Christmas has descended upon Casafé in a flurry of lights, candles, trees, crafts, and lovely scents that make us think of pine trees in a soft breeze. Parties are being planned, food is being cooked, greetings are now turning to Merry Christmases, and it continues to get hotter and hotter as the days go by. This is a time for traditions, for gifts, for celebrations, and the perfect time to remember the sacrifice made by our creator so long ago, the same sacrifice that made all this possible, and yes, the one made by a God who is able to withstand all our silly traditions and meaningless symbols. While these symbols, the tree, the snowflakes, the decorations, and the wreaths don’t really make a whole lot of sense as far as the real reason for Christmas, some do.

Growing up I always used to celebrate Christmas with advent. My family tried to do a Bible reading every night, and then every Sunday we would gather around and light the next candle for that week: Hope, Peace, Love, Joy, and then finally the Christ Candle at the very end. This was always a journey we took as a family at the end of the year. A tradition calling us deeper into one another as a unit, and deeper into the one who made us as our Father. Once we got to the last day, the day before Christmas, we would light them all, and then some more. We turned off all the lights in the house and filled it with candle light, placing the Christ candle somewhere central. A symbol of the light of the world, the gift that saved us from darkness. This was always a beautiful time in our family home, gathered around a collection of candles. As we got closer to Christmas it got brighter and brighter until on that very last night we were bathed in this light, illuminating every inch of our home.

This tradition is in my blood, in my heart, and in my mind; I will be shaping the month of December posts around advent. One post for every candle. Every post will take that candle’s word and use it as a lens with which to see Casafé and its going-ons.

That being said, it’s the first week of December, its the first week of advent, and if you didn’t guess by the title, that means it’s Hope week!

There is so much to be hopeful for in this season! I think we can easily get caught up being hopeful for little things: the trees, the lights, the snow (if you have such a thing where you live), the baking, the meals, the gifts, and the shopping. While I do not speak down on these things, as I am very, very, well known to enjoy all of them; they are simple hopes, they are not heavy in weight, nor hard to bear. It’s easier that way. Being hopeful for the big things is hard, it’s heavy, it isn’t joyful and bright and happy and sweet and it doesn’t always make you feel good. To be hopeful for something, something better, means accepting that what we have, where we live, who we are, are ultimately broken, and we have to embrace that, in order to be properly hopeful for something better.

I was recently reminded of the weight these youth carry on their shoulders. This week’s Bible study started off with a review of the previous week. We are studying James every Wednesday with the youth; we discussed James 4:4 last week, discussing what it means to be friends with the world. When asked for examples of things of this world, these youth, aged 12-15, named off drugs, prostitution, and parties as their first three examples. These are heavy examples of worldly things. At a young age these youth were exposed to the dirty side of this world, the imperfections, the sins, and all the consequences of the first mess-up back in Eden.

This week we talked to them about submitting to God, resisting the devil, and coming nearer to God as we wash our hands of the sins around us and in our lives (verses 7 and 8). The closer we draw to God, the further we pull away from these things of the world seeking to draw us as far away from our creator as spiritually possible. The more we resist the devil and the hand tailored temptations he throws at us, the more hope we have of being close to Jesus. But what an incredible hope that is. Hope for a pure environment, hope for peace, hope for Jesus’ love, hope for unending grace. We hope because we believe, because we have faith, because God has proven himself faithful. God has promised all these things to his believers. The youth hear that message and they have so much hope. They are more than aware of the circumstances they live in and the things trying daily to get their attention. They have that much more hope, because of their fight day after day after day, that things will get better; there is a future where they can rest.

I can’t help but think, and, indeed, hope, this is what it means when we light the hope candle; that these youth who gather around on a patio lit with Christmas lights, in front of a beach during sunset, with wet swimsuits and towels, chatting about these truths; this is what hope is brought for. Jesus died for this group of preteens and teens who are trying their very best in a place working against them. I think, I daresay I believe, this is what it means to hope. In a time when drugs, prostitution, parties, alcohol, slavery, abortion, murder, and an entire world full of other crushing topics seem to control the attention span of humanity…this is our light. Our hope candle. We light it in the presence of despair, and the light wins every time.

These youth got it this week. I think they’ve gotten it for a while now too. This world is against them, they’ve grown up in a system designed for those in better positions than them and their families. They’ve seen the ugly sides of this world, and yet they still hope.

While many of you have already lit the Hope candle, I pray this still makes the Christmas season a little heavier, and a little brighter at the same time. I hope this season is uncomfortable for many, that things often tucked away during the celebrations would never be far from your thoughts, because these things are real and people are hurting. I also pray, however, that you can see, and bring, the hope originally brought to us by Jesus, and that those who ARE hurting can receive the gift of hope this season.

This is our commission, to bring the light of Jesus and to share the hope he gave us; as reminded to me by my brave, generous, gracious, and strong group of youth here in Jaco, Costa Rica. Be aware of the darkness, and share the light of hope this season.

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