Advent is a season of anticipation. The birth of any child, not least the Messiah, gives us cause for hope.
Earlier this week, we heard the testimony of Chris and Natalie Stefanick, a couple who had journeyed through dark seasons in their marriage.
Having survived sexual abuse as a child, Natalie found she needed many years of therapy and healing. She recounted one of her darkest times, when she doubted that she would ever be free to love her husband and family without the fear caused by her toxic memories.
She recalled how her therapist, a man of deep faith, held hope for her and their marriage, even when she had none. From the pit of despair, she decided to claim his hope for her own.
Her hope, inspired by his, was her pathway from that darkness.
In this season of Advent, we are invited to reflect on what it means to wait on the Lord with hope.
The Israelites had long anticipated the coming of the Messiah. Generations had passed in the waiting. They had endured the abuse of slavery, freedom, and relapse into sin and darkness.
At the time of Christ’s birth, they must have been in utter despair under the brutality of the Roman occupation. Among them, two figures stand out for their defiant hope in God’s promise.
Simeon was a holy man to whom the Lord had revealed that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah. Guided by the Holy Spirit, he went to the temple on the day that the infant Jesus was to be presented by his parents at eight days old.
Recognising the Christ child, Simeon gave praise to God. Even though he would not live to see the miracles and wonders that Jesus would do as an adult, he rejoiced in the anticipation of the fulfilment of God’s promise.
Also present was Anna, an elderly prophetess who spent her days praying and fasting in the temple. She too recognised the child Messiah, telling all who would listen of the coming salvation of Israel. Their hope – their confident trust in the Lord – enabled them to recognise God’s presence in the infant Jesus. For they were attentive to the signs of their time and responsive the promptings of God’s Spirit.
As spiritual descendants of the Israelites, our Christian story is also a story of suffering, healing, and relapse. Collectively, our story spans millennia but the story also exists in the microcosm of each Christian life.
Every human life, and every marriage, is punctuated with victories and sorrows. Joy, disillusionment, renewal and setbacks are part of our personal story and yours – for none of us escape these realities.
In our ministry we regularly encounter spouses whose marriage is in a dire state. Often one spouse is already determined to leave. Faced with the pain of rejection and the likelihood of divorce, it is easy for their spouse to give in to despair.
Like Natalie’s therapist, we in the Christian community can hold hope for couples like this. When friends and family are in relational distress and it seems like the problems are insurmountable, they need someone else to remind them of their place in the Father’s heart.
Even if the marriage is not recovered, we can confidently put our hope in God’s eternal plan for them and their children. For the Lord is a good Father who loves his children and always seeks our good.
This Advent, we are invited to reflect on how God draws us into hope. Although we may suffer the anguish of a troubled marriage and a darkened future, let us choose to hope defiantly in the promises of our Lord.