by Laurel Bunker
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. – Romans 15:13
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” or so one popular Christmas song goes. But for many persons, this time of year—the start of Advent through the first weeks of the new year—is difficult and can result in depression, isolation, and worry.
This is not to say that we should take on a posture of somberness or “batten down the hatches” on our holiday cheer as if there is no reason to be merry. However, I have also learned that this season provides the Body of Christ with great opportunities to be examples of God’s love and grace to those who are hurting and in need of his comfort and joy.
Perhaps the death of a loved one occurred during this time of year and has left a neighbor with a deep sense of grief. Maybe there has been the loss of a job which left no money for gifts and food beyond the usual fare. Addiction or alcoholism has torn someone’s family apart and he or she is struggling to cope with the sadness of a malfunctioning household. Perhaps someone you know is grieving a more private loss—a miscarriage, infidelity, or a mental health issue—that he or she doesn’t want to talk about for fear that he or she won’t be understood or accepted.
Maybe the hurt stems from being the single one is a sea of married folk—not that he or she can’t be content, but maybe he or she doesn’t want to be the only one, again, this year. Wherever we find ourselves this season, we could all use a little more hope.
So how can we as bearers of the light and life of Christ bring a message of HOPE to others as we begin this new year? Let me offer a few suggestions.
Assist a friend with an ailing child and make her home a warm and inviting place as we start the new year. Come over with a crew of women and help organize and beautify her home. Is there a widow in the community or the wife of an enlisted soldier? Reach out and find a way to serve her as her spouse is serving our country.
Visit the elderly in a nursing home, not once, but in the weeks as we begin this new year. Deliver food baskets to local families, or offer to help with Meals on Wheels. Feed the homeless or collect old blankets and bring them to a homeless shelter or hand them out as you pray and drive though the community.
If the Lord directs you, invite one of your children’s friends who may have a tumultuous home into your home this new year. Send a package and a new year’s card to a serviceman or woman serving our country. Purchase a gift bag through a relief organization that is serving displaced Christians in Iraq or other parts of the world
Is there someone who you haven’t seen in years but who you think of often? Is there a cousin or a childhood friend you have lost contact with—a loved one or a distant cousin who comes to mind? Maybe new neighbors have moved in next door and you never quite found a reason to connect past your initial welcome. How about connecting over a cup of coffee, tea, or a meal? Share your heart, a story, a smile.
If time won’t allow it now, purchase a few $5 gift cards from your favorite place and slip it in a card for them to use later.
Focus on the Light of Eternity
With all that is happening in the world, it can be difficult to not fall into despair and hopelessness. The world is dark and lonely for millions of people. My heart breaks for the mothers and fathers in Iraq and Syria who have buried children because of the brutality of extremism. You can choose the region of the world and there are wars and rumors of wars, children in abject poverty malnourished and abandoned.
Sarcasm, apathy, selfishness, sexual deviancy, crime, and rabid atheism leap from the newsstands. How might we extend the hope of Christ in the midst of this? A friend of mine, Melody Richards, wrote a book called Collision with Joy: Glimpses of Heaven in the Midst of Loss. This tender story is about experiencing God in the midst of grief after her daughter Danielle crashed her car and died in 2008. Melody has taught me so much about having an eternal perspective—the importance of not living for the here and now, but for the life that is to come.
In the final chapter of her book, Melody writes,
CS Lewis wrote, “Pain is God’s megaphone to a deaf world.” Pain can serve as a wakeup call for us. One of the most dangerous things we can do, if God is allowing pain as a megaphone is go back to sleep. Jesus really loves us and may allow loss and hardship to show us something…our need for a Savior.
And what a Savior He is! Maintaining a spirit of hope as the new year is upon us requires recognizing that despite our woundedness, we have reason to have hope because we have been given an amazing gift that keeps on giving. Jesus is the gift that heals, delivers, and sets us free! We must reach out and grab ahold of this treasure, one not made with human hands, but wrought in the heart of the everlasting God. This year, let’s seek to be a purveyor of hope by offering others the love of Christ.
Laurel Bunker is dean of campus ministries and campus pastor at Bethel University. Laurel’s mission is to radically impact the lives of individuals through empowered teaching and preaching and through mentoring others to be influencers of culture through Christ-centered leadership development.