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This sentence from the cover story struck me: “The day after Rachel was baptized, she received news that her father’s cancer had returned for the fourth time.” In other words, the day after she publicly proclaimed her new life in Christ, Rachel found out her father was dying.

Phil-christmas

Life and death. Joy and sorrow. Growth and pain. Everyday life is a mix of the good and the bad, the beautiful and the messy. Becoming a Christian doesn’t magically change that.

This Christmas season will be difficult for Rachel and her family because of the loss of her father. I empathize because my father-in-law, Ernie, died this fall, as well. He was a caring man with a tremendous love for family and a passion to see the gospel message spread throughout the world. His absence will leave a sizable hole, and our festivities will not be the same. He and I had a New Year’s Day tradition of watching football all day together, and I know that’s going to be a particularly tough day.

I also know that Rachel and I and our families will not be alone in our sorrow. Most of the men and women living in our shelters will be grieving a loss of one kind or another this Christmas. The holidays have a way of emphasizing those losses – making one acutely aware of what is missing from his or her life.

For Christians, however, Christmas is not primarily about family gatherings, feasting and presents. Christmas is about hope shining in the midst of our sorrow. Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ who made it possible for us to be put in right relationship with God.

Because of Christ’s birth, death and resurrection, Rachel knows her father is in heaven, free from suffering. Likewise, I know that Ernie is up there, enjoying the heavenly choir even more than he enjoyed the Bill Gaither singers.

Worldly happiness depends on circumstances. Joy does not. We can have joy even when we are hurting due to the loss of a loved one. We can have joy when we are suffering from disease or injury or the loss of a job. We can trust, like the Apostle Paul who had joy even when he was in prison, that God is in control and working for our good. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that’s easy. We often struggle to see the good in our situations, but the Bible promises that God will never leave us or forsake us. Our faith is based on the premise that He loves us so much that He sent His Son to die for us, and if He did not spare His own Son, “how will He not also graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) This is the root of our joy and our hope.

We are the Union GOSPEL Mission. Hope is right there in the middle of our name. When you partner with us, you are not only giving the temporary comfort of food and shelter, you are sharing eternal hope.

Joy to the world! The Savior reigns! Let earth receive her King!

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