The 1971 Christmas song Happy Xmas (War is Over) by John Lennon begins with the contemplative lyrics:
So this is Christmas and what have you done
Another year over, a new one just begun
The lyrics of Lennon’s song can hammer home what many people experience at this time.
While many people love the start of the holiday season and the joy it brings, for others it can be a depressing and lonely time. Part of what Christmas and the end of the year can highlight is the fleetingness of life.
The older you get, the quicker time passes. Another year over, a new one just begun, all the while wondering what have you really accomplished.
Maybe you feel like you’re stuck in a wilderness and not making any progress in your life. Perhaps you don’t have a job, or you’re filled with uncertainty for the future. Or perhaps you’re unable to move forward because of grief or tragedy.
The start of Advent is meant to be a time of hope. However, that hope is in a person, not in earthly things that have no permanence. Even when times are dark, we can still find hope in Jesus.
The hope of Advent
The word “Advent” means “coming”. It brings a sense of expectation and hope with it. It’s a reminder of when Jesus came to earth in humility as a baby born in Bethlehem. This was a period when Israel looked forward to the arrival of the Messiah who would deliver them from their enemies.
However, Advent also looks forward to Christ’s coming when He returns again in glory. Again, we have a sense of anticipation that God will deliver us from our this present age.
Here are 3 reasons we can take hope during this season of Advent even if we are in darkness:
1. We have hope that God is with us in our darkness
Isaiah 9:2 predicts the coming of Jesus. It describes how the Israelites, who had been in the darkness of their wilderness finally saw the light of the Prince of Peace breaking into their lives.
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
Matthew 1:22-23 says:
22 All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
This verse gives points to the Incarnation, and how God became one of us. As a baby, he took on frail human flesh, so that he would experience everything that we ourselves suffer.
Jesus coming to earth as a child offers us hope that even in our darkness, God is right there with us. He has endured what we have endured. He knows what it is like to suffer rejection and pain.
2. We have hope that the darkness will not overcome us
John’s gospel starts off differently to the other three gospels. Instead of beginning with Jesus’ earthly life, John 1 takes us right back to Jesus as the pre-incarnate Word of God who always existed and through whom all creation was made.
In John 1:4-5 it says:
4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (NIV)
The Greek word for “overcome” is the word κατέλαβεν (katelaben). In English, it is harder to translate into a word that encompasses its full meaning. On the one hand, it can mean that darkness cannot overcome, engulf or extinguish the light of the world. On the other hand, it can also refer to the darkness being unable to understand or comprehend it.
One word which some scholars have suggested could incorporate both senses of the meaning is the word “master”.
So it would read
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not mastered it.”
In other words, it can refer to “overcome” in that the darkness has not been able to become a master over the light and beat it into submission. On the other hand, the darkness is not able to “comprehend” it in the sense of a pupil being unable to master a subject.
We can take hope from both meanings of the word.
In the same way that the darkness could not quench Jesus, the Word of God, we have the assurance that, with the light of the world living in us, the darkness cannot overcome us either.
We know also that the darkness could not understand the light.
1 Corinthians 1:18 says
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Verse 25 also adds that
25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
Our strength lies in the foolishness of the cross and the subversive nature of God coming to earth in humility as a baby. While the darkness cannot comprehend the light, we don’t have to lean on our own understanding. Instead, by trusting in the Lord with all our hearts, we have the assurance that He will direct and make straight our paths.
3. We have the hope of something eternal
The Israelites hoped God would deliver them from the Romans in a similar way to how he delivered them from the Egyptians, the Philistines and many of their other enemies. They were looking for something more physical and worldly. However, God did not meet their hope in the way they expected.
The hope that He offered was in the form of His Son Jesus. Jesus wasn’t simply bringing freedom from earthly oppressors and the captivity which the Israelites had endured. Jesus was bringing freedom from sin and death.
In our own personal situations, we may hope God will provide us with earthly blessings and free us from whatever captivity we may be facing at the current time. That captivity can take many forms, whether it’s a long spell of unemployment, lack of relationships, a difficult family situation, sickness or poor health, barrenness, or addictions.
Some of us may think that when God changes this particular situation that then finally we will be happy or satisfied. Perhaps when God brings deliverance from our wilderness then we will be free.
However, when we put our hope in this passing world, we can be filled with despair. The reality of this world will never live up to our expectations.
Advent helps us to remember the meaning of the Christmas, that it’s not merely about the commercial and consumer side of things. It helps us see that this world and all of its cares is not all there is, but that there is something more.
Although God does hear our cries for help, the hope He offers is much more than merely changing our present circumstances. He offers us an eternal hope.
With Jesus’ first coming, we were given the hope of freedom from the penalty and power of sin. However, with Jesus’ second coming, we look forward to the hope of freedom from the presence of sin.
Advent helps us fix our eyes on a more eternal hope that goes beyond this world and the darkness around us.
Do you find the lead up to Christmas a depressing or lonely time, or a time of hope of expectation? If so, why? Leave me a comment in the form at the bottom of the page.
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Robert is the founder of Drawing on the Word. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Theology and a Master’s degree in Systematic Theology. He also has a degree in Law and was called to the Bar. Robert previously taught religious studies and was a theology lecturer. He is an artist, musician and writer, and has created a graphic novel version of Luke’s gospel. You can follow him below.