Don’t you think Christmas gets harder and sweeter every year? It gets more challenging and yet more beautiful to me every time it rolls around. I’ve been struck by this paradox so much this particular year. The awareness of need after need, sickness after sickness, heartbreak after heartbreak has truly made my heart homesick for heaven. I know this is the case each year, but my heart has been extra sensitive to that reality as of lately. The broken nature of this world and the sin from which it stems seems to pervade. And y’all, I’m just tired. I bet you are too. Honestly, in the midst of the lights and tinsel, my heart has really been, well, for lack of a better word, just groaning. No words come out, but there is no mistaking the struggle in the noise. As the dictionary would define it, “To groan is to utter a sound indicative of pain, stress, strain.” Yes. In response to all the needs and struggle around me, that’s the word. That is what my heart is doing. And the reason it’s doing that is simple… Because it doesn’t know what else to do.

Now don’t misunderstand me…blessings and joy ABOUND. By the truckload actually. Our family could truly not count the blessing if we tried. And though I don’t have word for the painful aches in my heart, I also can’t verbalize the joy that is ours either. In fact, it could also be described as a joyful groan, if you will. I can’t put into words my gratitude and thankfulness for all the Lord has provided to us this year. I really can’t!! So, by the opposite token, I groan in thankfulness of how undeserving we are of the mercy and grace that have been poured on us this season. Strange, strange, strange….but so real. My heart groans in the joy and the pain, once again, because it doesn’t know what else to do.

So, in walks Christmas. In the midst of those opposite extremes in my heart and yours, Christmas comes. CHRISTmas. Do you remember that the “characters” at that first Christmas were real people? They really were. And we would do well to remember how we are no different from them. Those real people lived in a really terrible world when HOPE itself burst into their lives. The world of Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah, the shepherds, the wise men, the tax collectors, the innkeeper, the donkey, the camels, King Herod, etc., was a world that was HARD. The time period in which they lived was not to be envied.  It was ugly, selfish, oppressive, full of sickness, and poverty-stricken. People worked their fingers to the bone and still could not provide for their own family. The leaders of the day taxed the people mercilessly. Children were abducted and killed. Women were often enslaved and humiliated. People were persecuted for their faith. Families were torn apart by sin. Sickness was common and often unable to be treated. Sound familiar?? This was their world. This is our world. They groaned. We groan.

They were really no different from us. They groaned for relief from the suffering and yet, in the midst of their groanings, Jesus came. Their faith became sight during their lifetime. They had longed for a Savior. For centuries they had believed and waited for someone to save them…and in their lifetime, at the strangest, most unexpected time, He came to them. “And they beheld His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) They actually saw Him….and hope wasn’t just something they were longing for, it was a reality.

But, once you catch a glimpse of hope, what happens next?

Did their struggles disappear? NO.

Was the sickness cured? Some was, yes, but mostly, NO.

Did the poverty end? NO.

Did the murder, adultery, oppression disappear? NO.

Did SIN disappear? NO.

AND……It still hasn’t.

Jesus lived perfectly, died, was buried, and conquered death itself.  He LIVES fully today and has promised to return for us! But, as we assess the world around us, the here and now, it’s still worn out with sin and grossness. Not one thing has really changed, has it? Well, no. EXCEPT, the only thing that matters. They had HOPE in the groaning and SO DO WE.

The New Testament says it this way, “We groan inwardly as we wait eagerly….for in this HOPE we are saved. HOPE that is seen is really no HOPE at all. For who HOPES for what he already has? But if we HOPE for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit of God helps us in our weakness. We do not know how or what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that we cannot even express. And He who searches our hearts, knows the mind of God….” Romans 8:24-27

DID YOU HEAR THAT LAST PART? He who searches our hearts, knows the mind of God. As the Holy Spirit is digging down to the hurting part of me, He already know the good ahead of me!! Which is exactly why THIS is the very next verse… “And we know that in all things, [ALL THINGS!!] God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

So, this might not be your typical “Christmasy” post, but friends, lets just understand that nothing is more Christmasy than HOPE. Our world is pitch dark, and we, as children of God through Christ have light. PURE LIGHT. As Charles Wesley so beautifully penned, “Light and life to all He brings, risen with healing in His wings.” He alone does that. He brings light and life and the fact that He is risen provides healing to our hearts and our world. Christmas is the gospel of HOPE. And without Christmas, we are hopeless.

I’m gonna wrap this present up now with a little something to fire us up. (“Rocky” music, if you will.) Whatever the groaning of your heart is this Christmas, whether it’s sickness, grief, dissension, heartache, or even just the weight of the blessings in your life, let me just say this to you. Groan away,  yes, groan away for your God knows and hears. And THIS is what is has prepared for those who love Him….

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb  down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

 The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God who inspires the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must take place.”

And He says, “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” (Revelation 22)

Dear friends, He has heard our groanings and they have already been provided for in advance. And as John himself responded in closing the book of Revelation…. “AMEN. COME LORD JESUS.” 

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.” ~Longfellow