For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
While the Apostle Paul exhorts us toward the “blessed hope” of Jesus, a truthful look inward often reveals how little we really expect of God. Nothing throws that into relief quite like the holidays. Precisely because the coming of Christmas is all about joyful expectation, this “most wonderful” time of the year makes our struggle to hope in God more acute. In short, hope hurts more because this is a time of year we are supposed to be hoping and happy, and not hurting.
No wonder self-sabotage at this time of year ramps up quickly. We easily eat or drink too much, we try to buy our way into our loved ones’ lives through gifts, we work hard to make up for all the days we worked too much, we give ourselves to bad relationships with people and things because it means, at least, relationship with something. Below the surface of our put-together exteriors, we know that our lives can be ungodly and out of control. But here, too, lie the deep wants, wishes, hopes, and needs of our hearts. We would do anything to have God meet us in these places. If God would bring us redemption here, we know it would be like being a kid on Christmas morning all over again. It might even be better. But we tend to believe this is too much to ask for, even at Christmas. Too much to hope for, even for God.
Friends, this is a lie told straight from the kingdom of darkness. The season of Advent stands against this lie. Hope is not impossible, but hope is humbling. Hope is vulnerable. God’s hope for all things in the universe comes to us as a baby. The original-edition Christmas morning wasn’t cozy, shiny, and well-wrapped. It was a smelly, dank, exhausted affair resulting from childbirth outside where animals were kept. Advent “trains” us toward this hope.
When the Church celebrates Advent year in and year out, we celebrate God journeying to meet us where we are. God means to rule our world, our lives, and our hearts, even in the gritty and tender places we keep hidden. Even in the places where we feel so hopeless that we can’t admit it to ourselves.
Dr. Andy McCoy is the director of the Center for Ministry Studies and an associate professor of ministry studies at Hope College.
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.