For years, I have been a champion of Thanksgiving. I would cringe as I walked into Target on Halloween to find it already transformed into wonderland. I would tensely change the radio station should they insist I listen to Jingle Bells on November 15th. I have always mourned how much we glaze over Thanksgiving in our culture. But this year, I am biting the bullet, I know, I’m a hypocrite… but it’s just because I am SO ready for Christmas.
This year has seemed topsy-turvy to me. I have made some really incredible memories and have felt myself grow so much as a person, a friend, a daughter, a leader. But I have also had some terribly tough moments. Moments where I am begging 2016 to end - as if I have any idea next year won’t have rolling hills of it’s own.
And so here I am, 11/16/16, sitting in Starbucks with a white peppermint mocha, listening to Dave Barnes’ Christmas albums, so honestly ready to admit I want to skip to Christmas. It’s not just the need for twinkle lights in my life or the feeling of warmth when all the candles get lit during Silent Night. It’s because Christmas fills me up the most with Hope. I also have to admit - I had decided I wouldn’t write about hope. Right? Because I go to Hope Church and this blog is for Hope Church and there are three other advent words - so I should probably choose one of those instead. But as I wrote the words for advent in my journal: Love, Peace, Hope, Joy, I could not ignore how the other three come out of my ability to experience hope in my life. When I am hope-filled, I love others more easily. When I am hope-filled, I can much more easily tap into joy. When I am hope-filled, I walk with an underlying foundation of peace in my heart.
One of the places I love to read about hope in the Bible is in the first half of Isaiah 9. I have such a fondness for Old Testament scriptures at Christmas time, because that’s where so much of the hope is. This talk of a Savior coming to redeem lives, a king not yet born to reign forever and ever, God living among humanity to bring everlasting light and joy…. that shouts hope to me. Here are a few of my favorite spots in this chapter:
“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light” - Isaiah 9:2
“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” - Isaiah 9:6
“Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.” - Isaiah 9:7
Forevermore? How incredibly awesome it that?! Having hope that is not just for today, or for tomorrow, but forevermore – that hope changes lives. I have had the honor of learning from some international leaders who have experienced incredible darkness and yet have this forevermore hope in their hearts.
In Haiti, my friend Fenel, who runs Go Out Ministries and House of Abraham, lived in a tent after an earthquake shook his city. But today, because of his hope in Jesus, he provides for a handful of young Haitians, raising them to be the next generation of their country. Because he is hope-filled, I watch him be able to love his neighbors and his country inspire of deep corruption. I watch him interact with our team with peace and joy, often saying “don’t worry brother,” when we are clearly more stressed about getting a project done than he is. All of this, I have no doubt, is because he has hope in Jesus. Jesus, the Prince of Peace who he knows is ultimately reigning over him, and these children, and Haiti.
In Cuba, I am often mesmerized by the sparkling hope in Pastor Marin’s eyes as he says good morning to me and ultimately teases me about my lack of Spanish. Because he is hope-filled, he is able to love the people in his country even if they do not desire to live by faith. He can even love the people who have rejected his and his son-in-law’s passages to the United States multiple times. Marin walks with this same peace I notice in Fenel. He radiates the same sense of joy. Because he is hope-filled, he continues to be able to have big, scary, incredible dreams for ways God can use his church in a nation that abandoned church long ago.
These two men have taught me incredible lessons in peace, joy, and love, but above all, they have taught me about the resiliency hope provides. So whatever the next year brings, however quickly or slowly Christmas gets here, I have seen the great Light. And because of Him, Emmanuel, I will also have hope forevermore.
-- Ashley Evans