“A thrill of hopeâ€¦the weary world rejoices. For yonder brings a new and glorious morn.”
We’ve reached the end of another year, and as we celebrate our third Christmas in Uganda, we celebrate the hope that has brought us together in the first place. We love how we get to celebrate Christmas right at the end of the year — because we can grow weary at the end of the year. I’m sure we aren’t the only ones. It’s a time when we acutely need renewed hope. We bear the scars and struggles from the year behind us, which continually drive us further into the hope that Christmas gives us. The hope we have because of Christmas is the fuel our souls need to drive the work we do.
So Christmas is a time we specifically celebrate and explore and further unpack the hope that God has given us. Obviously that’s something we strive to do everyday, but Christmas — the arrival of God as a human being who eats and breathes and sleeps — allows us to celebrate it uniquely. But that first sentence of this paragraph sounds a little funny. When I’m hoping for something, I’m thinking of something I don’t already have. Five years ago, I was hoping to meet a girl I would want to marry. Hadn’t happened yet. Now that I’m married to Alicia*, I’m not hoping to meet another girl. What we celebrate at Christmas is something that has already happened.Â God became man. Born in a manger in the middle of nowhere, the whole bit. So why does that line about “the thrill of hope” ring true? Why does it still stir my soul?
Well — and I’m getting brutally honest with myself here — the “thrill of hope” we celebrate at Christmas is something I need spoken to my heart because I all too often place my hope in something else. The frustrations, scars and disappointments I pick up throughout the year only seem overwhelming when my heart is centering on something other than what God has done for me in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Sure, the frustrations, scars, and disappointments hurt. They are real, and they must not be ignored. They are a part of my humanity. But they also reveal the inner-workings of my heart. My heart wasn’t meant to run on our success in Uganda (which we want and plan and strive for) or financial stability (which we want and plan and strive for) or the joy we receive in helping patients (which we work and plan and strive for) or the multitude of other ways I seek to justify my existence. All good, healthy thingsâ€¦but not meant to function as the ultimate hope of my heart. God already took care of that. It’s crazy. Completely crazy. Just because it happened doesn’t make it any less mysterious.
That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better, having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called youâ€¦
So the questions we continually ask ourselves in the face of struggle is this: Where are we finding our hope? How can we possibly know the “hope to which He has called you?” How can we authentically love each other and the people we serve? Thankfully, in the midst of the mystery, these questions clarify our purpose. We are here to know Him better. We are here to have the eyes of our hearts enlightened. Our thoughts, words and actions will inevitably follow. And the beauty of being called and loved by the God who created the Universe and somehow maintains our miraculous existence on this planetâ€¦the God who became manâ€¦who took on flesh to be with usâ€¦who showed us what His kingdom looks like in Jesusâ€¦is that there is not a limit to Him. We are ambassadors for His kingdom. We are here to recognize and develop the talents we have to love others in His name. That’s where our hope is. And as our old sources of hope — health, money, professional achievement, personal status in society, family, friends, etc — inevitably wax and wane during our time on this planet, we aren’t crippled or devastated. The old sources of hope — health, money, professional achievement, personal status in society, family, friends — can take their proper place in our hearts. They are to be enjoyed, but not worshipped. If they aren’t working the way we want them to, we are perplexed and disappointed but not devastated. We persevere. It’s probably why Jesus tells us we are blessed when we are poor in spirit and mourning. We learn to hope in Him and His kingdom more fullyâ€¦while still experiencing that pain.
It’s another mystery. It’s like we have more joy and more sorrow at the same time. It’s a full life. It’s what Jesus promised us.
This Christmas season, we pray all of us will find our hope in our God, who came into the mess we made of the world, took on our flesh, and showed us what a kingdom built on love looks like.
*love you darlin’