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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Written by Susan Hanson

Saturday, December 11

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD , plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.
—Jeremiah 29:11

Ask people to name their favorite Christmas carols, and you’ll hear a familiar list—“O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “Silent Night,” “Away in a Manger,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” 

In most cases, it’s the tunes that captured our hearts in childhood. The words were just something we mouthed along with our classmates, standing on risers in the school cafeteria, or with our friends in the annual Christmas pageant in church. That’s too bad, because the lyrics have much to teach.

In “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” for example, there’s that odd and perplexing line: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Hopes and fears? Aren’t they incompatible?

Not at all, says author Joan Chittister. “Hope and despair are not opposites,” she writes in Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope. “They are cut from the very same cloth, made from the very same material, shaped from the very same circumstances.” Hope, in other words, isn’t contingent on events; it doesn’t come from anything we do, or from anything that happens to us. It is, as Chittister puts it, a choice.

This is not to say that hope can’t be dampened or even crushed by the tragedies we face in our lives. The death of someone we love, the loss of financial security, the destruction of a dream—all of these can take us to the brink of despair. 

Where hope lies, however, is not in our fortunes, but in our experience of the Divine. We can be afraid or discouraged or sad; in some circumstances, it would seem unnatural not to be. But at the same time, we can have hope, a hope that grows out of one simple truth—the truth that God is good.

O God, even when I am most afraid—no, especially when I’m afraid—let me not lose the hope that comes from knowing that you are my beginning and my end.

These Signposts originally appeared on explorefaith in 2004.