By Joseph Delamerced '22
Hope: to cherish a feeling of anticipation. To protect and nurse a longing for things to be different. To have a sense that one day, change will come, and it will be good.
More often do we think of hope as wishful thinking: a desire for something that probably cannot or will not ever happen. We all want to believe our hopes can be real, but it’s terrifying to step into such a mindset. We have all experienced being cheated out of the goodness of life. In this year alone, who of us has not experienced loneliness, depression, sickness, pain, or even outright anger at the world? It is easy to lament, rightfully so: when will things change? And will that change be good?
This attitude and these questions are not new. The shepherds from Biblical times held a similar worldview with the same jaded questions: when would things ever change? Born as a shepherd, living as one, dying as one: shepherds were trapped in a never-ending cycle of despair as unlearned, poor, and impoverished people. Shepherds had no home and were forced to sleep in fields with their flocks. From religious elites in lavish garbs, they heard of a Messiah that would bring great change and goodness—why should they believe in this message when they were pushed to the lowest rungs of society?
And yet, a messenger of God came to the lowly shepherds first and shared news of the greatest change in the world: Jesus, the Savior of the world, was born in a manger in Bethlehem. They did not stop to wonder: “Is it true? Has the Messiah been born? How can it be?” Instead, these shepherds, who were the most deserving of all to be skeptical, believed immediately. For the first time, they had a genuine hope that what they heard was real. And so they ran to Bethlehem to see Jesus, not in skepticism to see if what the angel said was true. They ran because they believed what the angel said was true, and they knew that nothing could extinguish such a belief. Their hope was real: change had come in the form of Jesus, and such change would be good.
The shepherds’ hope was true. In His life on Earth, Jesus healed the sick, cared for the poor, fought on the behalf of the oppressed, challenged religious hypocrites, and fundamentally transformed people’s lives. Most of all, Jesus offered a path to salvation because He loved us. Jesus, who was born in a manger, a symbol of poverty and weakness, mightily changed the world.
While carrying this hope would sound easy, a cursory look at our world today begs difficult questions: can a hope in God stand firm today? Pain, suffering, despair—all of that still is so prevalent, almost as if all that Jesus tried to do and teach was ignored. And what difference does the birth of Jesus from over 2000 years ago make now? So many so-called Christians sing about it for four weeks and then live the other 48 as if nothing happened. Did their hope in God not change them? And what is hope in a year of senseless suffering? We hear often from our peers that while 2020 was a terrible year, 2021 will be different and will finally be a time of blessings. But when a year passes once more, will we still have hope? “Hope” almost feels like a throwaway idea, something that once brought us comfort but now no longer, especially revealed amidst present challenges. We cry out, just as the shepherds did millennia ago: when will things change? When will things be good?
But questions of when are uncertain, harder to grasp. First it is better to ask: is that change possible, and how can that change come? The answers to both of these questions are found in the birth of Jesus. It signals a great change to come for a broken world. It is a beautiful invitation to build a relationship with our Creator. In God, we have a genuine hope that the love of God is real and personal. Through the transformative power of Jesus, we have a hope that we have changed, are changing, and will change, all for the better.
Our cynicism might kick in once more, as if to warn us: “Could it be true? Has the Messiah been born? How could it be?” These pervasive, desperate thoughts ask us to consider the brokenness of the world and how that brokenness might ever be fixed. And here, I ask you to consider why these questions bother us every day. The cynicism we have is not to be ignored, but it is a sign that we cannot substitute the love of God with something artificial. Our cries from our sufferings, our calls for change, our hope that things will be good—God hears us and provides the answer in the redemptive and saving power of Christ.
Because of Jesus, we are changed. We are drawn out from the brokenness and coldness of sin into the warmth and love of God. This transformative, good news is the reason we have hope. Not some wishful thinking, but a confident and cherished hope, as we know that the grace and love of God reaches us always, no matter where we are in life now and no matter who we’ve been before.
To share that hope with you on Christmas Eve is a blessing, whether it’s the first or fiftieth time you’ve heard of it. Merry Christmas, and may God bless you.