But I haven’t started celebrating yet. I’ve been depressed.
A shameful confession for an old pastor! Where’s my faith? Don’t I believe what I preached? Why doesn’t the counsel I gave others work for me? I don’t know. I just know I’ve been depressed.
Two reasons for confession. One: to be honest. If I wrote a “Christmas cheer” post, I’d feel like a hypocrite. So I’ll tell it like it is. Two: to help others who read this. At least they’ll know they’re not alone in their darkness. (Yes, real Christians do get depressed.)
I’ve been depressed over my health. Numbness and weakness are creeping from my feet to my neck. I have to use a walker. Going across a room is like a marathon. (Okay, that’s an exaggeration.) With this “creeping” comes pain and ache and fouled-up digestion and other body parts breaking down. Doctors can’t diagnose it. It’s progressive. I pray and have been prayed for, but God stays silent I feel 91 instead of 71. I haven’t even been able to write a blog post for over a week.
Because many suffer far worse, I’m ashamed to confess. Look at the news—somebody’s son gets beheaded. somebody’s teenage daughter gets burned alive, bystanders are maimed by a terrorist’s bomb, wounded warriors with artificial limbs fight to live again while some are so depressed they take their own lives. I see and think, “What’s my suffering compared to theirs?” But logic doesn’t cure depression.
Advent, however, is the season of hope, of expecting the fulfillment of what the prophets promised, of looking forward to the wonder of Jesus Messiah coming.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone . . . For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be on his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end . . . (Isaiah 9:2,6,7a).
The day is coming, Isaiah promised (in the past tense to emphasize certainty), when a great light will shine into the darkness of a violent, corrupt, war-torn world. A child will be born who will take over this world. He will be known as the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, whose reign of shalom will never end. This is his First Advent.
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers . . . that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord will not precede those who have fallen asleep, for the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command. with the voice of the archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore, encourage one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).
There is no reason to grieve your dead as those who are without hope beyond death, wrote Paul. For Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the first of many resurrections. He will come again commanding his people to rise as God’s trumpet sounds the call. The bodies of dead believers will be raised. The bodies of living believers will soar upwards. Death, and all the suffering that precedes it, will be swallowed up in victory! We’ll meet the Lord in the air and be with him forever. This is his Second Advent.
As I read those Scriptures I see a Jewish baby boy asleep in a manger; I see people from every tribe, language, people and nation meeting Jesus Messiah in the air. I feel a slight soul-stirring. I hear a whisper: “This is your hope! Jesus, who is coming, has already come to begin the end, which is actually the Beginning. Through him God will do more than all you can ask or even imagine!”
Depression—POOF!—gone? No. But there’s light in the darkness. If I keep looking at that light, if I fix my gaze on the Scriptures, I’ll have grace to fight the darkness. The light will reveal the breathtaking wonder of Jesus the Messiah. It will bring me back to the wonder of his First Advent. It will point me toward the wonder of his Second Advent. And it will brighten the banner that flies over this entire Advent season: “HERE IS YOUR HOPE, YOU WHO LIVE IN DARKNESS. HIS NAME IS JESUS!”