My husband’s on the couch watching cat video’s on Youtube. One of my teenagers is nursing an injured hand, the result of punching the wall in anger after an exercise band sprang back and smacked him in the face. The other teenager is getting ready to head to the hospital with me to play some Christmas clarinet solos for the patients on the rehab unit. The dishwasher is humming. The sky is grey. The grass is dormant brown. The goats are chewing their cud and the chickens have found a place to lay eggs under the trailer stored by the chicken coop.
I enjoy perusing the images on Facebook and Instagram. All you guys look so stinkin’ cute in your matching jammies. But I don’t think I’m being cynical in saying that probably most of us, even the ones in cute jammies, don’t live such picturesque lives. Most of us, Christmas morning or not, live messy lives. We need beauty, we long for beauty. I think that’s at least in part why we post pretty pictures on social media. We display what we long for- a beautiful life! But when the clouds roll in grey, and the landscape is dead grass, and the chickens don’t lay eggs where they should, and the child punches a wall in anger… and many, many more circumstances that remind us life isn’t as it should be, what should we do? We could hide. We do hide. In sleep, passivity, wine, parties, people, business, movies, Netflix, video games, etc. But it never satisfies. It never fixes our mess. It never makes life beautiful like we long for it to be.
C.S. Lewis famously said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
I love holidays. I love special, set-aside days where I can do my best to make beauty reign in the midst of our mess. Christmas is my favorite holiday. The warm lights sparkling in the darkness. The comforting aroma of cinnamon, clove, fir and peppermint in the air. The colorful trees and decor. The pretty packages with names to and from. Christmas draws attention to the beauty I desire. Christmas draws my attention to another world.
Today I sat outside with my goats and chickens for a few minutes, reading the Magnificant. It was good to smell the aroma of alfalfa and see the goat droppings, and dirt and chicken poop everywhere while I read Mary’s beautiful words. We sterilize Christianity. Christ is not the glowing white child in a picture perfect bed of hay. Christ was the bloody infant born where the animals stay… and poop. Christ was the misunderstood teenage son of a misunderstood young woman and her misunderstood husband. He was the blugeoned man, hanging on a Roman cross saying, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” And he is the resurrected Son of God, eyes aflame with passion for his people, bearing the scars of his love for us.
I long for beauty. I long for the peace Christ brings to fill the earth. I long for the day when he makes everything right. It may be Christmas, but the beauty of Christmas just reminds me that Advent isn’t really over. I’m still waiting.
You know what’s impossible? That I could jump to the moon. That a virgin could concieve a baby. That my dishes will be done and kitchen cleaned by my teenage boys without me asking before I get home from work. And that anyone would ever love Jesus.
What follows here are some of my thoughts from the church notes I took as my pastor preached yesterday, “It’s a strange thing we believe as Christians.”
I’m often overwhelmed by the impossibility of ever trying to explain what it is I believe. I don’t mean it’s hard to say, “I belive Jesus is the son of God who died for my sins.” I mean it hard to explain what has happened to me.
My pastor compared what happened to Mary the day the angel Gabrielle appeared to her to announce that she’d be bearing a baby who is the long awaited Savior God had been promising for millennia. Like Mary, every true Christian has had a very strange thing happen to them. Like Mary Chrisitans spend their lives sorting out what God has done in their lives. Like Mary, we believed a message we heard about Jesus. We don’t know how it could possibly happen, or what is even actually happening. We just know when we heard that old, old story, about a Savior came from glory, we believed it! And right there, just like Mary, the Holy Spirit overshadowed us, and Jesus began growing in us. Not in our womb, but in our inward parts. A new life began growing in us, and it’s a strange thing, and we’re sorting it out, and we can’t quite explain it.
Like Mary, God has chosen unlikely us and we ask, “How can this be?” How can it be that a coward like me could be brave and be willing to take risks, be rejected, be misunderstood, be willing to go low and be humbled? How can it be that a hardened, stubborn heart of the one I love could ever possibly abandon the pride of his hard work and embrace the free gift of a Savior he’s never seen? How can the hurt, the doubting, the forgotten, the abandoned, the abused, the abuser, the opressor, the happy, the comfortable, the rich, the easy-going…. how could any of us ever possibly love Jesus? Why would we want to when loving him means we, like Mary, will surely be misunderstood at best and loose everything, even our own lives at worst?
Like Mary, the only way anyone ever experiences the miracle of Christ in them- loving the Jesus they have never seen and would never turn to on their own- is if the Holy Spirit of the living God overshadows them. No one ever loves Jesus without the miraculous power of God’s Spirit overcoming their hard and dead hearts.
Like Mary, we who are perplexed by the wonder of this Jesus, alive in us, would surely feel cut off from the world and totally alone if it weren’t for the family of fellow perplexed Jesus-lovers God has drawn us to. The church. Mary wasn’t left with the good news that would bring with it pain, a pierced heart, blood and tears in deep joy and unexplainable hope. God gave her Elizabeth. Barren Elizabeth, six months pregnant with the one who would point his people to Jesus. Elizabeth and Mary shared a joy they could not explain away. They shared a hope that with their God, nothing would be impossible. And that is our hope too.
Like Mary and Elizabeth, we bear a life-giving hope- a miraculous hope. And like Mary and Elizabeth, we are not alone. We have each other. A strange people, who love a Savior we have never seen. And this Jesus we love has sent us out into the world to love each other in such a way that the world scratches their heads and wonders just what has happened to us.
For the Christian, hope is a rescue. And it is a promise sealed in the blood of Christ. But 2000 years downstream from that cleansing flow, and 2000 years into more human suffering and depravity, heck, just 44 years into a life and I start to ask with the Psalmist, “How long O Lord?” And, “Why have you forgotten me?” The sufferings and trials of life make you look at what you’re hoping in and ask yourself, over and over again, “What is my hope again?”
The thing is, as a Christian, the circumstances in life that test your hope, cause you to find it to be very much alive and even stronger because of the pain of life.
Romans 5:3-5 says, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Do you see the progression?
Sufferings produce endurance,
endurance produces character,
character produces hope,
and we aren’t ashamed of our hope because something living is going on in us.
The Holy Spirit is in us.
God’s love is in us.
And it’s growing in suffering.
Hope is alive, and he’s living in us!
1 Peter 1:3 puts it this way:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory…
Forty-four years ago I was born in sin. From infancy, in me was growing lying, hiding, blaming and pride day by day. But at age sixteen I was born again in a living hope. And from that day, I have been growing in genuine faith in Christ, even as I’m test by various trials.
I’ve never seen this Jesus, this living hope that made me alive when I was 16, but I love him. God’s love has been poured out into my heart. And though I can’t see him, and at times I cry, “Where are you?! Don’t you see me?! How long till I can see you?!” somehow in the midst of all the hard things there’s this sweet joy I just can’t explain.
Hope is alive, and he lives in me. No hard thing in life can’t kill that hope.
When someone follows up what they tell me they’ll do with an emphatic, “I will! I promise!” my doubt doubles. It’s as though they weren’t trustworthy in the first place and now slapping the words, “I promise” on their trustworthiness they emphasize their untrustworthiness and I doubt all the more they’ll follow through on their word.
God is not like that! The God of the Bible keeps his word. If he says he’ll do something he doesn’t have to sugar coat it with the sales pitch, “I promise!” His word is his promise.
In the Bible, God says he values his word even above his name. Which I take to mean, its more important to him that we believe he’ll do what he says he’ll do than that we understand fully who he is. The God of the Bible wants us to trust and believe him. He doesn’t just want us to believe he exists. He wants us to believe that he exsists, and he’s good, that he’ll do what he says he’ll do (Hebrews 11:6).
If you use a Bible search tool to search the word hope, you’ll find hope closely connected to suffering in the Bible. Seems like it should be the opposite. Usually we feel most hopeless in the midst of our suffering. But the God of the Bible wants us to feel hope in the midst of our suffering. How? Why? Because he has made promises and he will keep them, no matter how much suffering comes our way. The question is, will we believe him? Will we wait for him to fulfill his promises, or will we give up on waiting and seek some sort of salvation somewhere else, like in a bottle, or fame, or money, or power or relationships?
Christmas is a reminder of the faithfulness of God’s word. He promised, from the beginning that he would deal with the sin that separated humanity from him. And for thousands of years people waited, resting their hope in God’s word. He said he would, and they would believe him, even if they didn’t see it come to pass in their lifetime.
The hope I find in the Bible, is a promise that God will do what he says he will do. It’s not a wish that circumstances will be better, but a promise sealed in blood, that says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall they live.” (John 11:25)
‘Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was built into the city wall, so that she lived in the wall. And she said to them, “Go into the hills, or the pursuers will encounter you, and hide there three days until the pursuers have returned. Then afterward you may go your way.” The men said to her, “We will be guiltless with respect to this oath of yours that you have made us swear. Behold, when we come into the land, you shall tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and you shall gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household.” Joshua 2:15-18
Today is the first Sunday in Advent. Historically we light a candle and trace our way through the ancient history that led up to the day when Christ was born.
I didn’t light any candles today. But I did gather with my church and listen to the proclamation of the goodness and trustworthiness of the God of the Bible. We didn’t talk about the story of Rahab the prostitute and the spies she let down the window with a scarlett cord this morning. It’s not exactly the typical story from scripture we dwell on at Christmas. So I’m going sorta rogue with this Advent post- no candle, no normal scripture reading.
Last week I wrote about my discovery of the word tiqvah (pronounced tick-vaw), which is the word translated hope in the Hebrew Bible. The word really means cord. The tiqvah that let the spies escape their pursuers and signaled the rescue of Rahab and her family from destruction is the same word for hope.
In my day-to-day life, I get easily discouraged. As my pastor pointed out today, I doubt that God is good and question if he’ll really keep his word. I can’t see Jesus. I can’t see God. I can’t sit down with him and look in his eyes and let him comfort me with words of wisdom. I have dishes and laundry and kids yelling at each other and a husband who rejects the idea that Christ died for our sins. I have an aching body and history of mental illness in my family. I fight the lies of depression and anxiety. I feel overwhelmed with all the to-do’s and I hear the news and interact with people and start to wonder, “Are you good God? Do you care? Did you really send your Son? Are you really coming again?”
Rahab, an ancient woman in a life that had different circumstances, but surely similar questions, had no solid thing to lay hold of that would prove to her that the God of the Israelites is good or that he would do what he said he would do. All she knew was she had heard about what the Israelites God had done, rescuing his people from slavery in Egypt. She put all her trust in the lives of two spies, representing the God and people coming to destroy the city where she lived. She believed their God was, “… God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath” (Joshua 2:11) and she wanted to live.
The very cord she used to honor the lives of the spies, was the cord the spies used as a sign to promise her and her families rescue.
I’ve heard what the God of the Israelites has done too. I’ve heard the old old story. I’ve heard about Jesus. I’ve heard the message from the God of the Bible, “You’re facing destruction, and your only hope is my Son.”
There’s a response of faith to that message that brings hope. It’s not a tangible cord. We don’t hang red cords out our windows to save us from God’s destruction. But that faith, God sees, like a scarlet cord. He sees it. We may not see it, but he does. Our hope is not a wish that life will be better or easier with Jesus. Our hope is that God has promised a rescue in Jesus, and he does not lie. He is good and we rest our lives on the solid promise the blood of Christ promises: our rescue.
‘Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. ‘ Hebrews 10:19-20,22-23
I decided to write some reflections on hope as I pass through Advent this year.
Advent doesn’t officially start till next Sunday, so this post will be a preface to this series. I hope you’ll join me, or find some devotional like the one here, or here , or here, or just pick up a Bible app and read a passage daily on one of the many options there are for readings through Advent… or follow along with the readings at my church’s app. If you join me here you’ll find me trying to trace hope through the Bible.
If you had to boil down the meaning of Christmas to one word you might say joy or love… both true. But the more I think about it, I would settle on hope as the meaning of Christmas.
Hope in our culture means making a wish. And it’s about as solid as the puff of a dandelion flower. In fact that’s what our culture means when we say hope. We mean wish. We hope for new jobs, better relationships, happier days, healthier bodies, to be married, to be single, to have kids… you get the idea. We wish for our circumstances to change and call it hope. There’s no confidence in it. It’s just something we want.
But that is not Christian hope. It’s not hope in the Bible.
I used the Blue Letter Bible tool to do a word search to find the original word translated hope in the Bible. I found the Hebrew word tiqvah (pronounced tick-vaw). (I’m not a Hebrew scholar… I’m just a curious girl who learned to use a Bible search tool.) So tiqvah literally means a cord.
Surely it’s no mistake that the word that became the word for hope or expectation in Hebrew is the word for the red rope that saved the spies from Jericho and saved Rahab and her family from the destruction God was bringing.
Hope at Christmastime in 2018 America can feel like a pipe dream to the cynics or a flighty wish to the optimistic. For the depressed, the suffering, the poor, the broken… all of us, hope is something we long for. But so often we don’t know what it is we’re hoping for. The Bible doesn’t give us a pipedream or a wish. Hope in the Bible is a rescue!
The Bible offers hope that deals with the deepest longing we all have to be made right. We are longing to be saved from the judgement we feel the effects of here and sense is coming in greater measure when we stand before our Maker. We look to temporary changes in circumstance and think, “Maybe this will save us. Maybe this will make things right.” But hope can no more come from our circumstances than a rescue from destruction on a city can come from a dandelion flower.
Hope is a scarlet cord woven through the scriptures. Let’s look for it till Christmas comes.