In the midst of a long Scottish winter you’d be forgiven for believing that the sun had ceased to exist. You can go for days, weeks even, without seeing a chink of sky, let alone the sun. My husband describes it as living under a Tupperware box.
I was sitting this week with a friend in her office, and we looked out over the city and bemoaned the short, dark days, the grim, grey sky and how long there was to go until spring. A fellow worker came into the room, looked out the window and declared that sun was about to come out. Oh how we laughed. And laughed and laughed. We continued our conversation and fifteen minutes later, lo and behold, there was a bright light squeezing through the clouds. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the sun came all the way out, but he did his best to gleam through the clouds for a few minutes, to remind us that all is not lost. He’s still there, giving us enough light and heat to live by through the winter. There are more dark days to come but in a few months time we’ll begin to see him again. (Although not too regularly, because we live in Scotland, and he clearly has important business elsewhere.)
Holding on to hope when everything around seems grey is a very hard thing to do.
Over the Christmas period I was struck by the stories of Simeon and Anna, who encountered Jesus when he was presented in the Temple. They had been waiting to meet him for a long time. A very long time
A Messiah had been promised. God had spoken many times through the prophets.
And then silence.
Four hundred years of silence.
How many lost hope in that time? Declared that God had forgotten them? Life was too hard and the Almighty too distant.
But God was still there, still whispering to his people, “Hope is coming. Hold on!”
Simeon listened to that whisper and believed. When all around was grey and silent he held on to hope, and acted upon it.
Anna had been married a short seven years before she lost her husband and became a widow. She knew the darkness of grief and loss, the ache of loneliness. But she lifted her eyes to heaven, held on to the promise of hope, living for the day when she would see it come to life. Year after year of praying and waiting, worshiping and watching.
And then he came.
Hope was born.
Everything changed. The world need never look so bleak again. There would forever and always be the promise of better.
For those of us who believe, we have the assurance that no sky of grey is ever without that chink of hope, no day too long or dark that his redeeming presence cannot bring comfort, and no path so uncertain that his lamp cannot lead us home. We can learn from the example of Anna, waiting in hope and faith through the years of grief and silence, trusting in the promises of Scripture.
But this gift is not for us to cherish alone. There are those around us trapped in the grey.
Sometimes people need to be told, the sun is going to come out, there is a God who loves and cares for you. And when they laugh at the seeming nonsense of that statement, because they cannot see or comprehend a God who loves them, we are to be the ones who pull back the clouds so they can feel His warmth.
A friend of mine once talked about what the Good News of the gospel actually looked like to people. Ultimately we share the good news of Jesus and the everlasting hope that He brings. But to an overwhelmed single Mum with two small children, perhaps good news comes first as an offer of babysitting. To an isolated and lonely older person, maybe good news looks like company before it looks like anything else. To the person being bullied, good news looks like a champion, a defender. And to the outcast it looks like a welcome, a place to belong.
Hope is here. We know it and celebrate it, hold on to it and are strengthened by it, bask in its warmth and turn our faces towards it.
And then we share it.