I had a birthday recently. Not a milestone or anything, just another passing year. Yet this birthday was significant in that not only did it bring with it the usual end-of-year introspection, it represented the close of the year when Covid-19 changed everything.
I’m one of many who typically feel a bittersweet twinge of nostalgia in the days leading up to my birthday. I contemplate how I used the year I’d been given. Had I stewarded my time well? Had I served enough? Had I invested in my friendship with Jesus? Could I give a good accounting to the Lord if called? This year was qualitatively different. This year, I didn’t only feel introspective. I found myself feeling anxious, unfocused, and more than a little ambivalent toward what is usually my favorite time of year. It finally occurred to me: I was sad. It was 2020. It was quarantine. It was my birthday. It was sad.
I realized that I missed not only my friends and family. I missed strangers. I missed crowds. I missed people-watching. Here it was, the close of the year. The time after the harvest has been brought in. When we go inside with family and bundle up against the long months of winter. We live off the fruits of the planting season. We meet up to sing carols and throw snowballs. We mull spices along with our wintry thoughts. Yet I was having February blues when the Advent season has just begun. Where were those tidings of great joy?
I prayed for days, asking God to walk me through this melancholy. I recalled each place where I’d raised an Ebenezer. Remembering the blessings and mercies that had fallen all around me this year.
I am not without hope.
I knew this all too well, yet the sadness lingered.
A few days ago, I sat in a comfortable chair as the last rays of sunlight diminished into dusk. My Bible was open on my lap, and I’d just read these words from Romans chapter five:
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
The words “hope does not put us to shame” were my last thoughts before succumbing to the cozy environment and drifting off.
When I awoke, it was dark and well past the time I should have been starting dinner. My eyes fell back upon the open Bible still on my lap, and I thought, “I don’t have to be happy to be hopeful.”
The love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. What a remembrance. What a gift.
My hope, and indeed the hope of the world, is found in the completed work of Jesus. The world loves to take self-directed platitudes and plaster the walls of our social media feeds with them. The world tells us that it’s okay to not be okay. But that’s not what Paul’s words said to me that day.
The work of Christ’s suffering and death, and then his glorious resurrection, have left me more than okay. They have made me accepted, adopted, and justified. The fight has already been won. The effects of Covid on our health, our families, and our livelihoods, while raw to us here and now, are already accounted for in the work of the cross. We don’t place our hope in worldly pursuits, but in the Eternal Holy One.
So while I’m living in this harsh now, I’m keeping my soul’s eye on a brilliant and glorious victory that is both now and not yet. I link arms with other Christians in the world and watch for that star that led both shepherd and Magi. I await the holy little one, who made this possible. I don’t have to feel happy to have this hope. The promise is sufficient. This hope surpasses sadness that comes for but a season and is gone.
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