Earlier today I had lunch with my mom, and afterwards, I helped her with a few chores. I was outside in the frigid wind, pulling the patio furniture up close to the outside wall of her apartment for the winter, when I noticed the empty little flag pole next to the concrete slab. I personally had put the Christmas flag on it just a day or two earlier, so I assumed my mom had walked outside and taken it down when the forecast showed rain.
As I finished up with the furniture and headed back into the apartment, I asked mom, “How did you get out there to take the flag down?” The path to the backdoor was a bit too obstructed for the walker she’s been using lately.
“I didn’t take the flag down,” she said, and suddenly, I knew what happened. The strong gusts that carried on all last night and this morning must have carried the flag away with them.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll find it.” I walked around the perimeter of the courtyard where her patio leads, but I didn’t find it. I walked along the fence row just to the north, the direction the wind was heading at the moment, but I didn’t find it. I walked in and out of the raised bed gardens the local FFA chapter had installed over the summer. Still no flag.
I thought about my own Christmas flag waving on the flagpole at my backdoor, and I decided I would give that one to mom as a replacement. Or if that didn’t work, we’d could purchase a new one.
I wish I could press pause on that moment—the moment when it appeared the lost flag would not be found yet I kept looking, kept planning, kept expecting a solution to the problem though it was not clear what it would be. That thing in my heart that wouldn’t give up, that resisted disappointment, that looked for another answer when the obvious one wasn’t panning out: this is hope.
Over the years, I’ve tried a hundred different ways to reach for, define, and understand hope. I’ve been in the darkest of moments and grasped at the smallest sliver of light, desperate for the thing that would keep me moving forward, thriving maybe, or even just surviving. I’ve longed to be the person who could see beyond my circumstances, who wouldn’t give up, but all too often I’ve been the one crawling into a hole and refusing to budge instead.
In almost every case that I got stuck, it was because I couldn’t see where God was leading me in the waiting, and I didn’t have the imagination, the creativity, or the faith to imagine where God’s plan would end up. I think of Noah, who we talked about last week, who waited obediently for something that had never before happened. I think of Ruth, who set off toward Bethlehem with Naomi when she had no idea how God would provide for them. I think of Mary, who chose to believe the angel even though a virgin birth complicated everything. I want that kind of hope.
Waiting for what we cannot see is what the Bible calls faith; it’s all confidence, certainty, and assurance. But when the thing we are waiting on never comes, and we realize we’ve put our faith in a plan that apparently wasn’t God’s plan for us, we need more than faith. We need to see beyond what’s there, and even beyond what’s not there. We need to see what could be. We need hope.
I think of Hebrews 11 known as the faith chapter, where a litany of heroes are catalogued for the way the believed. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Rahab. And the list goes on:
“And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground” (Hebrews 11:32-38).
Such great faith is required to believe what’s promised in the midst of such horrible circumstances. Yet when the thing that was promised didn’t come and didn’t come, it took something else for these faithful to keep waiting and believing. It took something else when they couldn’t even imagine how the promises would be revealed at last.
“These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:39).
We wait and believe along with them, even to this day. This is Advent waiting. This is hope.
I looked and looked for that Christmas flag, and when I had looked almost everywhere, I decided to head back in, ready to move on to plan B or C. But just before I stepped onto the patio, a bit of white and blue caught my eye just ahead. Is that it? I thought, How did it get there? I couldn’t even imagine. But with a shake and a tug, the flag I thought was gone was suddenly bouncing in the wind again.
And hope filled my heart. No longer for the flag which was found, but for the hundreds of other things I’m waiting on, for the innumerable ways I can’t even imagine that God will continue to be faithful.
Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. God is near.
PRAYER: God of all hope, as I head into this next year, enlarge my imagination, renew in me a sense of wonder, and give me hope, even when it seems all hope is lost. The Apostle Paul said that you are “able to do immeasurably more than all I ask or imagine, according to your power that is at work within me.” Lord, I pray that you would lend me your power today, this year, and always … for the difficulties that follow me into the new year, for this hard season of waiting that has gone on far too long, and for the trials ahead, the ones I don’t even know about. I have faith that your will will be done, but I can’t even imagine how. Give me the hope to still believe. (LISTEN BELOW)
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