It’s a familiar theme I often hear around this time of year: “Thank God this year is almost over! Next year has to be better.”
There are several versions of this sentiment. Some more exasperated. Some more desperate. Some more bitter. Some more colorful. But they all have the same message—this year has been tough, it has been hard, it has been sad, it has been scary, it has been filled with pain, heartache, and loss.
I know many of your stories and sentiments about this year, and your hope for the new one. I share in them as I too have my own stories of sadness, pain, and loss from this year.
It has been a tough year.
Personal stories aside, it has been a tough year around our country and around the world.
Natural disasters—hurricanes that were supposed to be spaced apart by hundreds of years happened within weeks of one another. Forest fires raging to nearly the worst in history. All of it resulting in unprecedented loss.
Political division and quarrelling by politicians on both sides of the isle—all of them seemingly doing more bickering and fighting than working for progress for the people they pledge to serve. All of it resulting bewildering in loss.
Shootings and gun violence—everyone loses.
Racial conflict escalating to atrocious acts of violence—everyone loses.
Terrorist attacks escalating to atrocious acts of violence—everyone loses.
Acts of sexual assault, both current and years passed, all coming to light—everyone loses.
If you are like me, you could use a win.
Amidst all this loss, we could use a moment, a day, a time when instead of feeling the debilitating weight of loss, we feel the elation of a win.
Well tonight, because of what God does in and through Jesus, we get that win. We get that win tonight because tonight we remember and honor and celebrate the one who came to earth by virgin birth, whose advent was announced by an angelic chorus, to those who were seen by society as outcasts, pushed to the margins, and dealt with debilitating loss themselves.
We get that win tonight because tonight, born to us again, is a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
We get that win tonight because tonight, the prophecy is fulfilled, and the hope, peace, joy, and love of God comes to us.
We get that win tonight because tonight Christ is born. And because Christ is born, love wins. And when love wins, we all win.
There has been more than enough sadness, fear, pain, and loss this year. But there has been hope, peace, joy, and love this year too—more than we realize because so often the din of loss rings louder and harder than its alternative.
But it is there. And like a light in the east, if we look toward it, and follow it, it can lead us to the truth that there is still— in this world that seems determined to destroy itself— there still remains hope, peace, joy, and love.
When Kate McClure’s car ran out of gas in Philadelphia, homeless Marine Corps veteran Johnny Bobbitt Jr. rushed to her aid. With his last $20, Bobbitt put gas in her car so she could return home.
Moved by his act of kindness, McClure set up a GoFundMe with the hopes of securing $10,000 to get Bobbitt back on his feet.
Word spread and donations began to pour in from around the world and the campaign has since earned over $400,000 that has helped Bobbitt buy a house, a car, and begin a new life. And now, Bobbitt is aiming to give back to others through this generous and loving act.
After hearing about and following the water/lead crisis in Flint, Michigan for two years, 11-year-old Gitanjali Rao of Lone Tree, Colorado decided to do something. Not by donating her allowance but by donating her impressive aptitude for science.
Rao tells ABC that while she was doing her weekly perusal of MIT’s “Materials Science and Engineering” website to “See if there’s anything’s new,” she read about new technologies that could detect hazardous substances, and decided to see if they could be adapted to test for lead.
After a lot of hard work, Rao created a device that can detect lead in water, potentially saving millions of lives in the future.
Her solution was so ingenious Rao was named “America’s Top Young Scientist” in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge— a distinction that comes with a check for $25,000.
And to help with an immediate Flint water need, comes a story of a group of teenagers who call themselves the Dream Kings.
This group of 45 community-minded Detroit high school students wanted to make sure senior citizens in nearby Flint, affected by the lead poisoning crisis, still had clean water to drink.
The Dream Kings gathered 300 cases of water and brought them personally to Flint senior centers.
After purchasing groceries for her family, a young mother didn’t have enough money to buy the diapers needed for her infant child. So she did the only thing she could think to do. She attempted to shop lift them.
She was caught by store security who called the police. The call was responded to by rookie officer Bennet Johns of the Laurel, Maryland Police Department. Johns realized the woman was struggling to provide for her son. And as someone who grew up with a single mother, he decided to give a little help where he could, and instead of arresting her for trying to steal $15 worth of diapers, Johns pulled out his wallet and paid for them himself.
On their Facebook Page, the Laurel Police Department posted a picture stating, “Though we often joke that our field trainees are still in diapers, it turns out rookie Officer Johns was not buying these for himself and was simply lending a helping hand.”
For most little kids, a lemonade stand is a good way to earn a few extra bucks. However, for five-year-old Jett Arellano, his lemonade stand had a higher purpose: to raise money for the American Red Cross to aid in relief for Hurricane Harvey.
Through his determination, and what was a pretty killer lemonade recipe, the pint-sized philanthropist raised over $400 for Hurricane Harvey relief.
And then there is little three year old Louie, who in his short life has had numerous health issues.
Usually for Christmas Louie would be laying on the couch, hooked up to oxygen and a feeding tube. But this year Louie is feeling better.
And Louie was made to feel even better when on Tuesday evening his family received our church’s Christmas Ingathering Outreach offering which included a Paw Patrol fleece blanket—a blanket that made him jump up and down after wrapping himself in it. A blanket that is just one of the over 300 fleece blankets made throughout the year by folks here at FCC Stow.
Louie’s family was just one of more than 30 families who were part of this ministry.
What moves people to do such things?
It’s because people who do such things know what it is like to struggle with pain, with fear, with hard times, with loss.
It’s because people who do such things know that after so much loss, a person needs a win. And a win comes when we act with hope, peace, joy, and love.
That is what God knows too. And it is why God responds to the losses in life with exactly what we need—a Savior, who is Emmanuel: God with us, who promises to be with us and guide us through the losses of life to the bright future where there will be—as the book of Revelation proclaims— “God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.”
The people who made these stories a reality, the people who made these wins happen, are people of hope, people of peace, people of joy, people of love.
And because of their willingness to live as such people, love wins. And when love wins, we all win.
“Thank God this year is almost over! Next year has to be better.”
Next year has to be better because we all need a win. But we don’t have to wait until next week to get that win—we can begin to make next year better tonight. In fact, it’s the best time to start.
We can begin to make next year better by acknowledging the truth—that in this life loss will come, it is inevitable. But…but how we respond is always up to us.
Tonight we are reminded how God responded to a world seemingly determined to destroy itself—God did not give up.
Tonight we are reminded how God responded to a world that was in desperate need of a win—God sent a Savior.
God responded with love—sending God’s Son, not to condemn the world, but to save it, to give the world the win it so desperately needed.
So may we acknowledge the struggle of pain, fear, and loss.
May we resolve to respond as people of hope, peace, joy, and love.
And may we do so knowing we can because God has already assured us that because of Jesus love wins. And when love wins, we all win.
Merry Christmas. Amen.