On the first day of winter, the wren sings loud and defiant at the dawning of day. I hear him and smile.
Today marks the longest night of the year, 14 hours of darkness. It also brings the sure hope that tomorrow the daylight hours will increase incrementally, pointing me in the direction of spring.
There were the days (the years?) I fought for joy. Because joy is worth the struggle. I counted gifts with determination, sometimes words of “breathing in and breathing out” were all I could write. I set JOY before my eyes, hanging from window latches, resting on tables, reminders to battle on.
Christmas is joy, and cards in the mail reiterate the songs, their sparkly designs a visual rejoicing. I receive them and I mail them, thankful for people we call friends. They are gifts.
Joy and sorrow are parallel tracks of a train.
There are lonely souls in crowds and broken bodies in hospital beds bearing the weight of heartache even while the world hangs ornaments and lights on a tree. The homeless in my home town scuffle toward a back alley on the cold night. People suffer while the music blasts Have a Holly Jolly Christmas.
As I read the Advent devotionals aloud to Sweet William, I am confronted with truth. Jesus came in the harsh reality of a people sad, sick, scratching out a living. They were looking for consolation, the hope of Israel, a redeemer and savior to take away all the suffering and oppression.
Mary and Joseph felt the heaviness too. The babe bearing down in Mary’s womb. The responsibility bearing down on Joseph’s shoulders. Hurrying to Bethlehem, they hoped for a warm room with a bit privacy for the coming of a child.
Instead, there was a cave, a stable for animals, smelly, dark, damp. Maybe they wondered if they’d taken a wrong turn, wondered if they’d understood the angel’s message, wondered what in the world God was doing?
I have wondered the same.
In a night of deep slumber, I awaken to words spoken to my spirit, “Hope in God.” Through my sleepiness, I recall the verse and in the morning I turn to Psalm 42 and 43 where the composer repeats this: “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.”
The Word is familiar, words I learned as a child, rehearsed in my growing, and cling to now. I encourage myself in the Lord like David, the sweet singer of Israel.
At the little thrift store I frequent, there on the top shelf, is the sign for sale in large letters, “HOPE.” I pick it up, hold it to me, purchase it, and set it before me as a reminder. It is an Ebenezer stone.
The hope written in the book of Hebrews is not a penny thrown in the wishing well. It is an anchor for my soul, a sure proclamation cast into the Holy of holies where Jesus, my High Priest, intercedes for me.
” . . . we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever . . . ” Hebrews 6:18-20 NIV
Hope is my memorial stone in this season, though the darkness stays long. I set it and mark it. I repeat it to myself. I cling to its message. Hope in God.
Luke tells us of that an old man named Simeon went to the temple, as was his custom, and he saw the common young couple with the newborn baby. He knew, felt the quickening of his spirit – this child was the promise, the Consolation of Israel. He took the infant Jesus in his arms and blessed the God who is our hope, whose promises are true and will come to us, even when in the waiting.
Though the night lengthens, though the heart is heavy, though the body weakens and trembles, though our prayers appear unanswered, there is a hope, an anchor. There is a Savior who came to us. He came for us.
We put our hope in Him. Jesus, the Hope of the world.