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What is your saddest Christmas memory?  My apologies if this question caught you off guard or if you were expecting an opening line that was significantly more “merry and bright” on the day before Christmas.  But, I seriously want you to stop reading for a moment and think about it.  What is the saddest memory that you associate with Christmas?

Maybe you just now thought about something that happened many, many Decembers ago, so long ago that it almost seems like it happened in another lifetime, or someone else’s lifetime.  It might be that you have experienced several Christmases that could competitively vie for the title of “worst ever.”  Perhaps you would identity the Christmas that is coming tomorrow, because of what is currently burdening your heart, troubling your thoughts, and causing pain in the depths of your soul.

If circumstances past or present have you in a state of mind and emotion that simply makes it impossible for you to feel overly excited or enthusiastic about feasting and festivities, ribbons and bows, trees and wreaths, tinsel and toys, please keep reading.  Christmas is precisely for you.

My saddest Christmas came in 1984 when my grandfather passed away unexpectedly on December 25 from a heart attack, just as our family was gathering at his home.  It wasn’t just sad, but shockingly so, and Christmas Day would never be the same again.  One of the two Christmases that I spent in Australia was the most melancholy and disappointing that I ever experienced because a much-anticipated holiday visit from a friend from the U.S. didn’t happen.

At this time eight years ago, Dad was in St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa following another heart attack and MRSA infection, all of which seriously negated the recovery he had made since the massive heart failure he suffered two hours after Mom’s death on September 16 of that year.  I was asked to leave his hospital room while a PICC line was being put in his upper arm, so I headed to the lobby to wait for Kim and Hannah to arrive for a shift change.  I stood alone on the stairs above the lobby and listened as a choir of Amish teenagers sang, “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and “Silent Night.”  Tears began to flow.  There was not an ounce of happiness lurking anywhere in my body at that moment, but my grief, sadness, and emotional wounds were being bound up and dressed with the oil and wine of hope, expressed in the words of those hymns of faith in Jesus Christ as God’s Son, Immanuel, “God with us,” a Savior, the hope of the nations, love’s pure light.

Christmas is a season for every emotion.  Christmas affirms our faith that Jesus came into this world to bring light into our darkness (John 8:12), to provide sympathetic mercy and comfort for our sorrows (Isaiah 53:3-4; Heb. 4:15-16), to offer gentle nurture and loving protection for the bruised reeds and flickering candles of our hearts (Isaiah 42:1-3), to compassionately bind up the wounds of the brokenhearted (Isaiah 61:1), and to bring reassuring calm into our chaos as the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

Far beyond a mere wish, my sincere prayer for you this Christmas is this: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit,” (Romans 15:13).

Are you quite ready for spring to get here?  Not that I’m complaining about winter!  One of the things that I have really enjoyed since moving to Tulsa five years ago is that there is a much more well-defined season of cold weather than we experienced during our previous twelve years of living in the Dallas area.  250 miles further north does make a noticeable difference in average low temperatures, the duration of cold snaps, and the amount of snowfall each winter.  As some of you know, I much prefer to grill out in cold weather as opposed to standing over burning charcoal when the outside air temperature is already 105° F.  Whose idea was that?

But, enough is enough, right?  While spring does not officially begin until March 20, the transition back to Daylight Saving Time this Sunday and the local forecast for daytime temps in the low 70s on Monday and Tuesday have me itching for consistently warmer weather.  There are signs that it is on its way.  Daffodils have had their heads poked up out of the ground for a while now.  They looked as if they were having serious second thoughts last week when they were up to their necks in sleet and snow, but I have a feeling that the next couple of weeks are going to see them rocketing up out of the ground.  Ditto for the hyacinth in the landscaping behind our house.  I noticed some greening of the grass (slight, but still significant) when I took a bag of trash out to the wheelie bin this morning.  The same was true for the patch of grass outside my office window, and close inspection of the rose bushes in front of the main church office evidenced similar signs of new life.  Bring it on!

For those of us who are fortunate enough to live in a temperate zone and to experience the blessing of seasonal variety, spring always follows winter.  Winter’s long nights are succeeded by extended hours of daylight in the summer.  Warmth follows cold.  God gave His word that it would always be this way until the end of time (Genesis 9:22).

This promise of God not only relates to the changing of the earth’s seasons, but also serves as a powerful metaphor for the sustaining hope that can help us endure our spiritual “winters,” the seasons of emotional darkness that periodically shroud our hearts and minds, and the “long nights” of physical pain inflicted by chronic illness and disease.  It’s real, and it hurts and disappoints, but it’s not forever!

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us,”  (Romans 8:18).

“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison,” (II Corinthians 4:17).

“Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning,” (Psalms 30:5).

Whatever kind of “long winter’s night” you are experiencing right now, keep trusting and holding on to your faith in Jesus Christ “until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts,” (II Peter 1:19)!

“The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains,” (James 5:7).

I am only a “raised garden bed” kind of farmer, but patience was in short supply over the last few weeks as I have fretfully looked for signs of life in our potato bed.  I had dutifully planted the potatoes in mid-February, well within the parameters of the planting guidelines recommended for Zone 7, which is the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone in which I live.  Mock me if you will for knowing that, but I’m serious about wanting to eat some homegrown Yukon Gold potatoes again this summer.

Six weeks had passed since planting them on February 16, with no emergence of the potato plants.  Had I planted them too early?  Was it still just too cold?  Was it lack of moisture?  Did I inadvertently plant them at an improper depth?  Had the neighborhood cats dug them up as they have repeatedly scratched around in what they have apparently mistaken for an 8 ft. x 4 ft. litter box?

Relief from my anxiety came last weekend.  Rain arrived in the Tulsa area on Friday evening.  After an exceptionally dry winter and with an ongoing drought in the region, it was wonderful to experience the sights and sounds of a good thunderstorm again: bright flashes of lightning, house-rattling claps of thunder, the clinking of tiny hailstones ricocheting off the windows, and the roar of heavy rain on the roof.

After another steady shower on Saturday morning, the clouds dispersed, a blue sky appeared, and the brilliant afternoon sun warmed the air well into the 70s.  That’s when I noticed that several of the potato plants had breached the earth above them, just barely exposing the tops of their little noggins.  God’s foolproof equation of seed, soil, water, light, and warmth had triumphed again.  Other plants around the lawn symbiotically joined in this Divinely choreographed renewal of life.  The iris blades, evidencing a deeper green, stood more erect and appeared to be several inches taller.  The dwarf Japanese maple sported tiny, but uniform, new growth that wasn’t there the day before; the weeping mulberry followed suit on Sunday morning.

Doubts were removed; faith was restored; hope was renewed.

What a perfect weekend for Easter Sunday!

Just as God’s unfailing promise of “seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter” (Genesis 8:22) brings “life from death” each Spring, so the resurrection of Jesus Christ guarantees for us that “death isn’t terminal.”  “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said.  “He who believes in Me will live even if he dies,” (John 11:25).

I Corinthians 15 declares the centrality and essentiality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ to the Christian faith; everything stands or falls with the empty tomb.  The apostle Paul even used a “seed” analogy in his systematic case for our resurrection.

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised?  With what kind of body will they come?”  How foolish!  What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.  When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.  But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body…  So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable;  it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. (I Cor. 15:35-38, 42-44)

As surely as Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, so we will be!

“Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” (James 5:7-8)

Doubts are removed; faith is restored; hope is renewed.

“In India, we have a saying: ‘Everything will be all right in the end.’  So, if it’s not all right, it’s not yet the end.”

So goes the response of the irrepressibly optimistic Sonny, the aspiring hotelier, to his dissatisfied guests in last year’s surprise hit movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  Though I assume it was entirely unintended, Sonny’s expression of confidence in the future reflects a sentiment that is very much at the heart of Christian hope and faith.

I don’t have to convince you that “it’s not all right” in this world.  Beyond the global concerns of numerous wars and regions of famine throughout the world, and national worries about violence, crime, and a struggling economy, our personal lives can sometimes be a total mess.  God does not provide Christians with exemption cards or pass chips that shield us from chronic illnesses, unemployment, broken relationships, betrayal, or mistreatment by others.  “In the world you will have tribulation,” (John 16:33).  You nailed that one, Lord!  This isn’t a “chance of rain – 40%” kind of prediction; it’s a given; Jesus practically promised that things are going to be tough.

We hurt.  We have disappointments, both in ourselves and in others.  We get discouraged.  We get tired.  Just when we start catching some wind in our sails, something or someone comes along and knocks the legs out from under us, resulting in a solid, mixed metaphoric kick in the gut.

But, we’re not there yet!

Scripture reminds us that “everything will be all right in the end.”  Granted, there are some days when those words come across like a toothless, impotent platitude that utterly fails to sooth the soul or dull the pain.  But, deep down I believe and know that one day, God is going to call a halt to all of this temporal nonsense, and suffering is going to be victoriously swallowed up by glory.

After His heads-up about life’s hardships, Jesus went on to supply the antidote for our anxieties.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33).

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us,” (Romans 8:18).

“So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” (II Corinthians 4:16-17).

I’ve got a room booked at the Best Eternal Celestial Hotel (John 14:1-3).  I can endure a few more bumps in the road along the journey, and I will patiently persevere while I’m waiting for check-in time to arrive!

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