I don’t know about you but I’ve never thought of hopelessness as something I wanted on my resume.
Hopelessness is typically tossed into the pile of “negative” feelings we all acknowledge but don’t want to experience and if we do, we try to minimize, rationalize or disguise them.
If I admit to it at all, I tend to look downward, whisper quickly and pray that no one takes much notice because it feels shameful.
But maybe hopelessness is the first step to truly celebrating Christmas.
Think about Scrooge. When was his heart able to make the turn and embrace the joy that Christmas represents? It took one long night and four strange visitors to take him down a path where he understood his own strength was woefully inadequate to accomplish anything. It was finally the spectre of death-death of relationships, death of a child and the certainty of his own lonely demise that shook him from slumber and awakened him to real life and love and joy.
I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!
― A Christmas Carol
Now consider the story of the first Christmas. Two poor sojourners in desperate need of a place to stay and, even more important, a place to birth a baby.
But not just any baby. No, this was the Promised One, Immanuel, Jesus, Messiah, Light of the World. Yet He made His appearance in the dark, in a stable and unnoticed.
I don’t know if Mary felt hope-filled or hopeless as she labored without the company of other women to encourage and guide her. But I can imagine there were moments if not hours, of something like hopelessness.
Yet it ended with her holding the God of the universe in her hands.
What about Israel? Four hundred long years since Jehovah had shut the mouths of prophets and allowed the Apple of His Eye to wallow in the darkness they had begged for by turning away from the God Who loved them. Prophesies were still handed down like good luck tokens but many who heard them had long ago decided they didn’t matter.
It was dark in the world of Judea.
So, so very dark.
And that is precisely when the angel showed up and the sky was bright with praise:
Don’t be afraid! Listen! I bring good news, news of great joy, news that will affect all people everywhere. Today, in the city of David, a Liberator has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One, the Supreme Authority!
~Luke 2:10-11 VOICE
It was all the brighter because it was dark. It was that much more joyous because hopeless hearts were longing for something to cling to.
There is no shame in being hopeless and broken.
God loves the broken. Christ came for the broken. It’s the broken and breathless who long for the Spirit to blow life across their wounded hearts.
It’s the hopeless and fearful that run faster to the safety of their Shepherd.
It’s the worried and weary who are thankful for a Burden-bearer.
Christmas is the story of Hope entering the world, of Light shining forth in darkness, of Love overcoming death.
A heart has to be looking to find it.
A heart has to be desperate to believe it.
A heart has to be hungry to come to the table of everlasting bread.
Have you been living in the land of deep shadows? I have. I’ve spent long years in that gray and weary country, and sometimes it makes me feel disqualified from Christmas. Most Christmas carols do not talk about daunting shadows or dreary days. They talk about sparkle and shimmer. They talk ho-ho-ho-ing and mistletoeing, and all of that is fine and fun if you’re having a great year. But let’s be honest about the fact that this relentless commercialized happiness is not really what lives at the heart of Christmas.
Christmas is deeper than that. It reaches into darker places. Jesus didn’t come to cheer us up. He came into the shadowlands we call home to set us free. He came to untangle us from the despair that wraps itself around our joy and peace and purpose. It seems, then, that hopelessness is the very first qualification for receiving the bright hope of Christmas. Perhaps you are exactly where you need to be to experience the miracle of Advent after all.
~Bo Stern, When Holidays Hurt