“A Thrill of Hope”: How the Promise of Christmas Can Keep Us From Despair

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One of my all time favorite movies is You’ve Got Mail with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Not necessarily thought of as a Christmas movie, this delightful picture is a remake of the Christmas classic A Shop Around the Corner with Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan.

One scene from the film has always stuck with me. After spending an evening alone reminiscing about her mother and decorating a Christmas tree in the window of her children’s bookstore, Kathleen Kelly, played by Meg Ryan, returns home to write an email to Joe Fox, her love-interest who is played by Tom Hanks. In it she writes:

“‘It’s coming on Christmas, they’re cutting down trees.’ Do you know that Joni Mitchell song? ‘I wish I had a river I could skate away on?’ It’s such a sad song, and not really about Christmas at all, but I was thinking about it tonight as I was decorating my Christmas tree and unwrapping funky ornaments made of Popsicle sticks, and missing my mother so much I almost couldn’t breathe.”

The last part of these lines has always choked me up: “and missing my mother so much I almost couldn’t breathe.” It makes me think about my grandmother. It also makes me think about a day when I will desperately miss my own mother.

One thing has enabled our weary souls to rejoice along with this weary world: the “thrill of hope.”

As Shelly Durkee articulated so well in a recent post, many of us have these types of moments, especially around the holidays, when we are overcome by an overwhelming sense of loss and longing. Whether missing a loved one who is no longer with us, grieving an illness that hasn’t healed, mourning the loss of a job or a relationship, Christmas is often a reminder that things are not the way they were meant to be.

For the last 13 years, I have whispered to myself, “This is going to be the Christmas I will regain my health.” For 13 years that hope has been deferred. This year was particularly difficult for my family and me. Despite finally receiving a proper diagnosis of my condition[1] and remission being a real possibility, another Christmas is going to come and go without my whispered resolution coming to pass.

Do you know what has kept us from despair? One thing has enabled our weary souls to rejoice along with this weary world: the “thrill of hope.”[2] Christmas may be a difficult reminder of all the things that make us sad, but never forget that Christmas is chiefly a promise. A promise of a “new and glorious morn.”[3] A promise that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

If you are like me, you probably have a tendency to not just think about, but dwell on, all the things that could have been. I end up meditating on what I am missing out on because of my illness—seemingly normal things like eating with my family, playing with my niece and nephew, or dancing with my wife. No doubt, this is the opposite of “taking every thought captive” (2 Corinthians 10:15).  

A Practical Strategy for Not Losing Heart

What should we do instead of dwelling on our sorrows? Let me humbly offer one suggestion that has proved especially helpful for me this year: Particularize your hope. In other words, concretize and then meditate on all the things that will be because of Christ. And then hold on.

For example, even if I don’t recover, one day I will feast with my family, play with my niece and nephew, and dance with my wife.[4] I not only think about that fact; I preach it to my heart until it beats with hope again.

No matter your circumstances, one day we will all laugh, and play, and dance, and sing, and feast with our loved ones in the New Heavens and New Earth. God will “restore…the years the locusts have eaten” (Joel 2:25). And He will not only restore all that is broken in our lives, He will gloriously perfect them. That is to say, in the New Creation we will laugh and play harder, we will dance better, we will sing louder, food will taste better, and our fellowship with God and one another will be infinitely sweeter. Everything really will be “as good as it gets.”

Take heart this Christmas. One day everything will really be made right with the world.

So, when the waves of sadness hit you this year, remind yourself of this gospel truth: You and I may miss out on some of the temporal foretastes of the New Heavens and New Earth, but we certainly will not miss out on the eternal reality. Speaking of this anticipated joy, C.S. Lewis writes:

“The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last…then our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy but the truest index of our real situation…At present we are on the… wrong side of the door…but all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Someday, God willing, we shall get in.[5]”

Take heart this Christmas. One day everything really will be made right with the world.

[1] If by chance you have been following my story, I have a chronic form of an enterovirus called Coxsackie B, which is attacking my GI and Central Nervous systems.

[2] From, O Holy Night

[3] Ibid.

[4] Granted, my wife will just be my good friend in glory.

[5] C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

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Jonathan Darville

Jono Darville is a former Global Master Trainer with The Center for Leadership Studies and Co-Leader of the New York branch of Models for Christ (an international non-profit bringing the gospel to the fashion industry). Due to a decade-plus long battle with chronic illness, Jono almost lost his life in 2017. After spending a number of years bed-bound, God graciously intervened in 2020, using UNC Hospital to restore Jono’s health. Jono is now finishing an M.A. in the Philosophy of Religion at SEBTS, while serving as a Ruling Elder and Youth Director at Peace Church in Cary, NC. He and his wife, Jillian, have one son, Jono Jr.

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