A Thrill of Hope…

I hope 2021 is better…I hope this virus goes away…I hope no one I love gets terribly sick…I hope we can start meeting together again soon…I hope my child will start making better decisions…I hope my candidate wins the election...

Those are just a few of the hope-filled sentiments and wishes I have heard in the last few months. What a long, strange year it has been. Such a hard season. Months teeming with questions without answers, conflicts without resolutions, information without facts, fears without explanation, and loss without mercy.

No doubt, 2020 has been a hard year for so many. I have seen, heard, and walked with friends through some incredibly hard battles this year. In fact, I don’t remember a time when I have witnessed more grief, conflict, loss, and despair than during this 2020 year. Job loss, financial instability, physical and mental health crisis, prodigal children, divorce, relationship conflict, hopelessness, death of loved ones, and so much more. I know very few people who have not faced a major battle or devastating loss this year.

But even as I typed the title, A Thrill of Hope, I was transported back to 2018…another very hard year for me personally. The details aren’t important…just that it passed and my family survived. And maybe lessons were learned and hope held us like an anchor throughout the stormy season. No, it did more than hold. It actually steadied and then redirected. Set a new course. Maybe it actually wasn’t harder than 2020. Maybe it was just somewhat of a great shaking and awakening to the fact that I really wasn’t in control of as much as I thought I was. That I was vulnerable. And too comfortable. A reminder that what seems fine on the surface can really hide darkness and pain. And in this world we will have trouble… No one is immune.

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

-Jesus, John 16:33

Sometimes a word or phrase of inspiration comes from an unlikely place. Earlier in November 2018, my daughter had been asked to brainstorm an idea about a theme for an upcoming Christmas program. She suggested four simple, but well-known words from the beloved Christmas song, O Holy Night: a weary world rejoices… That’s the word I was looking for and didn’t even know until she spoke it: weary. I was weary.

Fast forward to December 2018 and we packed the car and took a mother-daughter trip halfway across the country. Well…to Waco, Texas. At the time I was still reeling from some major conflicts and disappointments, but the trip had already been scheduled, so away we went. The Silos, in downtown Waco, had been on my daughter’s radar for quite some time. Not knowing what to expect, when we arrived I felt like puzzle pieces had fallen into place when we discovered another four simple words had been chosen for their Christmas theme: A thrill of hope…

hope /hōp/ noun – a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen; a feeling of trust. / verb – to cherish a desire with anticipation; to want something to happen or be true, or for the best; to expect with confidence.

A thrill of hope…the weary world rejoices…

It was a great trip: a new place filled with new sights, sounds, and excitement. There was quality time with my girl. There was quiet time to reflect, read, and pray. And there was something new…a thrill of hope. An expectation. A faint quiver or stirring in my soul that hinted that being in a dark or desperate place was simply temporary. A passing place. An opportunity to see even the faintest flicker of light all the brighter. A place of hope.

Fast forward to Christmas 2020… The world is weary. Ten months deep in the midst of a global pandemic, fear, confusion, isolation, and suspicion have been draped over many weary souls like foul-smelling, constricting grave clothes, suffocating life and light. People are walking and living in the land of deep darkness. A land of loss.

Our local hospitals are full. Dark and full of despair. People are waiting in emergency rooms for days on end to be placed in rooms. I have seen physical death in the hospital where I work, in local and global news, among friends, and even in my own family. I have sat with, texted, and Zoomed with both the frightened and the fearless, the deniers and the conspiracy theorists, faithful believers and those without hope. The world is weary. My town is weary. My coworkers are weary. My friends are weary. I am weary. We are waiting. For what? An answer, a cure, a respite from the merciless hours of fears, questions, arguments, and excuses? Relief?

Looking through my pictures from Waco, I found this one I snapped of a fireplace in the gift shop. Above it hung a sign that read:

Anticipation is the feeling of hopeful expectation, believing in the magic of what has been and what might be again. This we know to be true: there is wonder in the waiting.

There is wonder in the waiting. I think we miss that as adults. As children, we wonder who our new teacher will be. Will we make new friends at school? What will be waiting under the Christmas tree? Who will I marry when I grow up? Where will I live and what will I do for a living? We hope, we expect, we dream. At least for a season. And even when we are hurt and dreams are shattered…We move on. We forgive. We try to forget. And hopefully…we continue to hope.

We believe in the magic… Well, maybe not the magic. But how about the good? We believe in and we remember the good of what has been and what might be again. We remember carefree times we took for granted: huddled in close for coffee and secrets with our best friend, laughing and good times with our small circles, long hugs, cheek kisses, and shared tears. Even the hard times weren’t so hard because we were together…and we had hope. Dare we believe in the magic of what has been and what might be again? When we kiss and embrace and gather and laugh with no fear of sickness and suspicion. When we gather and worship and shake hands and sing hymns and worship freely. When we stop and chat and share our good news and blessings with our neighbors…or a stranger at the store. When we see one another’s smiles unveiled and unhindered. I miss the hugs. I miss the smiles. I miss the carefree conversation with no mention of politics and pandemics.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

Isaiah 9:2

Those are prophetic words found in the book of Isaiah. Words promising hope of a future salvation and deliverance. And while those words were written thousands of years ago, they feel timeless. The 2020 readers’ version could be: We are those people…walking and living in a land and time of deep darkness.

In biblical history, there were about 400 years between the last Old Testament prophet and the angel appearing to announce the arrival of Jesus. 400 years! Day after day, night after night of cold, prolonged, seemingly never-ending silence. And what is silence but auditory darkness? Emptiness. Hopelessness. Were they weary? Trudging through the mundane. Or were they ever-watchful and hopeful for their Deliverer and Savior?

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn…

So, yes, we believe in and we remember the good of what has been and what might be again. But more than that…we believe that a light has shone on our darkness…and we will again live and walk in that light.

…and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

It’s almost Christmas. Is it coincidence that in this dark season, we experienced the appearance and the wonder of the “Christmas star” in the sky for the first time in 800 years? Or dare we believe that it is a promise and a beacon of hope?

What has 2020 looked like for you? Were your plans stalled? Life interrupted? Events postponed and people scattered? What have you lost? Time? Money? Security, schedules, vacations? Maybe something much more substantial: a friend or family member…

Loss makes us weary and uncertain at times. Grieve the losses. Remember the good. Grieving is therapeutic and remembering is essential. It says it mattered. We believe in and we remember the good of what has been and what might be again. May we be ever-watchful and hopeful…choosing to see the works of God on our behalf in this season. And may we hold onto the great gift of hope.

Driving alone on a cold, dreary day, I recently heard a song that I felt encompassed the heart of the 2020 Christmas season:

In your silent night, when you’re not alright. lift your eyes and behold him. Feel the thrill of hope. You are not alone. In this moment, behold him…King forevermore, come let us adore, Christ our Savior, behold him.

Francesca Battistelli, Behold Him

We have no way of knowing what 2021 will hold. But in this moment, I choose hope. And I choose to have eyes that see God’s past faithfulness and blessing. Praying that the Light shines in your darkness wherever you are. You are never alone. Lift your eyes. We have hope and light and life. God bless and Merry Christmas.

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