It is the most wonderful time of the year.Only it is not for those who just suffered the tragic loss of a child at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. It is not for someone whose teen committed suicide. It is not for those longing for a child, or for anyone who has a terminal cancer diagnosis.
It is not for those lost in depression or addiction. It is not for those still homeless after Hurricane Sandy, nor is it for those in war-ravaged Syria.
This is the most wonderful time of year, a time of celebration, a time of cheer. Only it is not. Not for so many people. No, this holly, jolly season can be a hollow, joyless season for those who are experiencing tragic loss, financial strain, or family conflict. With all the emphasis on being merry, those who are struggling will be painfully reminded of the empty chair at the table, the outstanding bills in the file, or the broken relationship in the family.
That is why for Christians, Advent is an important time of preparation for Christmas. Advent is that season of waiting for the coming of Christ, the second coming. Advent is a season of hope before we come to the joyful celebration of Christ's birth, the first coming.
We can endure anything if we have hope -- hope of relief, hope of comfort, hope of rescue. It is hope that the prophet Jeremiah gives us when he speaks for God saying, "For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope" (Jeremiah 29:11). When he says, "I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you," (Jeremiah 31:3), and when he says, "The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise " (Jeremiah 33:14).
Advent is a reminder that even when you have an empty chair at your table in the holidays, there is hope in the God who keeps promises, the God who comes to us in Jesus Christ. Even when your bank account is empty, there is hope in the God who keeps promises, the God who comes to us in Jesus Christ. Even when your job search is endless and your sense of self-worth is lagging, there is hope in the God who keeps promises, the God who comes to us in Jesus Christ.
There is still hope, even when you are estranged from your child or your parent or your spouse. There is still hope even when the cancer is raging and you see no cure in sight. There is still hope even when you've done something really foolish and you desperately need forgiveness.
There is always hope because we believe in a God who loves us, who did not just set the world turning and leave us alone. This God came to us, to be one of us, God with us, Immanuel. And so we have hope.
We can remember the word HOPE this way -- Hanging Onto Promises Expectantly. H-O-P-E. Forget the Holly Jolly and get on with the Holy Jesus, the Light of Life in whom there is always hope of life, even in times of death and deep despair. Hang on to hope.
The Rev. Elizabeth M. Deibert, is pastor of Peace Presbyterian Church, 10902 Technology Terrace, Lakewood Ranch. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 941-753-7778.