christmas

Do You Feel Hopeless? Advent Is for You.

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By Shelly Durkee

I always love the beginning of Advent season. The anticipation that accompanies the first Sunday of Advent draws me toward the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

Houses start to glow with Christmas lights. Pictures of newly decorated Christmas trees fill Facebook feeds. It is now “acceptable” to listen to Christmas music. Children start dropping hints about what they hope to find under the tree on Christmas morning.

Advent wreaths are dusted off and placed in sanctuaries around the world. One purple and four white candles will be lit as a part of worship during the weeks leading up to Christmas Eve.

I love that the first candle, the purple one, traditionally represents hope. This seems fitting. Isn’t hope what we yearn for the deepest? Isn’t that what our souls long for when we contemplate the Christ child’s birth?

The prophet Isaiah best describes this hope in that wondrous part of his book which tells of Jesus’ coming. It’s a proclamation of hope to the Israelites, who found themselves mired in captive hopelessness at the hands of the Assyrians, through God’s sovereign plan to draw them to repentance and redemption. 

The oppressive darkness blanketed the Israelites. Yet, because God is merciful and full of grace, he provided a message of hope in the darkness: A Messiah will come.

“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.” (Isaiah 9:2)

Can you sense the magnitude of hope in these verses?

We, too, know this hope on this side of Christ’s birth, death and resurrection. Like the Israelites who “dwelt in a land of deep darkness,” when we are enveloped by despairing hopelessness, the dark can weigh so heavily that it feels impossible to take the next breath.

Suffocating. Oppressive. Relentless.

Advent is now. Emmanuel, God with us. Advent is also not yet. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Darkness in the Cave

Have you ever experienced a cave tour? Maybe you have been in Tom Sawyer’s cave in Missouri, or Luray Caverns in Virginia, or Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. I’ve been to all three, and have taken their touristy “Cave Tours.” The experience always fascinates me, but not because of the beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, nor the perfect reflecting pools they contain.

No, the part that always fascinates me is when the tour guide tells everyone to stand perfectly still while they briefly turn off the lights.

Within a breath, everyone in the cave is instantly plunged into the deepest dark imaginable. The guide directs everyone to “wave your hands in front of your faces.” You hear unsettled murmuring because no one can see their hands, or anything else, for that matter. For most people, it’s the deepest dark they have ever encountered.

Yet the pitch black of a cave power outage is not deepest dark of our lives. Sometimes, the circumstances of our lives plunge us into an even greater depth of darkness. A place where all sense of hope is gone — a devastating medical diagnosis, a battle against mental illness, a tragic loss of someone we dearly love or financial ruin can bring on the pitch black. Sometimes our very own sin or someone else’s sin can have the most devastating impact on our lives.

Hopelessness is so very dark. And cold. And lonely.

That’s the kind of hopelessness that Isaiah was referring to. That’s the kind of hopelessness that was shattered by the light of our Messiah’s birth.

It’s the kind of hopelessness that we still know today, even as Christ followers. However, we also know that it is only temporary, because the celebration of Advent is not just a celebration of Christ’s birth so many years ago. Advent is also a celebration of what is yet to come…. His return.

Advent is now. Emmanuel, God with us. Advent is also not yet. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Darkness and Hope

As we wait, there will be darkness; such is the nature of life in this fallen world. We will still have days of deep sadness, sleepless nights, worries over the future, relationships fractured beyond earthly repair. We will still have times when we are mired in our own sinfulness that snuffs out the light, or times when we are victims of other’s sinfulness that also brings down a curtain of darkness.

We will grieve. Deeply.

And yet, those of us who are Christ-followers know this to be truth: “We do not grieve as those who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). We don’t. We can’t, because if we did, then we would do so in unbelief that Jesus is who He said He was — our Savior, our forgiveness and atonement for Sins.

So, we celebrate the now and the not yet of Advent. We sit in silent wonder that Jesus was born to a virgin teenager in the small, no-account town of Bethlehem. He taught things that were life-changing. Revolutionary, even. Then He changed lives forever, when He died on the cross in our place for our sins. Three days later God raised him from the grave.

Advent reminds us that there will be a day when He will return, to take us home.

The song, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” captures the spirit of Advent well. It acknowledges the dreadful sense of hopelessness that the Israelites felt, and that we, too, experience at times. It also points us to hope…to the very reason why Jesus is called Emmanuel: God with us.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

 

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  • christmas
Shelly Durkee

Shelly Durkee is a Christ-follower who is keenly aware of God’s mercy and grace. She is the wife of Ken and is mom to four incredible young adults. She delights in every moment spent with her family. Shelly has been published in Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal and in the UK Journal "CCPAS Caring." Reading is her favorite pastime, and writing is what helps to keep her pushing forward toward God. Shelly writes about her unique story of grace at shellyduffer.com.

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