The economy is not rallying as expected. The President is sending more troops to Afghanistan. Tiger Woods cheated on his wife. The world may be headed for another Ice Age.
More jobs lost. More homes foreclosed. More war. More breaches of trust. More doom. More gloom.
Yet there is hope. “He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord. His heart is secure, he will have no fear” (Psalm 112: 7-8).
These are the Bible verses for the first day of Advent in my devotional guide. Most days consists of a scripture and a short reflection. The usual format. It is full of faith, hope, love, comfort and encouragement. But something about this devotional guide makes it different than any other I have used. It was not written by a spiritual giant, like Henri Nouwen, Max Lucado or Walter Wangerin, nor by Joan Chittister, Beth Moore or Joyce Rupp.
It was written by the people in my church. In its pages, I find that I am surrounded by humans who hope in God.
Some of these people I know well. Others, I’ve had occasional encounters with. The rest I know only by name. For each of them, life has its ups and downs. In their lives, over the few years I’ve known them, have been graduations, weddings, the birth and adoption of babies, new job opportunities, trips abroad, successful operations, healing, mission trips. There have also been houses burned down, car accidents, sick children, heart attacks, mental illness, lawsuits, divorces, estranged family members, rejection, lost jobs.
Yet there is always hope.
It’s called fellowship. An old friend used to define fellowship as “a bunch of fellows in the same ship.” When one rejoices, we all rejoice. When one grieves, we all grieve.
Walking through life together with others makes everything bearable. Of course, there are other good friends, too, not in my church, people with whom I have a longer history of rejoicing and grieving. Friends I know and who know me well.
So in this Advent guide, when I read this reflection, I know this friend has had her share of bad news. I have seen, over the past four years of our friendship, how she trusts in God, not only for herself and her family, but for all those she comes to care about.
Bad things happen. God does not promise a life free of trouble, my friend writes. As a matter of fact, Jesus says we will have trouble. But we are not to be afraid, not to worry.
Fear and worry take over my thoughts as I read the headlines, dwell on the circumstances, wake up in the night. Oh my, at night everything looks worse.
In difficult times, I always run to God for refuge. He always gives me a Bible passage, a truth that becomes a real and solid thing inside me. When I wake up in the night, afraid and anxious, I turn on the light and read the verses.
For instance, when I had cancer a few years back, the verses were these from Psalm 103: “Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.”
This passage becomes my prayer. Prayer is what brings it all together. I want to pray according to God’s will, so I seek it in the Bible, in the Psalms, the Gospels or the letters. God’s will is expressed in the life of Jesus, so we can see that God wants to heal, comfort, deliver, restore.
My friends and family pray for me, with me, and I for them. There are times when I pray, “Lord, have mercy.” This a powerful prayer. God is merciful and longs to give mercy. The truth, in the end, always prevails. God has always worked all things out for good. God has always been faithful.
We do not get to choose what happens in the world, what happens to us, what happens to those we love, but we do get to choose how to respond:
Love or hate? Blessing or cursing? Despair or hope?
Advent is all about expectation, expecting God to appear, here, on Earth, in our lives. Thanks to the people in my life, prayer and God’s promises, there is always hope.