The Thrill of Hope
The thrill of hope
The weary world rejoices
I see the lyrics in devotional emails and on social media and blog posts. I write them on two chalkboards over my desk. The words have been stuck in my head for weeks; it seems like the official Christmas carol of 2020.
This hymn written a hundred and seventy three years ago seems like it was meant for this very year.
The world is weary. I am weary.
Our world turned upside down in March and we’re still struggling to figure it out in December. Back then, we hoped it would be a short interruption — a brief blip of things closing and a few weeks of staying home, baking bread, and catching up on to-do lists.
Back then we were filled with energy. Schedules! Charts! Time to try new recipes! Hobbies we’ve always wanted to try! Finally, we’ll finish that list of projects we’ve been wanting to work on!
But the weeks dragged on. The energy waned. Summer vacations were cancelled. Schools started their fall semesters virtually. The news got worse and worse.
Weary seems like the best description of how we all feel months into the pandemic. It’s been a hard year. We are exhausted.
Heading into December, I prepared myself to muster up all the holiday energy I could. My reserves of excitement and creativity were running dry. Weary, but determined, the day after Thanksgiving, I dragged boxes of Christmas decorations out of the attic and turned on a Christmas playlist. I wasn’t sure if I really felt like decorating, but I knew my kids deserved some excitement.
I hung the stockings, and I felt it—a thrill of hope.
For yonder breaks,
a new and glorious morn
I silence my alarm and tiptoe downstairs, the scent of coffee reminding me that despite my internal struggle about whether or not I’m ready to get out of bed, this is my favorite time of the day.
I water the tree and turn on its lights, fill a Christmas mug with hot coffee, and settle in on the couch. The house is dark; the world outside the window is dark. The lights on the tree shine brightly, tiny beacons of hope.
A stack of things is piled on the couch next to me: Bible, notebook, index cards, a writing book, iPad. I take a sip of coffee and start my morning routine. I never know exactly how much time I’ll have, how much I’ll get through before I hear a small voice calling “Mommy?”
I start with the Bible, reading a chapter to begin the day. Then I move to the blank page, spilling thoughts and scrawling hopes and dreams. Next I pick up “The Right to Write”, reading just a chapter here too. Finally, I move to the iPad, picking a piece of writing to work on, perhaps starting a new one if something in my earlier scrawls has inspired me.
I used to start my day with the demands of others. Rolling out of bed when my children appeared next to me, I woke up weary from staying awake late into the night scrolling through the news. With no school drop off, no activities or play dates, the days were long and seemed like endless repetitions of themselves. We had fun, yes—filling our days with laughter and activities and memories I know I’ll treasure years down the road, but I also felt exhausted, overwhelmed by the weight of the world.
Not much has changed since those months, except that the news has gotten worse, the weather has gotten colder, and the house is decorated for Christmas.
And my alarm goes off at 5:45.
In the initial days of the pandemic, I enjoyed not setting an alarm clock. With nowhere to be, I thought I might as well wake up when the kids do.
Now the alarm is a signal of hope. An hour of the day, just for me. No matter how warm and cozy my bed seems, that hour is worth getting up for.
“Mommy?” I hear. “You downstairs?”
The darkness has turned to dawn and a new day begins.
Fall on your knees
Oh, hear the angel voices
Every morning my four year old asks, “Is it Christmas yet?”
“Not yet,” I answer. “We’re getting ready for Christmas.”
“On Christmas, Santa comes,” he tells me with certainty.
My seven year old pipes up to add the most important part. “And Jesus is born!”
My children have not for one second thought that Santa would not visit them this year.
They’ve asked a few questions to clarify exactly how it might work in a pandemic, but they know on Christmas Eve, we’ll scatter reindeer food on the lawn and leave cookies out for Santa, and they will go to bed brimming with excitement. When they wake up on Christmas morning, their stockings will be full.
They have not doubted that, despite the fact that it has been months since we have worshipped in a church building, Jesus is present.
“Can you find the book with today’s number?” I ask.
My children scamper off and return with a wrapped book, part of our homemade Advent calendar. Each morning at breakfast, we unwrap the book and start our day off by reading it. A little piece of paper is tucked inside, an activity for us to do together that day.
Their faces are full of anticipation as they tear off the wrapping paper. Will it be a favorite book? What will today’s activity be?
In a season where so much has been cancelled, the hope-filled act of unwrapping the gift of a book each day adds joy to the breakfast table.
Building gingerbread houses. Looking at Christmas lights. Writing letters to Santa.
Each unwrapped book means Christmas is getting closer.
At dinner, we do another Advent calendar, reading a Bible verse and revealing a name of Jesus. My seven year old is thrilled that now, he can read, and brings me the card, proudly announces the name of Jesus printed there. When twenty-four names of Jesus have been flipped over, we’ll be ready to celebrate his birth.
O night divine,
O night when Christ was born
It seems fitting that Christmas comes right in the middle of the worst pandemic news yet. Yes, hope is rolling down the highway as the vaccine distribution begins but right now, right this very minute, hospitals are overcrowded, understaffed and people are dying.
Because our lives have been so affected by this pandemic, the news of a vaccine, the possibility of a return to some version of normal, shines like a star, something to focus on. In a normal year, news of a new vaccine would perhaps make headlines, but it would not garner this kind of attention.
The vaccine isn’t the only star shining. Along with the daily death tolls and case counts that dominate the news, there are stories of hope. Communities rally to support small businesses, and small businesses go right on giving back to their communities, even in the midst of their daily struggle to survive. Teachers are working harder than ever to educate their students. Every day, one appears virtually in my home, and every day I marvel at her ability to manage a virtual class of first graders, to keep them engaged and excited about learning. I read the pleas of doctors and nurses to just stay home, and I think of what they have faced, already, during this pandemic. The days ahead are grim for them, but they wake up every day and keep fighting to save lives. I find stories of Good Samaritans, people who are finding thousands of big and small ways to put good into the world.
Hope shines brightest against the darkness.
O night divine,
O night divine, O night divine
Our Christmas gatherings won’t look the same this year. On Christmas Eve, we won’t be raising our candles in the dark as we sing Silent Night or watching the children of our church choose costumes and act out an unrehearsed Christmas story.
But on Christmas Eve, we’ll leave out a plate of cookies and a glass of milk for Santa. We’ll scatter reindeer food on the lawn. And the empty manger will be waiting, anticipating the King who will lie there, the Savior who came to earth as a tiny bab
Two thousand and some years ago, Hope was born and the world rejoiced.
The world may be weary. But Hope still reigns, and still, we rejoice.
O Holy Night
Art by Phoenix Feathers Calligraphy for Exhale
This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series "Tethered to Hope".