“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” -John 1:5
Each Christmas season is filled with joy, excitement, hope, and eager anticipation, but that wasn’t true of the weeks leading up to the first Christmas. For us, the month of December is filled with decorations, parties, commercials, movies, and TV specials building our anticipation and expectation for the celebration of December 25. This snowballing sense of excitement is so palpable and contagious that we call it the Christmas spirit. For most of us, it is easy to join in the spirit of the season.
But for some, there may be circumstances in life that make joy, excitement, and hope difficult to grasp. If you find yourself in this group, you are not alone. This same feeling of hopelessness was likely felt by most Jewish people in the weeks leading up to the birth of Jesus. They certainly knew the promises of God, but those promises may never have seemed further from reality than in the season leading up to Jesus’ birth. The nation of Israel was living under foreign rule despite God’s promise that Israel would be God’s means of blessing those foreign nations. Not only that, they were living under the rule of Herod—who was a descendant of Esau—despite the promise of God that Israel, the descendants of Jacob, would be served by the descendants of Esau. In addition to the rule of Herod, he had built a large palace arrogantly called the Herodian, atop the highest point in the Judean desert. To add insult to injury, the Herodian was funded by taxing the Israelites and built by Israelite slave labor. The Israelites were living literally and figuratively in the shadow of this foreign rule.
While it’s true the Israelites were hoping for a Messiah, a promised Deliverer, there was nothing about the Israelite’s current circumstances that would suggest they should have any hope of God fulfilling His promises at that time.
But, even when it may not appear to be true, God is at work fulfilling His promises, and His faithfulness is often displayed when we least expect it in ways we would never expect. The idea that the Messiah, the long-promised deliverer of Israel, would be born in a manger at the foot of the palace of a foreign ruler likely would have never crossed the minds of an Israelite. They also weren’t likely to anticipate that Jesus would not only be the promised Deliverer for Israel but would defeat death itself and bring redemption for the whole world through His death and resurrection.
But, that’s what hope is. Hope is found in the conviction that God’s character is love and He is faithfully at work fulfilling His promises, even when our circumstances may suggest otherwise. To hold fast to hope does not mean we live in denial of hurt, pain, and grief, but to live with the conviction that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it. May you know the hope of Christmas this year, not as simple sentimentality that comes and goes with the season, but as a deep conviction that is unmoved by life’s circumstances.