I used to love Christmas. When I was younger, I would even decorate my bedroom. When I moved out, my roommie and I would combine our holiday cheer into a glorious festival of lights bordering on tacky. Okay, it was pretty tacky. For many years of my life after the Christmas Eve service, I would sit in my room by the light of the Christmas lights, quietly listening to the Point of Grace Christmas albums until midnight when I would sing Happy Birthday to Jesus.
That Christmas cheer left me a few years ago and now I pretty much dread this holiday. It’s such a chore to put the decorations up and even more depressing to take them down. Christmas seems to be a reminder to me that things are not as they were. The death of my holiday spirit was due to a combination of losses. Holidays have become just a marker of time for me, reminding me how very long I have been sick. My traditions can no longer go on. I can’t usually go ‘home’ to spend it with my family. I can’t attend every event, parade, or concert that I used to attend. I can’t eat what everyone else is eating and will never again experience my mom’s famous Christmas cookies. I can’t sing Christmas songs with the choir or worship team. I don’t have the ability to pick out perfect gifts for people. I lost my job three days after Christmas. Etc, etc. Oh, and one year while decorating, I discovered that a mouse had stolen all the fuzz off the front of the Christmas stocking that I had since I was a baby, wrapped itself up in it, and died. I’m still in mourning. Not for the mouse, but for my stocking, tradition, and sentiment. I’m sure the mouse died a nice, warm, peaceful death. Bah-humbug.
“Fire of hope is our only warmth. Weary, it’s flame will be dying soon” (Night of Silence, by Daniel Kantor). I think that’s what happened to me. It’s not possible to have Christmas joy without hope and the light of my hope was snuffed out. Why? Because my hope was in tradition, my career, my health, Christmas activities, gift-giving, and sentiment. I didn’t have a lot of hope in Jesus.
A friend recently said, “hope is the most important thing we have.” Honestly, I wanted to rebel against that statement. I feared hope for so long because, in my mind, hope meant disappointment. I couldn’t handle any more of that. I tried to find hope in heaven but I was still left to question the now. What am I hoping for now? Perhaps it’s a more mature faith than mine that can live with only the hope of heaven (as if that’s an ONLY and not the greatest hope ever), but the step I was finally willing to take toward that faith was hoping to experience God in the present. I am overwhelmed by how He shows up for me when I’m looking for Him. I am inviting Him here and He speaks to me in so many ways. The more aware I become of God’s presence with me now, the more I hope for heaven, and not in my usual trying-to-escape way. I hope for heaven because I want to see Jesus face to face. Experiencing God now has led me to a greater hope in heaven. Being with Him has become more important to me than health and sentiment. What could be more healing than the presence of God?
The more I think about this, the more I’m persuaded about hope’s importance. I was surprised when I finally noticed that hope is not listed with the fruit of the Spirit. I was puzzled. If hope is so important, why didn’t God gift it to us like He did the fruit? I think there are at least two reasons for this.
Hope fuels the growth of all the other fruit. Think about it. If our hope is in Jesus, we know that He will keep His promises. He promised to continue the good work that He started in us. He planted the fruit of the Spirit in us and, when we hope to experience Jesus, that fruit grows. When our hope is in Jesus, we grow the pure love of Christ, the joy of being in His presence, the peace that passes understanding, the patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control that matches His, and the faith that endures through suffering. Without hope, the fruit in us cannot grow. When we hope in things that do not last, our fruit becomes diseased. Mine certainly has. My love has not been pure, but conditional. My joy has been nonexistent. My peace has turned into constant anxiety, my faith weak, and all the rest of the fruit inconsistent and spotty. As my hope shifts back to Jesus, I am watching my fruit grow in health and vitality. Thanks be to God.
The other possible reason for hope not being a fruit is that hope can be lost, but the fruit of the Spirit is a gift from God already in us. The fruit may not have grown big and ripe yet, but it’s in us. In contrast, I believe the flame of hope can die. I believe this because it happened to me. I refused to hope and my world became a very dark place. My fruit started to shrivel as it searched for the Light. I couldn’t see through the darkness the compassions that the writer of Lamentations saw, “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him'” (3:21-24). I wasn’t allowing God to fill me with hope. Therefore, I was consumed with disappointment and only begrudgingly waited for Him to rescue me. Now, I’m beginning to see the newness He brings to each day.
Before I lead you to believe that it has returned to Fa La La Land up in here, let me tell you that I have yet to regain my “thrill of hope.” However, the spark is back. God is growing His fruit in me again. I pray every day as we enter the week before the holiday that my Christmas will no longer be lost because Jesus cannot be lost. I pray that Christmas regains its sparkle for me because it’s about Jesus, not all those other useless hopes. And, as hard as it is for me to pray for hope, I pray that He will continue to fan that flame so it can grow His fruit in me. I pray all of these things for you, too. No amount of disappointment after hope can ever be worse than feeling your fruit shrivel and your spirit darken without it. “Breathless love awaits darkened souls. Soon will we know of the morning” (Daniel Kantor).
Song I’m Feeling: Night Of Silence, by Daniel Kantor. Oh my, you have to click on the link and listen to this arrangement.
“Cold are the people, winter of life
We tremble in shadows this cold, endless night
Frozen in the snow lie roses, sleeping
Flowers that will echo the sunrise
Fire of hope is our only warmth
Weary, its flame will be dying soon.
Voice in the distance, call in the night
On wind You enfold us, You speak of the light
Gentle on the ear You whisper softly
Rumors of a dawn so embracing
Breathless love awaits darkened souls
Soon will we know of the morning.
Spirit among us, shine like the star
Your light that guides shepherds and kings from afar
Shimmer in the sky so empty, lonely
Rising in the warmth of Your Son’s love
Star unknowing of night and day
Spirit we wait for Your loving Son.”