And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappointment us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. ~ Romans 5:3-5
Advent is a season of hope. We prepare for the birth of a child in Bethlehem and in our hearts. We live like young expectant parents waiting for the promise of a new baby. “When any child is born, we have no idea what he or she will become. The possibilities are infinite, and therefore the child represents a new being. She is not a copy; she is an original,” writes Thomas Moore in The Soul of Christmas.
Christmas is about living with hope, a hope that “does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). I turn to this verse again and again when life happens. It is difficult to keep hope alive when the walls crumble down around us and our communities, and child-like innocence easily fades into adult cynicism and despair.
In late June, our church placed twenty-one empty chairs (nineteen small chairs for children and two chairs for adults) on our front lawn to remember and mourn those who died in the Uvalde mass shooting at Robb Elementary School. Larry and Carol hung a banner with the simple yet profound message, “Love Our Children.”
This Thanksgiving there were fourteen more empty chairs at the table because of more mass shootings in recent weeks. Five killed at Club Q, a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs. Six killed at a Wal-Mart in Chesapeake, Virginia. Three University of Virginia students killed. The United States has passed six hundred mass shootings for the third straight year.
“It’s easy to be profoundly cynical about the possibility of a world living by love,” says Moore. Living with hope and the conviction that “love perseveres” (see 1 Corinthians 13:8) seems naïve and foolish. Do we need to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the reality of the ways of the world to live with hope? Should we “speak softly and carry a big stick” as President Theodore Roosevelt said.
This has been a tough year for many of us, certainly for me and Jennifer. Both of our mothers died within the past fourteen months. The grief and the pain have brought us to our knees and our fuses have been short at times. Our car got stolen; I turned the wrong way on the Colorado Trail. Jennifer came down with shingles. We’ve had a couple of trips to the emergency room. Medical bills mount. Sometimes there is an empty chair at the table because we need some space.
Into this world, Christ is born. Moore ponders, “Christmas, whether it commemorates the birth of an infant at Bethlehem or the return of sunshine, is about the hope for new and abundant life.” But where do we find hope given the reality of the world we live in?
Our son Ro had terrible asthma attacks when he was young child. We kept a nebulizer in our house to give him treatments when he had a flare up, ironically, always around Christmas. The witching hours, when his asthma attacks were the most intense, were from 10 p.m. at night to six a.m. in the morning. His coughing and his struggle to breathe was frightening and desperate.
One cold winter night, nothing could alleviate Ro’s cough and his oxygen level continued to drop. Jennifer stayed home to care for our daughter, Andie, and I took Ro to our local hospital in Meeker. I remember strapping him into his car seat. His eyes were sunken and blurry, and his cough was hard. We drove in the darkness, and his body arched violently with each coughing fit. Then, for a moment there was calm.
Little Ro looked over at me and asked, “Daddy, am I going to die?” His vulnerability and innocence broke my heart open and what poured out was sadness and a renewed love for him and life. I held his fragile hand and said, “I will always love you and you will be O.K.” But I did not know if he would live or not.
Hope does not mean everything will turn out the way we want it to. Hope is a conviction that Love endures and sustains us no matter what. We cannot deny the violence in our country and our world. Our lives are often broken. Yet we can live with great hope that Grace will pour into and out of our hearts, healing and renewing our world. May we experience the birth of hope within us. Amen.