people’s decisions or even just the world being a broken place. People die. Disasters happen. Love is rejected. And even though you may have done nothing wrong, there you are… broken.
God is there in that moment as well. Let me tell you, as someone who has been broken both by my own bad decisions and the bad decisions of others… there is healing. God doesn’t leave you. It takes time, you have to walk through the grief, but if you are genuinely following and trying to seek Him first, the healing will come over time.
Just don’t go expecting a broken bone to get healed in a day. That’s a little thing we like to call unrealistic.
The third promise to hope in: redemption for the pain.
Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:5)
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them. (Romans 8:28)
Let me say this clearly: we are not promised that nothing bad will ever happen to us.
And while you’re probably saying “I know that!” I would answer (in the voice of Thor) “Do you though?” Because if you’re like me, you say that… and then you get mad or despair when bad things happen anyways.
There’s this unspoken belief for so many of us that if we just do what we’re supposed to, God has to give us the life we want. Then when it doesn’t happen, we fall to pieces.
I explained it to the youth group this way: just about everyone likes some kind of cookie. Cookies are great. However… what about the individual elements?
Let’s see. Looking up a “made from scratch” cookie recipe…
Sugar. Yeah, that’s pretty good. Not sure I’d eat a handful of it by itself (then again… Pixie Stix).
Butter. Ummmm… probably not going to chomp down on a stick of butter.
Egg. Raw… hard pass.
Flour. Yeah, this is just getting worse, isn’t it?
Semisweet chocolate chips. Okay, now we’re talking!
You get the idea. Individually, some of those things are great, and some of them are horrible. But when you mix it all together and put it under heat for just the right amount of time: cookies.
That’s God’s promise to us. Some things that come our way will be awesome. Some will be just okay. Some will be flat out terrible. But He promises to mix it all together in our lives to make something amazing.
Spiritual cookie principle, I call it. 🙂 No matter what’s going on in our lives, we can hope that God will make it all cookies in the end.
So that’s three promises you can absolutely hope in, but it would be a mistake to make any of them your primary hope. Rest, healing, and redemption are part of our life with God, but they aren’t the basis of our hope.
The basis of our hope is simply this: God is good.
I’m not going to write them all out, but I have a ton of scriptures for this one. (Psalm 119:68; Psalm 107:1; James 1:17; Psalm 34:8; etc.) The whole Bible centers on the idea that God is good.
He is good. He is kind. He is true. He is on our side.
HE is our hope.
And He proved it all with the “reason for this season”. He sent Jesus down to live the life we should have lived and die the death we should have died… all so we could be reconciled to Him.
His love is proven already, and in much greater fashion than nostalgic Christmas memories or fulfilled hopes that are gone in a flash. We just forget because we are as bad as children who cry “you don’t love me” the second they don’t get their way.
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below – indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Rest, healing, and redemption are all based in our hope in Jesus, the living proof that God is good.
So this holiday season and every day… we must choose. Who do we believe?
Do we believe our own fleeting hopes, our circumstances, our feelings?
Or do we believe God?
You are good. You are good. Let my heart remember this.
Merry Christmas, everyone. I’ll see you again next week. ❤