Many of you know that back in June of this year, I traveled to Poland to tour Auschwitz with Eva Kor, Holocaust survivor (visit my trip blog HERE). She and her twin survived medical experiments done on them by the “angel of death,” Dr. Mengele. We walked alongside her in Auschwitz as she told her story and recounted her days spent in the camps and shared with us how she managed to survive the horrific living conditions, the torturous experiments, illness, and the cold. She said at one point that “in Auschwitz, dying was easy- it was surviving that was difficult.” However, at the heart of her story of survival is forgiveness, courage, persistence, strength, and above all, hope. She now shares her story with hundreds, maybe thousands of people every year and at the end of it all, focuses on the importance of finding your inner strength, having faith in yourself, learning to forgive, and having hope. A few weeks ago a fellow traveler shared this photo with our tour group online-
-a picture taken by another person that had toured Auschwitz with Eva- the building in the background is the watch tour at Auschwitz II (also known as Birkenau) where the trains would come in each day carrying hundreds of innocent people- most of whom were sent straight to their deaths in the gas chambers. However, this picture embodies for me the very meaning of hope. That even nature itself can overcome a place like Auschwitz- that in the midst of death and destruction- in the midst of the darkest of places, that flowers and grass grow as a reminder that there is always hope- there is always life and beauty to be found- there is always a reminder of our own inner courage and strength.
It’s been 6 months since my trip to Auschwitz, and I continue to process and reflect on my experience. I know now that I will always feel a pain in my heart when I think of the time I spent there- once you are standing in a gas chamber where millions of innocent lives were taken, you understand just how dark the human soul can be. You understand just how broken our world is and how much we have to overcome. Once you stand on the grounds of such a dark place, it’s difficult to see the light. But then I am reminded of Eva’s story of courage and strength, and how she once said, “Where there is light, the darkness cannot exist!” And for me, this is what the Christmas story is all about. Finding that even in the midst of a dark and broken world, that God came among us to give us strength, courage, and above all, HOPE.
Hope is often times hard to find, and it doesn’t come all at once. Sometimes hope can come a little at a time, silently, unexpectedly, even in the smallest of ways. On Christmas, hope comes in the form of a little child born into a humble, dirty, quiet setting- the way that no one expected. There’s a great song with the title, “Little is Much When God’s in It”- and it’s a song that serves as a great reminder of how God uses the smallest and most unlikely situations and people to change the world. God even uses us. On Christmas, we are reminded that little is much, especially when God is in it. The lyrics are:
Consider a Kingdom in the smallest seed
Consider that giants fall to stones and slings
Consider a child in a manger
Consider the story isn’t over
What can be done with what you still have
Little is much when God’s in it
And no one can fathom the plans He holds
Little is much when God’s in it
He changes the world with the seeds we sow
Little is much, little is much
(lyrics by Down Here- hear the song below!)
We gather here tonight, on this Christmas Eve, to celebrate that very fact- that little is much, when God’s in it. We gather to be reminded that God can take the smallest, most insignificant, broken beyond repair situation and turn it around. We gather around the hope that comes with the child in the manger. We come to be reminded that with God, the story is never over. We might struggle with finding hope in the world, in our lives, in ourselves. We might come this night with doubts and questions and frustrations. We might come with grief, pain, or bitterness. But we come seeking the one thing that drives us on from day to day, and that is hope. We come to be encouraged that we ourselves would strive to BE the hope we want to see in the world. And Christmas brings us hope- that no matter where we find ourselves on the journey, God reminds us through the Christ child that even in the darkest night, a light still shines. That even in the midst of death and destruction, there is life to be found. That even though we may feel that the story has come to an end, we may be reminded that with God, the story is never over.
We are also reminded that God uses us to continue to write the story and bring hope into the world- God changes the world with the seeds we sow. When I gathered with a wonderful group of women this Advent to study the women of the Christmas story in Luke’s gospel, we found that each one had a very significant role in paving the way for Jesus and ushering in the kingdom of God. Without Mary and Elizabeth, our story would probably look very different. The world was changed all because these courageous women said yes to God- despite the odds, despite the dangers they faced, despite young age, old age, their seasons of life, their own doubts and fears- they relied on the Holy Spirit within them to bear their children that would one day change the world. And through it all, they trusted in God’s presence to guide them through each and every step. As a class, we learned a lot from Mary and Elizabeth- that God uses us in every age and stage of our lives, that when we place trust in God, our lives can be transformed, that these women of Christmas set the stage for a world where women have a voice and a crucial role in all areas of life. We were reminded that God is constantly bringing about transformation through the most unexpected people and places- that God brings about transformation through each of us. That we, in turn, must say yes to God just as these women of Christmas did so that we will play a part in the unfolding story of hope.
And there is hope at the birth of a child- from the moment we hear about a healthy pregnancy up to the moment of birth and beyond, we are reminded of the gifts of life and hope. We follow Mary on her journey of pregnancy and there is a sense of hope, anticipation, sometimes worry or fear to which many of us can relate, whether we have been pregnant ourselves or have experienced it through family or friends. I have my own excitement and hope as I celebrate Christmas this year, as I’m happy to share with you that my sister, Leigh, is pregnant- due in July! There has been so much excitement and joy within our family about this news, and modern technology has allowed her to send us pictures and videos of those first ultrasounds where we have celebrated the life that is within her. So this Advent has been particularly special for me as I have walked with my sister on her journey so far. I have been filled with hope and joy for her, and in general, as I am reminded of Mary who carried Jesus in her womb- the very sign and reminder of hope coming into the world- all because she said yes to God.
Tonight we celebrate the birth of the Christ child. Tonight we celebrate hope. Tonight we celebrate those who said yes to God and paved the way for God to walk among us. Tonight it is up to us to continue to write the story of God as we pledge to say yes to God, yes to hope, yes to continuing on the journey. Tonight we, like the shepherds, must be willing to go forth and share the message of hope, to sow seeds of love and justice, and to live our lives as witnesses to what God is doing in the world. Tonight we open ourselves to the possibility that God will use us, yes, even us, to change the world. Tonight we are reminded that yes, little is much when God’s in it.
My prayer for you this Christmas Eve is that you will experience the God of hope who can take the most unexpected people, places, and situations and make something life giving and transformational out of them. My hope for you is that you will experience the God who can take even this broken and dark world and give it light- and that you will experience the courage and hope within yourself to say yes to a God who invites each of us to continue writing the story of hope, love, and justice in this world.