There I was, all bundled up for the 30-degree temperatures, arms full of bags to take into the office. In my hand I held a large iced coffee, fresh from Panera. My day was busy but starting the right way. Then, to my horror, I dropped the coffee and watched as the cup exploded.

32 ounces of creamy goodness gone in a flash. 

You probably know what I felt next: disappointment. That feeling of dashed hopes, plans gone astray, broken dreams.

Yeah, I know it was just coffee, but I was disappointed nonetheless. As 2020 comes quickly to an end, I look back and see a long train of disappointments. 

Travel plans dashed because of a pandemic.

Skyrocketing unemployment in our nation.

Wildfires destroying communities.

A contentious election dividing families.

As I’ve spoken on the phone with Care Net donors, I’ve heard of their disappointments. Grandparents unable to see their newborn grandchildren. Churches unable to meet in person. Children missing their friends. Front-line health workers burning the candle at both ends. Hardworking fathers and mothers unable to find a job.

And then there are the loved ones lost. I personally know several people who’ve lost close friends or family to the pandemic. Saying they are “disappointed” seems like a gross understatement for the pain they’re experiencing.

It’s easy to recognize the sound of disappointment in their voices. I recognized it in my five-year-old daughter last Sunday as she told me how much she missed seeing her Sunday School teacher in person. She may only be five, but she’s already felt disappointment’s sting.

As I reflect on the shattered dreams surrounding us this Christmas season, I realized that this may be the closest many of us have come to experiencing the disappointment of that first Christmas Eve so long ago.

Let’s face it: the last thing Mary and Joseph wanted to do while she was in her final trimester was travel by foot to Bethlehem for a census. I can imagine Joseph muttering about the injustice of Roman occupation and taxation as he loaded up their donkey for the sixty-mile trek through the wilderness. Of course, his disappointment would only grow. Upon arriving in Bethlehem, he found the village packed with people from all over Israel. Needy travelers like himself, all taking up every last bit of free floor space for the night.

I imagine the look of shock and horror when Mary says, “it’s time. The baby is coming.”  Of course, this would be the time for Mary to go into labor. At night, in a small village, with no room in its only inn.

What else could go wrong!?

As a husband and father, I have no doubt about the disappointment, frustration, and yes, even angry prayers rolling around in Joseph’s heart. I imagine him crying out to God for someplace warm for the night. 

God did answer his prayer, but I doubt a stable was what Joseph had in mind when he asked.

Yet in that cramped, musty room, light broke through the darkness. The God who spoke heaven and earth into existence put on our frail and fragile flesh. Angels filled the skies and cried, “Peace, goodwill to men.”

For Mary and Joseph, a long road of disappointments led straight to the manger.

I wonder where our disappointments with 2020 will take us. If we give ourselves over to them, we will end up with bitter and cold hearts. As Solomon said, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.”

But, if we give our disappointments to God, if we have faith enough to beat on the door of heaven with our frustrations, disillusions, and even our anger over the losses we’ve suffered this year, I believe we might just find the redemptive light that filled that stable.

We might hear the angels’ voices yet again crying out, “PEACE! PEACE ON EARTH, GOODWILL TO ALL MEN.” Not just to the rich. Not just to those who didn’t lose someone to COVID-19, whose jobs remained intact. To the lonely, the broken, the ragtag outcasts of 2020 who fear what 2021 may bring.

I believe, like the shepherds, we may yet be able to find that manger, to kneel our hearts before it, and to revel in the light that the greatest disappointments can bring. The light of a Savior powerful enough to enter into our worst situations, our gravest sins, our most painful experiences, and redeem them.

That’s why I think it’s called the thrill of hope. If Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds had all their disappointments resolved that night, there would have been no need for hope. Yet, in that moment of Christ’s birth, the world began to change. All in that stable could see something new was breaking forth, and their hearts filled with HOPE.

When we read the rest of the New Testament, we see that God keeps repeating this pattern. Big expectations, bigger disappointments, and then a miraculous redemption resulting in hope.

Jairus’ daughter. 

Lazarus.

Jesus on the cross.

In each case, God took the wretched brokenness of this world and redeemed it. He took hopelessness and brought hope through it.

And He wants to do it again this Christmas.

I don’t know what your Christmas holds for you. I don’t know who’ve you lost in this pandemic. Which relationships are broken by political disagreement. I don’t know your pain, but I know mine.

I pray that this Christmas season, we may find that hope. That it will truly thrill us. That like Mary, Joseph, Jairus, Martha, the twelve Apostles, and all who’ve come before us, we may witness once again the power God has to redeem everything through the work of His Son.

Merry Christmas. May your disappointments lead you to the manger.