While some people enjoy this season as the most wonderful time of the year, others shuffle along through the sludge of sorrows. The holidays have the power to amplify feelings of loss. Instead of filling the final part of the year with festive gatherings of family and special friends, giving and receiving extra-special gifts, there are some people right around you suffering a growing hole in their hearts that is overshadowing their lives.
Hoping in God doesn’t guarantee that all of the holes in your heart will be nicely filled in with tidings of comfort and joy. If you have lost someone you care deeply about recently, hoping in God will not bring them back to their spot at Christmas dinner table. Their laughter may echo in your memories of past times with them, but there will not be fresh layers of new memories this year. Still, hoping in God helps a great deal. It re-calibrates your perspective about the loss and about life in general.
The people of Israel were enduring desperate times as the very first Christmas approached. The Roman Empire had dominated the entire Mediterranean basin in those days. When the Roman general Pompey subdued Israel in 63 B.C., he crushed their hopes in his Italian vice-grip. The people were supposed to be God’s very people. They had rebuilt his temple. They did the sacrifices demanded in his Law. God had delivered Israel so many times in the past in miraculous ways. They wondered how he could allow the pagan Romans to rule over them? It was humiliating.
In addition to watching their meager livelihoods taxed into desperation, the Jews of the last decades before Christ had not heard from God in hundreds of years. The last Old Testament prophet, Malachi, spoke to the people from God over four hundred years before the birth of Christ. For spiritual leaders, the Jews of those days had the rigid Pharisees and the liberal Sadducees, the former trying to get everyone to obey the Law of God plus their elaborate man-made traditions to become right with God, and the latter worrying more about money and Roman favor than with even believing the Bible.
Not everyone in Israel, however, was without hope. Although the days seemed endlessly bad, some of God’s people clung to God. Their perspectives of the dark days included pinpricks of light. God seemed silent, but God was still present. The Scriptures told them of other difficult days in the past, when God had used the darkness to accomplish remarkably bright results. The Scriptures taught them that God was big, powerful, and completely in control, even if that didn’t seem to match with what they were experiencing. Moreover, the Scriptures revealed many wonderful promises from God indicating that he would send a promised one who would rule over his people forever. These words generated hope.
The hopeful Jews were not sure about many of the hows, like how God would send this ruler, or if the ruler would physically save them from the Romans or be a spiritual savior, but they believed that God could be trusted. However it would turn out, it would be according to God’s will, and it would be good.
Genesis 3:15 included words to the serpent, after Adam and Eve had rebelled in the Garden, that the seed, or offspring, of the woman would crush the serpent’s head. Many years later God chose Abraham out of paganism in modern Iraq and made amazing promises to him. In Genesis 12:1–3, God tells Abraham to go to the Promised Land and God would bless him and through his offspring all of the nations of the earth would be blessed.
Later one of Abraham’s great-grandsons, Judah, received the blessing that through his line the king would come. That king did come in the person of King David, the man after God’s own heart. When David wanted to build God a house, God refused, and in 2 Samuel 7, God instead promised to build David a house. He told David that through his offspring the king who would reign forever over God’s people would come.
There were other hints about the promised one given along the way. He was to be born of a virgin in Isaiah 7. He would be born in Bethlehem according to Micah 5:2. And according to Isaiah 53 he would suffer and die in the place of his people. Although these hints would have been hard to sort out ahead of time, God gave his people enough for them to hope.
The same is true today. You may be barely hanging on this Christmas season. You don’t know how the bills will be met. You are struggling with the pain of that empty seat at the table. You wonder how that relationship will ever be restored. Your eyes see only darkness.
Let me assure you that the same God who came through for those in Israel who hoped in the light God had provided, is just as real today. He has provided far more than just pinpricks of light for us. In the Bible he has revealed his character––his goodness, his faithfulness, his wisdom, his grace, and his mercy. He has proven again and again that he has the power to comfort any hurting heart. He can provide in spite of how life looks. He can restore damaged relationships. He has made wonderful promises for his people to cling to.
In the days after Jesus was born in Bethlehem, he was presented in the temple in Jerusalem. Two strangers came up to Mary and Joseph and rejoiced to meet their baby. The Bible says in Luke 2:22-38 that Simeon and Anna were among those hoping for the consolation of Israel. In other words, they were part of that group within Israel that clung to the pinpricks of Scriptural light during the dark days of Roman rule. God came through for this old man and this old woman of hope. They literally saw the newborn promised Messiah. The very same God will come through for you too as you keep hoping in him.
By John Crotts