I love our Christmas tree. Come to our house, and you will see it shining through the window before you ever set foot inside. The myriad of white lights, the crimson ribbon, the red and silver ornaments, and a picturesque angel on top make it a visual delight. My wife does a spectacular job of decorating it, and during the Christmas season, it becomes the centerpiece of our home. A healthy dose of gifts beneath it completes the perfect yuletide scene.

But the other day, my wife pointed out that one of the strands of lights on the tree is not working. (Those are not the lights that came on the tree, mind you. Those lights quit working long ago. These are some we’ve added in the meantime.) And the angel at the top? Well, she’s seen better days too. She’s just high enough that it’s hard to notice from a few feet below.

I can take heart, however, knowing that the first Christmas was less than perfect too. At the scene of Jesus’ birth, there were very few lights beyond the lanterns or candles that may have illuminated the stable where Mary labored. There were no evergreen trees and no gifts (except for the one in Mary’s womb). As for angels, I have a feeling that the ones that appeared that night looked very different from the one on the top of my tree.

But in that very un-Christmaslike scene, the Light of the world suddenly shone forth, born not into a place of celebration or festivities but of darkness.

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.
— Isaiah 9:2

Make no mistake about it: Jesus came to bring hope to the world not in spite of the darkness but because of it.

The reality is that hope and bright sunshine don’t generally mix, although we tend to think that they do. When life is bright and sunny, we may feel like things will be alright and everything will turn out okay. But that’s not hope; that’s emotion. When life gets dark and foreboding, and when blue skies turn black, we wonder if there is any hope at all. But hope actually thrives in the dark. Hope breeds in dark places because it has to. When the sunshine of our lives has gone away, hope is often the only thing that keeps us going.

Consider the not-so-Christmas story of Job. In the span of literally hours (if not minutes), he lost nearly everything he possessed and everyone he treasured, and soon he was robbed of his health as well. And what was his response? He simply (and painfully) said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
— Job 1:21

Underneath all of Job’s pain and suffering was something invisible but essential: hope. When the tragedies of life literally laid him bare, he had only hope to cling to — hope in a sovereign God who was sovereign no matter the circumstances and who could be trusted regardless. While it may seem cold and even cruel to tell someone in pain to have hope, hope may be the only thing that can actually carry them through.

What’s carrying you through right now? Christmas may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be the most challenging. The holidays, as we well know, can be just as much a time of struggle as they can of celebration. And so, even in the midst of all the festivities (and perhaps because of them), we still need hope.

Hope there is something beyond the lights, music, gifts, and excitement. Hope that there is more than just emotion wrapped up in our cultural celebration. Hope that 2,000 years ago, a baby really was born in a manger, and that this baby would grow up (and die) to change the world.

If you’re not “feeling it” this Christmas, you’re not alone. Most of the world wasn’t feeling it when Christ came on the scene in Bethlehem, and even after He came, life was still hard. But the difference was hope. Hope in a life — and an eternity — that was suddenly different because of who He was and what He came to accomplish. Hope in a salvation that would come through His death and resurrection a few decades later. Hope that there is more to the story than just our short time here on earth.

So if there’s a strand or two of lights in your life that aren’t working right now, or if you’re feeling as worn out as the angel on the top of my tree, take comfort in the fact that this season isn’t really about you anyway. Your perfection is not required because His perfection is enough. Your hope is not in accomplishing everything but in what He has already accomplished. Your hope is in Him.

And that’s the greatest hope of all.