When Hope Is Hard

Christmas isn’t always the most wonderful time of the year. Thankful families think full about their loved ones in constant danger on active duty overseas. Loneliness bites at the fingertips of forgotten elders tucked away in their nursing home beds. Recently-emptied chairs and newly-filled graves loom large in the light of nativity season. Grief, bitterness, anger, exhaustion: these are the bundles we swaddle just as easily as a baby in a manger. These are the gifts it’s just as costly to lay in His presence as gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

In the midst of the dark places, hope is hard. Honestly, it can seem downright fake. Who cares about the silver lining when the cloud has enveloped your heart for so long?

This is what hope was built for, where it sings, how it shines. Lanterns don’t make much difference until all other light fades away. Hope can’t be hope—full-blown, fierce, glorious—without dark things swallowing us. And there is hope even in that because we are promised to be pressed but not crushed, persecuted and not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed. Our God doesn’t pretend the trials don’t exist; He just equips us to walk through them in victory, gently leading us by the hand all the while.

Emily Dickinson is one of my favorite people ever; her words breathe strength into a concept that can be so elusive this time of year:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm

You, dear friend, are greatly loved by the King, your Father. He gives good gifts to His children and does not punish us. His banner over us is love, and He is singing goodness and mercy over us even now, even in the dark.

Christmas has always been a story of chiaroscuro, a play between light and dark. Isaiah 9 says,

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone … For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over His kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

For too long we have been content to be a bonfire, gathering our flames together and trying to attract a crowd. Christmas calls us to be transformed into torches, battling the shadows and going out to the world in need of this great light, this Son given. Hope flourishes where it is most called for and never stops at all. Whose soul can you help to make the season bright?

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