“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”
-Saint Francis of Assisi
This time of year we hear the word “wish” a lot. “Don’t forget to make your wish list”, children are told. “Don’t forget to check your spouses wish list!”, adults are told. And with our ever increasing technological abilities, these lists are getting even easier to make. On amazon, for example, you can select the items that you want and put them in your online wish list enabling all of your friends and family, in any part of the world, to see your list. They can, of course, purchase any item on your list with just “one click”. In fact, they even made a button for your browser enabling you to add items from other websites into their’s (you can bet the inventor of that button is getting a good Christmas bonus this year!). I think one of the downsides of our use of the word “wish” is that we have essentially merged it with the word “hope” until hope and wish have, for us, come to mean the same thing. But hoping and wishing are two very different things.
What is a wish? A child may tell us that she has wished for a pink bike, but what does she mean? If you ask her, she might tell you that she hopes she will get it for Christmas. But what she really means is that she realizes that she may or may not get this pink bike, but it is her very real wish that she will. And, of course, she is right – she may not get the bike. In fact, she did not. She smiled brightly when she opened her few gifts, but when she realized that there would be no bike she kept the smile on her face until she made it to the bathroom where the tears she had been fighting rolled down her cheeks. She wasn’t a spoiled girl. In fact, she never wished for much, but she had really wished for this pink bike, and her wish hadn’t come true. And wishes that don’t come true tend to disappointment.
But Paul writes, “And hope does not disappoint us…” (Romans 5:5).
The people who lived in Israel before the dawn of that first Christmas, lived in a very dark time. Their land was occupied, their prophets were silent, and…Herod. Herod, their so-called king, was a madman. And yet, in the thick of the darkness were a people who hoped. They hoped that the light would shine. They didn’t wish that the light would shine. They hoped. What hoping and wishing do have in common is that they both occur in the waiting. A wish is waiting for something that may or may not happen, but hope is waiting for that which is certain. The Christmas story reminds us that it is possible to live through the darkness and not be swallowed by it. It reminds us of the hope that no matter how cold, no matter how dark – the light will come. And that light is the child who laid in the manger. It was dark, but Simeon hoped. Anna hoped. Mary hoped. Elizabeth hoped. And hope did not disappoint them.
“The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned”
We too know about darkness. “If we are a people who pray, darkness is apt to be a lot of what our prayers are about. If we are people who do not pray, it is apt to be darkness in one form or another that has stopped our mouths” (Frederick Buechner). But if we are apt to pray, we must also be apt to hope. And what do we hope for? We hope and we watch for the light. And the light that lay in the manger that first Christmas, the light that was birthed in our hearts when we first believed, is light that will soon soon replace the sun and moon. And this is no wish – it is our hope. And hope does not disappoint.
“The city does not need the sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp…there will be no night” (Revelation 21:23, 25).