Merry Christmas! December can get crazy, but I’m inviting you to go through Advent in search of a little more connection with God each week this month. No, you don’t have to go to mass with your Grandma to do it.
Just take a few minutes for yourself to go through what’s below. (There will be a new one coming each week this month). You can do it by yourself or with your people: 10 minutes and a couple of candles is all you need.
“Advent” means “arrival,” and each week this month celebrates something unique that Jesus brought to earth when he was born: hope, peace, joy, love. These few minutes can hopefully help you track down these hard-to-find gifts. If you have an Advent wreath, that’s great. If not, any four candles will do just as well. The idea of using candles is to be able to see the light growing brighter each week as we get closer to the birth of the “Light of the World.” Hopefully, you’ll feel a little brighter inside at the end, too.
As you settle into this time:
- Light your first candle: the candle of HOPE.
- Take a deep breath.
- Consider this question in silence for 30 seconds:
What is something you are hoping for right now?
So what is it? Maybe you’re hoping for healing or a cure, the reopening of your business, getting to see people you love, or for a job that feels out of reach right now. It’s natural for our hopes to turn to the things we want to take place in our real life, right now. This year, in particular, there are all kinds of things I’d hoped would be different by now—like even just knowing my kids could safely and permanently return to their school classrooms for the rest of the year. It’s not hard to think of ways we hope for life to improve: this year’s been rough.
The idea of hope in the Bible, though, is a little bit different than where our mind tends to drift at the word “hope.” Biblical hope isn’t hoping for better circumstances: it’s waiting for God Himself to show up—right in the middle of all that stuff. It’s the tension of living through the crap while holding onto the expectation that God can somehow come into it. Biblical hope doesn’t mean we gloss over what’s wrong—as a matter of fact, real hope insists we recognize that the odds say we probably shouldn’t have much hope at all. But—God. When He shows up on the scene, there’s no telling.
Read the very beginning of the Christmas story about what happened to a teenage girl when God showed up: Luke 1:26-35.
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth, your relative, is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive, is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
So the summary of that is:
- God is here and has a plan.
- The impossible is possible.
- Your hope in this plan going down is that God Himself will show up.
- Your job? Be a servant of God who says yes.
The hope that Jesus brings doesn’t require you to see any light at the end of the tunnel. It doesn’t require you to imagine a real situation where things could possibly improve. The kind of hope we celebrate in Advent is about the arrival of Jesus into the world and how he can arrive into anything in our life as well. It’s waiting for the plans of GOD to go down through Him.
At the first Christmas, when Jesus was born, Israel was waiting for a king, a Messiah, the Savior, the Redeemer who would change their circumstances, make them a great nation and throw off the tyranny of Rome. They were waiting for a person but what they really hoped for was a change of circumstances. So most of them missed him, disbelieved him, and then killed him—because their hope was in the wrong place.
So let’s ask ourselves this first week of Advent: do we want God’s plan or our own? Is our hope really in Him, or is it simply in the change of our circumstances? Are we willing to listen and say yes even if where He’s leading feels impossible?
If our hope is really in better circumstances, then we will forever be in search of it, and we could even miss God right in the middle of our life. We end up feeling let down, being bitter, and maybe even believing God doesn’t care. I’ve been there too.
I caught myself doing this over the summer as things were not going the way I wanted them to in my work opportunities, and I hit a couple of walls on projects that were important to me. It made me mad on some days, sad on others, happy to blame others and generally feeling like nothing was going to work out in the future the way I’d hoped. Until eventually, God woke me up to the fact that I was busy focusing on what I thought should happen and hoping in certain things taking place—instead of hoping and staying focused on Him. It’s so easy to do when we think we know what would be best for our lives!
What if—in celebration of Christmas—we were willing to consider a shift? A hope that (while telling God we’d love new circumstances) would put our hopes back on him? What if our hope was fully pinned on the arrival of Jesus?
If you’re willing, say this simple prayer this week (whenever you’re ready):
OK, God. I’m giving up my hope in this thing getting better. You know I’d love it to change, but I want to put my hope in you. I’m trusting Jesus to somehow show up for me right in the middle of this and work your better plan. Amen.