Just a few short hours ago (here, anyway), the clock struck midnight and the most amazing thing happened: millions upon millions of persons got their hope back.
Every year about this time, it happens as we say goodbye - and often, good riddance - to the previous year and look ahead with great anticipation and excitement toward what the new year is going to offer us. New opportunities, new chances, new experiences, new hope.
And all of that is well and good, I suppose. But how many of us remember that the year we just so happily threw in the trash bin of history started with the same fresh hope that we have this morning? The sad truth is, not many.
It doesn't take long scrolling through social media or flipping through television channels to see just how many persons were disappointed in last year. How many were discontent with it. How many were hurt by it, worn out by it, tired of it. How many look back and remember not even the slightest hope, but all of the little slights that it brought to us.
So long, you horrible, rotten, stink-faced, steaming pile of a year! We're never going to miss you! You were terrible.
The problem is not that we recapture our hope on this day; the problem is that the hope that we have this morning is so fleeting. It's so thin. Because if you go back through our histories, you find essentially the same story every December - goodbye, horrible year. You were terrible. And you'd start to think that our lives were just one horrible, terrible year after another after another after another. And if all you had to judge us by was the comments we made about our years once they were over, you'd think our whole lives were terrible and that we hated them. They were terrible.
No wonder we are one of the unhappiest generations ever to have lived. Or...whatever we call what we're doing with our lives.
Maybe it's entitlement, I don't know. It's like we think we're supposed to be immune from all of the bad things that happen in a broken world. But God told us the bad things were going to happen. God told us what fallen life looks like; it's cursed. It always has been. It always will be.
Does that mean we're supposed to live in this vicious hope/disappointment cycle, where we start anew again and again only to end up in the same rut, the same defeat, the same disappointment that we have every year?
I don't believe hope was meant to feel so fragile.
I think what's happened is that we've gotten this idea that hope is our carry-on on this ride that we call life, that it's something we pack for the journey and try desperately to hold onto over all the bumps in the road and the twists and the turns and at some point, inevitably, hope falls out of our backpacks and it's not until we slow down, make a pit stop, take a breath that we realize we've lost it and try to find some new hope to re-pack.
That's not life. That's not how it was supposed to be.
Hope is what's supposed to take us for the ride. Hope is what we're supposed to hold onto as it drives us over the bumps in the road and through all the twists and turns of life. Hope is the safety bar on this roller coaster of life, not the elephant ear we just ate; it's what keeps us locked in, not what we're trying not to lose. We don't pack hope in our carry-on; it's our vehicle for getting through. Our lives are what we pack, and if some of what we've got happens to fall out along the way, that's fine. If it was important, we'll stumble upon it again.
Hold on white-knuckled to hope for all it's worth and let it take you on this crazy adventure called life.
Because...can we be honest for a second? It's not hope that changes. Hope...real hope...is rooted in God, and God never changes, so hope never changes. It's life that changes. And on some level, we know that because the hope that we have this morning is the same hope that we had on this morning last year and on this morning the year before that and the year before that and the year before that. Every time we find our hope again, it's the same as we left it; it's our lives that changed.
So take this morning, take this hope, and remember what it feels like. Decide that that hope is the one thing that's not going to change this year. The bumps in the road are coming. The twists and the turns are coming. The flat tires and the empty gas tanks and the dangerous storms are coming. That's just life; God told us that's how life would be.
But hope will get us through them if we just hold on, if we don't let go. Because no matter what comes this year, no matter what lies ahead, no matter how it "feels," hope is the least fragile thing we've got.
At least, it ought to be.