So here we are, days away from celebrating THE special delivery. And we’ve been lighting a new wax taper every Sunday this month—the first representing HOPE—the second, PEACE—and the third, JOY. And this morning in church, the fourth candle which represents LOVE—was touched with flame by a boy dressed as a magi. We watched the wick burn brightly through the hour.
Hope. Peace. Joy. Love. Yes, they illuminated and warmed the altar.
And then? When the service ended?
Flames were blown out—extinguished—with nothing rising but smoke.
Are HOPE and PEACE and JOY and LOVE as transient, all at the mercy of a human touch?
With Jesus, thankfully the answer is NO.
Because Jesus is not a concept. He doesn’t just represent something.
Jesus doesn’t just BRING hope and peace and love and joy to the world. Because Jesus is much more than a gift-giver.
Jesus IS our hope.
Jesus IS our peace.
Jesus IS our love.
Jesus IS our joy.
Jesus doesn’t hold these longed-for gifts as wrapped packages to give.
Jesus IS the gift!
And when we receive HIM as the gift He is, we receive HOPE and PEACE and JOY and LOVE all wrapped up in HIM, the One who was wrapped in cloth strips woven by human hands and placed in a box of hay meant for beasts.
But to be honest, I have been wrestling this season with hope and peace and joy and love. I’ve been tangled up with Jesus in prayer, not willing to let go till He blesses me with holy insight about these gifts that only He has because only He IS—the gifts we all long for in our world—HOPE and PEACE and JOY and LOVE. Because He said that in this world we will have trouble (John 16:33). And He did not end His statement there. . . .
“But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Victory over everything that troubles us has ALREADY BEEN WON!
Jesus told us this “so that in me you may have peace.” Christ is our HOPE, and PEACE, AND JOY, AND LOVE. And Jesus never changes with the times or the circumstances. He is constant.
Too often, we have no control over our circumstances that can and do change suddenly. But we are sojourners in a world not intended for us as it is. We are passing through brokenness and loss, not stuck here, abandoned with no future.
How we need to remember this TRUTH and believe and cling, especially in our trials, but even when not desperately challenged. We need to remember our vulnerability and absolute need of Christ no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in at any given moment. We need the assurance of Emmanuel—God with us.
I am reminded in this season because of my own trials and those of others I love, stinging with fresh gashes unseen . . .
At a Christmas dinner on Friday, I sat with a friend we’ve known for many years. But a few years older than I, her husband died suddenly, unexpectedly, in July and she was brave enough to admit, when I asked, that she wasn’t doing well. We talked throughout the evening and agreed that often pain and joy are intimate partners, not opposite ends of the spectrum. Because when pain visits and it’s intense and beyond our meager coping supplies, we meet Jesus anew. We experience Him in deeper, more fulfilling ways than ever before. She told me how this deep grief has strengthened her faith, her hope, her peace, her joy, her love—because she got closer to Jesus who encompasses these things that otherwise are elusive or temporary.
And His touch is sometimes tangible.
Another dear friend sat at our same table Friday. She is a few years younger than I and had her chest sheared last year. Cancer. To save her life, she lost her breasts. And the physical pain that followed was so excruciating—the emotional pain so devastating—that she cried out to God because she believes. And she told me that in her moment of deepest desperation, she felt a touch on her shoulder when no one was there. She knew whose hand it was. And this ranks up there as one of the most blessed times of her life, not because of the tangible, holy touch but because of the reality of Christ who promises never to leave her, to always be there FOR her and WITH her—NO MATTER WHAT.
And these dear women are thankful and awed by all the tender, giving hearts who have helped them bear their pain through this time. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to give? Our hearts? Yeah, sometimes advice is good. But better always is the gift of our heart to hold others as they cry and writhe in pain, even when we can’t possibly know. And it’s always best not to compare and contrast one person’s pain with another’s. Only Jesus knows, really. Right?
And me? No one has died and I still have both breasts. But loss and grief can visit our lives in many forms.
My husband and I read Christmas letters telling of grown children’s accomplishments and developmental stages successfully achieved. Friends and family have children we’ve known since they were born, now entering adulthood or even well-into their twenties and thirties. And we have been hit with the realization in the past three months that our 22 year old will need assisted living for the rest of her life and will move out of our home next month. It’s for her best, but we cry because so few will ever know. She’s beautiful and no one could ever tell and it’s hard to know how to answer the questions all parents our age ask. It’s hard to keep explaining and dealing with the awkwardness that usually follows when people don’t know quite what to say.
And our 20 year old? Second and third and fourth professional opinions sought over the past year all align. There’s permanent brain damage and though other parts of his brain work better than average, the part that is required for independent living does not work and never will, barring a miracle. And so, this Christmas, we are no longer looking for residential treatment as we were last Christmas. We are looking for assisted living for our second child also.
And these children, embraced in our arms and our hearts 16 years ago in a Russian orphanage, these children are still God’s children and they are still our children and we are clinging to our greatest gift this Christmas—that Christ IS our hope. Christ IS our peace. Christ IS our joy. Christ IS our love. Even when our temporary lives here on earth bring grief and loss and pain. Even when our hopes and dreams shatter. Because really, there’s only one hope, one peace, one joy, and one love that has no possibility of shattering and that’s Jesus.
In our present season of suffering, my husband and I won’t stuff or deny our pain. We choose to be real as we strive to honor God. We draw strength and courage from fellow sojourners like us who don’t try to make us feel differently or who imply that we should “buck up” because of Christ. I reject the notion that to honor our Lord, we must clothe ourselves in stoicism which is nothing more than an insidious form of pride (Timothy Keller, How to Walk with God Through Pain and Suffering).
Our Lord suffered much and was well-acquainted with grief. But because of the JOY set before Him, He endured the cross. And he only hoped for a few friends who would not lecture or spiritualize. He only hoped for a few friends who would stay awake with him in the midnight hour of His greatest grief and struggle and PRAY with Him.
So, as I approach Christmas in a few days, I’m counting my greatest blessings—my greatest gifts—and there are two.
First, I know and walk with Jesus Christ. He teaches, guides, comforts, corrects, and encourages me all in love.
Second, I have fellow travelers through this oft treacherous life where tragedy and temptation lurk in places we least suspect. God has provided great friends. God has provided a great husband. God has provided Holy Spirit-filled children who genuinely love God and try to follow Him as best they can. And all these people provisions? They all pray without ceasing. That’s the best gift I could ever ask for this Christmas—people who are of goodwill—who love enough to listen and learn about the suffering of another—who are not afraid to admit they can’t do much but what they CAN do is PRAY. And they do. And a loving heart—one who listens AND speaks Biblical truth seasoned with much prayed-for discernment—one who commits to praying you through even when you’ve lost the ability to even pray—these are the most priceless gifts—better than diamonds or gold or the latest cell phone or outfit or any other stocking stuffer imaginable.
Prayer is mysteriously powerful. It’s the best thing—when there’s nothing else you can do, the best thing you can do is pray and wait and see how the hand of God delivers exactly what’s needed, exactly at the right time, both the one who prays and the one who is prayed for are equally blessed.
So, as we’re thinking of those last-minute gifts to give right before celebrating the Greatest Gift to our broken world, how about making a prayer list? And here’s the best prayer ever, from the lips of Jesus:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name,
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
Make a list and start praying? Give those you love JESUS this Christmas, whether they recognize Him yet or not? Pray and be honest and let go of pride? Accept your own need for Jesus? Accept never-changing HOPE and PEACE and JOY and LOVE? Accept the powerful prayers of others? Even in the midst of great pain and grief and loss?
This is not our eternal home.
Our eternal life is with Christ and every single tear, every single heartbreak will be used by Him to bless us with the best gift ever that will never be stolen, will never rust, will never decay . . .
Jesus is eternally alive. He was born. He lived. He died. He was raised from the dead. He is eternally alive.
And so are we, when we bow to the best GIFT of all.