A very sweet friend recently gave me a handmade necklace for Christmas. It had a pendant with a picture of a songbird, some lovely beads and a couple of tiny charms—one of a leaf and one that says HOPE. The accompanying card was chock full of scriptures and encouraging words about the successful completion of our son’s adoption from Africa. The main theme of the note was her charge for me not to lose hope.
I wore it all of the next day as I ran errands and carpooled kids around town. Compliments were made by friends and strangers and my heart was cheered every time I looked at this thoughtful gift. It wasn’t until I was getting dressed for bed that I realized one of the charms was missing. That’s right—I lost HOPE.
Even though I love a good bit of irony, it was a kick in the shins to my spirit. (That is, if spirits have shins.) You don’t realize how close to the edge of despair you are until you get a little shove sometimes. Some days it only takes a light breeze.
Once I picked myself up off the floor, I began to ponder what hope really means. With the Christmas season in full swing, I can’t help but think about a night many years ago in Bethlehem and the hope that Christ’s birth brought to this world. When the angels told the shepherds, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people,” it must have been a huge source of encouragement. These men smelled like sheep and were ruled by an occupying government. They needed a shot of hope. They went to the stable and saw that the angel’s words were fulfilled. And then what? They went home and slept and woke up to another day of sheep herding. Jesus didn’t start his ministry for thirty years. Chances are, He didn’t even begin healing and preaching during the shepherds’ lifetimes.
So how was this hope?
I can see now that I confused “hope” with “happiness.” Hope is a perpetually-filling reservoir and happiness is a fleeting rain shower. Hope is seeing God’s majesty to create anticipation for greater things and happiness is the majesty of one moment that doesn’t usually live up to the hype. Hope can be a long wait, but it will be worth it.
Some part of the shepherds’ spirit must have known that night was unlike any other. (I’m guessing the chorus of heavenly beings probably tipped them off.) Even if they never saw the culmination of that miraculous birth, they were able to die with the taste of promising hope on their lips. That’s a gift…if you can hold on to it.
A few days after I lost the charm on my necklace, I was sitting in the carline and talking to a friend on my phone. I was asking her if I could borrow some items for our church’s Christmas play. My list was full of props like gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (God works in mysterious ways…) As I was talking, I looked down in the floorboard in the narrow space by the console. I saw something glinting in the afternoon light. Yep, you guessed it…I found HOPE. I had to stop mid-sentence to collect myself. I hadn’t even tried to find the charm because I had assumed it was lost in one of the many places I had visited that day. But here it was, patiently waiting for me to pick it up and marvel at it. I carefully slipped it into the change part of my wallet so I could re-connect it to my necklace later. Now that I think about it, I may just leave it in my wallet. HOPE is that precious to me this year!