Never Alone

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Throughout this season of Advent our focus is “The Story of Christmas in 20 Words.”  On each of the 20 weekday mornings ending on Christmas Eve, we’ll spotlight a single word from the Gospel accounts that helps us ponder more deeply the birth of Jesus.

18.  Hope

It’s impossible to tell the story of Christmas without spotlighting hope.

Ironically, the word never appears in the biblical accounts of Jesus’ birth, and doesn’t show up even once in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. 

But “hope” appears 54 times in the rest of the New Testament and is clearly a word of immense significance.  In I Corinthians 13:13, Paul elevates hope into the spiritual stratosphere: “There are three great lasting qualities in life – faith, hope and love – but the greatest of these is love.”

The 1960s pop song may tell us that what the world needs now is love. 

But in the midst of economic uncertainty, political polarization, the death of civility, and a pandemic that simply won’t go away, what the world needs this Christmas, more than anything else, is hope.

What kind of hope is associated with Christmas? 

Jesus is Immanuel, God-With-Us (Matthew 1:23).   No matter what we’re facing, we’re never alone. 

Hope surges whenever we hear stories of how the With-Us God is at work in the lives of other people.

Taylor Caldwell, who died in 1985, was one of the most influential and widely published authors of the twentieth century.  Her early years didn’t seem to herald great things.  When she was in her 20’s she was a divorced, single mom with no job.  She recalls a spring day in which she was on her way downtown to the employment office.  It was pouring down rain and she had no umbrella.  Caldwell writes:

“I sat down in the streetcar, and there against the seat was a beautiful silk umbrella with a silver handle inlaid with gold and flecks of bright enamel.  I had never seen anything so lovely.  I examined the handle and saw a name engraved among the golden scrolls.  On impulse I decided to take it with me and find the owner myself. 

“I got off the streetcar in a downpour and thankfully opened the umbrella to protect myself.  Then I searched a telephone book for the name and found it.  I called and a lady answered.

“Yes, she said in surprise, that was her umbrella, which her parents, now dead, had given her for a birthday present.  But, she added, it had been stolen from her locker at school (she was a teacher) more than a year ago.  She was so excited that I forgot I was looking for a job and went directly to her small house.  She took the umbrella and her eyes filled with fears.

“The teacher wanted to give me a reward, but even though $20 was all I had in the world, her happiness at retrieving this special possession was such that to have accepted money would have spoiled something.

“The next six months were wretched.  I was able to obtain only temporary employment here and there, for a small salary.  This was what they now call the Roaring Twenties.  I put aside 25 or 50 cents when I could afford it for my little girl’s Christmas presents.  It took me six months to save $8.  My last job ended the day before Christmas, my $30 rent was due, and I had $15 to my name — which Peggy and I would need for food.  I had bought her a small tree, and we were going to decorate it that night.

“Along the street the windows were lighted and everyone was running and laughing.  But there would be no Christmas for me — no gifts, I knew, no remembrance whatsoever. 

“As I struggled through the snowdrifts I just about reached the lowest point in my life.  Unless a miracle happened I would be homeless in January, foodless and jobless.  I had prayed steadily for weeks, and there had been no answer but this coldness and darkness, this harsh air, this abandonment.  God and man had completely forgotten me.  What was to become of us?

“I looked in my mailbox.  There were only bills in it, and two white envelopes which I was sure contained more bills.  I went up three dusty flights of stairs and I cried.  But I made myself smile so I could greet my little daughter with a pretense of happiness.  She opened the door for me and threw herself into my arms joyously.

“Peggy was not yet six years old.  She had put out the three cans of food that would be our dinner.  I looked at them and felt broken-hearted.  Misery overwhelmed me.  For the first time in my life I doubted the existence of God and his mercy, and the coldness in my heart was colder than ice.

“The doorbell rang.  Peggy answered it.  I heard a man talking heartily to her and went to the door.  He was a delivery man, and his arms were full of big parcels, and he was laughing at my child’s frenzied joy.  ‘This is a mistake,’ I said, but he read the name on the parcels, and they were for me.  When he had gone I could only stare at the boxes.  Peggy and I sat on the floor and opened them.  A huge doll.  Gloves.  Candy.  A beautiful leather purse.  Incredible!  I looked for the name of the sender.  It was the teacher.  The address said simply ‘California,’ where she had moved.

“Our dinner was the most delicious I had ever eaten.  I could only pray, ‘Thank you, Father.’  I forgot I had no money and no job.  Peggy and I ate and laughed together in happiness, then decorated our tree.  I put her to bed and had some hope again.  I could even examine my bills without cringing. 

“It was then I opened the two white envelopes.  One contained a check for $30 from a company I had worked for briefly in the summer.  It was, a note said, my ‘Christmas bonus.’  That was my rent!

“The other envelope was the offer of a permanent position with the government, to begin two days after Christmas.  I sat with the letter in my hand and the check on the table before me, and I think that was the most joyful moment of my life up to that time. 

“I checked on my child, who was sleeping blissfully, then ran down to the street.  Someone began to sing O Come, All Ye Faithful and I joined in and sang with the strangers all around me.  I am not alone, I thought.  I was never alone at all.”

Do you know what it’s like to feel all alone? 

Maybe you’re in the middle of a story like this one.  Or perhaps your story is just beginning.

But we can know, right now, how the story will end.  You are not alone, nor have you ever been

Our hope – the hope of the whole world – is that the With-Us God has come near.