A Thrill of Hope

Music gets me in the feels.  I suppose good music does that to everyone.  But the message of Christmas music finds its mark nestled especially deep inside me, and pierces my soul.  In a good way.  In a necessary way.

“Christ the babe…is Lord of all.”  I mean, …c’,mon.  That’s radical theology in a single line.

Or, “God and sinners reconciled”… I’m done. 

Isn’t that what our souls crave?  To be restored?  To find hope again?  To see light breaking up the darkness?

That’s what Christmas is!

On Christmas Eve, no matter where I am or if I’m with family or not, I will find my way to a Christmas Eve candlelight service where we end by singing Silent Night, as everyone holds a candle and we pass the flame one to another, turning out the overhead lights, until the whole room is filled with the glow of candle flames and we’re all singing together that 3rd verse,

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth”

And I can hardly get the words to escape my throat because it’s full of tears… some at the nostalgia of it all, sure.  But most of it at the idea that Jesus’ entrance into our world was love’s pure light dawning…and the beginning of the end for death and hopelessness.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I talk about how during the Advent season (that’s a churchy word for Christmastime), I find myself feeling “spiritually soft.”  A good friend recently asked if I could write something about that, since it doesn’t feel that way for him.  So – that’s what this post is.  I hope some of my Christmas spirit (which is really a gift from God) will spill over to you this season.

A King becomes a peasant.  Light spills into a dark world. 

Hope wins out over desperation.

Justice and love defeat brokenness and death.
This is what the Christmas season is for me.

(also sausage mushroom casserole and matching pajamas…)

The idea that the Creator and King of the universe would condescend to become one of us, to suffer alongside us, to face the same disappointments, rejections, loss, trauma, and deep woundedness of the soul, in order to rescue us out of the filth of this world, is just so moving to me, that when I really consider it, I can’t help but be moved.  If you add to that the evocative nature of music, twinkly lights, family gatherings, and all the other elements of the Christmas season that warm our hearts, you get a perfect recipe for a certain spiritual and emotional soft-ness or availability that I don’t necessarily experience in this same way the rest of the year.

And it’s not just about a smooshy feeling.  It’s about rescue and restoration.  It’s about the promise that comes with Christ stepping down from his throne and into our messy world, to ultimately pull us out of the muck and bring us home with him.

It’s about love.
When it comes to God, it’s always about love.

I know the holidays are hard for so many.  People close to me struggle with depression and loneliness or even just the bitter disappointment of the season itself not living up to the hype it promises.  And I get that.  Nothing on this side of heaven is going to fully satisfy us and when you add to that the pressure of having a perfect Christmas, it can be even worse.  But I think the ache in our souls also points to something else… a larger truth.

See, Christians believe that we were built as part of a larger story – that our deepest longing is to know and be known by our creator, and our 2nd deepest need is to know and be known by another person (relationships).   The problem is – when we don’t have the first, we put SO much stock in the 2nd…that it never satisfies.  And then we’re in this unending loop of expectation and disappointment.

We believe that there was a time when God and man were ‘good,’ but humanity chose to believe the lie that we didn’t need God…that we could be our own gods, and we rejected our creator and the one who loved us purely.  So that space where God and man were in harmony – went to hell.   And from that time, until now, we’ve been in an “I’ll be Home for Christmas” kinda space.  We’ve been homesick.

The Christian says, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”  [C.S.- Mere Christianity]

Advent is the season where we think about longing – that longing in each of us for things to be better… to go back to how they were before we rebelled against God… to stop being crappy…to be complete… to go home.   And we know because of what Jesus did… that eventually we will!

For Christians, this is a season of “painful pleasure” – that “can’t wait” feeling.  And I have learned to love it. 

For example, when I know I’m going to see my sister… the anticipation carries a certain ache with it… but it’s a ‘good’ kind of painful, if you know what I mean. Because I know how it’s going to end.  I’m going to see her, and it’ll be awesome!

People for thousands of years were waiting for a rescuer that was promised to them – the Messiah (we now know that was Jesus).  They didn’t know exactly what that would look like – maybe they thought he would be a warrior king who would kick Rome’s butt with his mighty army.  But, they knew he would do something to make things better…to take what was broken and make them whole again.  And we believe he did!

And while we wait for everything to be made better, there ARE some splashovers from heaven – some appetizers, if you will, that point us to a more eternal perspective – one that doesn’t bring disappointment, but promise.

 And for me, those seem to happen even moreso in this season where we celebrate not only ‘baby Jesus,” but really, the incarnation.

The incar…what?

Incarnation – becoming embodied – being in the flesh.

God becoming human.  It’s a dizzying concept.  But when you dwell on it, it’s spectacularly humbling.

Why would he do that?  Being human kinda sucks!?

But God loves us so much, that he not only became human and endured this crappy world, but he died. For us.  He was tortured and killed.  For us.  Like every great hero story  – he stepped into the belly of the beast and sacrificed himself to death.  Because that’s how you defeat death – you die, and then you rise again to new life.  Which was exactly God’s plan all along. 

“Christ, who, being in very natureGod, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very natureof a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” – Philippians 2:6-11

In the same way that the child version of me had to wait on Christmas morning for my dad to get up and turn on the lights in the room with our presents, and it felt like an eternity, so the people who believed God was going to send someone to help us…were waiting.  But then…

“A thrill of hope – the weary world rejoices”

“The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.” – (My favorite verse in the Bible), Isaiah 9:2

Because of our own selfishness, we were under a curse (I know – that’s a world we only us in modernity to talk about witches and wizards, but go with me… it also just means the lasting consequences of essentially giving God the middle finger, and choosing to believe the lie that we can be our own gods…that we don’t need him or love him).

Where there was once flourishing and harmony and peace, because of our rebellion to God (which continues today), we brought on ourselves brokenness, division, and separation from the author of life.

You could say it like this:

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining, til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.” (O Holy Night)

But God loves us too much to leave us futilely banging our heads against the wall, unable to save ourselves.  He put himself right in the mess, to fix it…and us.

“No more let sins and sorry grow, nor thorns infest the ground.  He comes to make His blessings flow – far as the curse is found.” (Joy to the World)

I could go on!  But I suggest you start really listening to the lyrics of the great Christmas hymns this season, and let them wash over you with the truth of God’s desire to love us.  Try not to cry as you realize that they’re describing the human condition before and after Christ came into our world.  C.S. Lewis puts it like this:  “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.” – Mere Christianity

God came down to make a way for us to be restored to him, and to each other, and to have life and freedom and joy and peace.  Where there was anxiety and purposelessness and fear, there is now rest and meaning and hope.

When you think about it that way, does it not make your heart feel a little softer?  A little more thankful?

Last song lyrics, I promise.  But there’s a beautiful story of Mary, when she was pregnant with Jesus…and starting to really understand that she was carrying the Savior of the world, where she erupted into poetry and sang these words:

 “My soul glorifies the Lord
     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
 He has filled the hungry with good things

I LOVE this part of the story, for a couple reasons.  One is that Mary is actually quoting words from earlier in the Bible that she would have been taught – prophecy about a coming rescuer.  And the other is that she couldn’t help but explode with emotion and anticipation for the one who was coming to make things right again.  That’s how I feel when I think about the time of year when we celebrate Jesus coming to earth.  Me and Mary …we’re basically the same is what I’m saying. 😉

For those of you who believe, I encourage you to spend some time really thinking about how radical and amazing it is that God came to us the way He did, and why He did.  For love.  You are so loved.

And for those of you on the fence about Christianity, I’d ask you to consider Christ again – maybe in a more honest light than you’ve let yourself before.   He wants for you to know him.  You are so loved.

Let every heart prepare him room.  Jesus wants to come in.

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