When Hope (Seems To) Fail

This devotional is not going to be perfect. And, if you’re like me, this Christmas isn’t going to be either. In fact, I don’t remember a Christmas that was completely perfect. I can take a deep breath and relinquish my home to the twin toddler tornado. That kind of chaos, I’ve learned to just accept. But there are imperfections that come to our lives which scar us. When someone asks what we’d like for Christmas, our answer, at least in our minds, is for the medical diagnosis to be reversed, a loved one risen from the dead, or the resources to whisk away our debt. 

Like a child writing a list to Santa, those wishes become our prayers. We believe Christ’s coming into the world brought hope. And it says in 1 Peter 3:12, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” We then consider our actions. If we feel we’ve been less than righteous, we might bargain with God. And if we have been faithful, our prayers can become demands. Still, no matter how long or hard we pray, sometimes, the answers to those prayers are no. It can seem God has let us down.  

When we doubt God, we must turn to Scripture and pray for wisdom. Theologically, God is the ultimate authority (Matthew 28:18). We cannot control Him nor when He acts. Humbly, we must admit that we are simply the creature and He is the Creator. Then trust what He says, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9) and “…That for those who love God all things work together for the good for those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

But my guess is that if your Christmas is filled with these deep scarring imperfections, those words barely make sense. Perhaps they even anger you. To know those truths doesn’t take away the pain and stress of the moment. I felt that way three years ago as I led a musical about a baby being born into the world a week after I lost mine.* And I feel it acutely this year as I observe a loved one slowly being destroyed by cancer. I’m sure Mary felt deeply troubled as she gave birth to the Savior of the world in a stable filled with animals and their filth. 

But this is what Jesus chose. There is none more holy, worthy, and deserving of glory than Him. He originally created a perfect world without death and disease. But it was a perfect world made for perfect love- love that was free of domination, manipulation, or control. With that free love, Adam and Eve decided to disobey. Their disobedience brought death, disease, and distance from God. The earth became cursed with imperfection from then on. Later Jesus chose to come to this cursed earth to live like one of His creatures and be with us. 

In doing so, He set an example for us. He chose to come in the humblest way possible:  born as an infant who would need to be nursed and changed. And he didn’t have a team of midwives nor parades of people to cheer his arrival. He didn’t even get a sanitary or comfortable bed. He chose to be wrapped in the pains and sufferings of flesh. He even subjected himself to the law which mutilated him. Jesus was circumcised (Luke 2:21).

This humility is extreme. Yet God in his omniscience found it necessary. If Jesus chose to not be obedient to God, then there wouldn’t be Emmanuel- God with us. God dwelt among His people before sending Jesus, but He kept His special presence behind the curtain of the Holy of Holies in the temple. Only the High Priest was able to enter and only once a year. Yet when Christ died, the thick curtain that divided the Holy of Holies was torn top down. By tearing it as such, God declared that there no longer needs to be a distance between God and man. Therefore, if you’re hurting this Christmas, you can know first, that God is still with you. His presence is near. You are not alone. 

And because He decided to wrap Himself in flesh, not only can He be with us, but He can relate to us. He knew temptation. He knew physical pain. He knew rejection and grief. He also knew humility to God. He knew what it was like to want reality to be different. Oftentimes when I’m in the midst of a trial of life, I don’t want words of comfort. I simply want to know someone is there. Especially someone who understands. 

Christmas does therefore carry a message of hope and light. But this hope is rarely found in mythical  perfection. In fact, the hope of Christ, the peace of Christ, is found in the midst of a stable full of messy animals. Today we can still find that hope in the middle of our painful imperfections when we choose to quiet our hearts and minds and focus on the astonishing story of Jesus’ birth found in Matthew 1:18-2-23 and Luke 1:5-2:40.

King Jesus, thank you for being here with me. Thank you for choosing to humbly come to this earth to save me. I’m sorry for getting caught up in all the imperfections and letting them steal my hope and joy. I chose to humbly admit that I’m not perfect. It is wrong of me to spread misery by focusing on all the imperfections. Please help me change my thoughts. I desire to focus on the only person who was and is perfect, You. Thank you for Your peace in my heart. To You be all glory, honor, and praise. Amen.

*This is the Nativity Musical I wrote for my church in Iowa. You can click here to read the original script or here to watch the video of the performance.

. “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

The idea for this article came to me last Sunday. Yesterday, Wednesday, December 21st, 2022, I listened to our Pastor’s Christmas Eve Sermon. They surprisingly had the same message, but we both have a slightly different way of presenting it. If you have time, I encourage you to listen to Pastor Allen Jackson of World Outreach Church, especially if you’ve gotten to the end of my article and want to dig deeper. You can click here to view the recording on YouTube.

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