"...and, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world."

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

I used to think that hope was found in the belief that there would be less suffering, less disease, more prosperity, less pain, more ease and rest ahead. This is what I hoped for myself.

I was wrong.

I used to think that I had to conjure up hope, find things to feel hopeful about, and force myself to be filled with hope.

Hope has never been about me.

I used to think that the hope of Jesus was that good things happened to those that followed him and that our suffering would be reduced as we aged. I know there is very little evidence of this in the bible, but I did believe it in the back of my brain. This was what I hoped for myself and others.

I was wrong.

As time passed, this easier future never came. Life was just a mixed bag of good and difficult, joyful and sad. Where were the easier times I had put my hope in? The fruit of my version of hope was frustration with God.

I remember so many nights with my first child, a particularly poor sleeper, when I would cry out to God to help me by making this baby sleep. But that expression of help never came. And for quite a long time, I felt abandoned by God.

He wasn’t giving me the things I wanted. I’m not talking about a yacht or a mansion. I’m talking about basic necessities such as sleep.

But I was wrong about what hope was.

What I thought was hope was just wishful thinking. No wonder it often felt flat and unhelpful.

This year, I believe God has taught me more about true hope. And I am learning that it has nothing to do with my circumstances.

I have learned that hope is not about believing better things for the future but about who will be with me in the future.

The incarnation of Jesus means that we are no longer alone. He is present with us. Present with us in the most intimate of way - present in understanding what it means to be human, present by his Holy Spirit tabernacling inside of us.

God came down to earth to be with us, to save us, to begin the process of restoring and redeeming the whole earth. And to stay with us until that time comes.

Immanuel - God with us.

As I look back at all the IVs of iron in my arms, the moments of pain and difficulty and illness, walking with friends ravaged by mental illness, grief, and discouragement - the one thread that I can see is that God has been present for it all. He has been near me and near them.

This is hope.

He has been present with me in the moments when I needed him, in the moments when I didn’t recognize he was there. He has provided strength and courage, meals, friends who pray and care, he has sustained me, he has been close and he has been kind.

And though I have not yet experienced full healing in all parts of my life (something actually only reserved for Jesus’ return), I have been given the gift of hope in the assurance of his presence with me.

He hadn’t abandoned me on those many sleepless nights. He made sure I was not alone. And somehow, now that I look back on that, what more could I have asked for in a difficult situation.

This is my comfort and hope for the future. The assurance that God’s unfailing love is never ending. The confidence that God will not abandon me.

For me, this Advent, hope is knowing that we will never have to know the separation from God that Jesus did because Jesus bore that pain all on himself.

As I look to the future, I have a little less desire for things to be free of suffering. I have a growing familiarity with the comfort knowing that whatever I face - God will be present, God will be with me, God will be faithful to provide whatever is needed to sustain me. God will lift me and carry me along - in those moments when I think that I can’t go on, moments when I can’t find a way out, moments when the weight of sickness and emotional pain seems too much.

And I know this because he sent his son. And I know this because He has shown himself faithful until now.

He has been present with me all along.

This is my reason for hope.

I light the candle of hope this week amidst tears of thankfulness and knowledge of his love for me. Love which he has shown in the form of never ending presence.

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

Amen and Amen.