In response to recent personal reflections I've written about the source of hope we are promoting this Christmas and a prompting by the Holy Spirit, we refocused our Christmas Carol service today to give an unmistakable message of hope found in Christ this Christmas. We invited four amazing people from our Celebrate Recovery congregation whose lives have been radically transformed to share the hope they have found in Jesus at our Christmas Carol Service tonight.
Cheryl spoke about the brokenness of her past: "September four years ago I was an alcoholic, drug addict, smoker and I was very lonely, clinically depressed and suicidal - especially at birthdays - and Christmas. I was in trouble with the police due to bad company." She then shared the hope she has found in Jesus: "I've been forgiven for the sinful life I used to live. I've found freedom in Christ Jesus who loves me and accepts me for who I am. Jesus gives me hope for eternal life in heaven...My Christmas gift to you is to share this good news...God has made a mighty transformation in my life. If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you my friends will be able to move mountains."
Jayne shared about a life of abuse and depression that led to a battle with self-harming: "When I was a child I withdrew into a shell as I couldn't deal with my brother physically abusing me...I was sexually assaulted at high school and when I told my mother I felt she didn't really believe me...I had my daughter in 1990 who I instantly bonded with, then I had my son in 1992 when I developed post-natal depression and started self-harming after a stay at Glenside." Despite the demons she has been fighting all her life, Jayne found freedom in Christ: "In 2004 I went to jail for five weeks after a series of events that made me very frustrated towards the public health system...I still believe that time in jail was probably the most valuable learning time in my life; it has shown me the difference between the freedom that the world offers and the freedom that Christ gives by his death and resurrection."
Lynne bravely stepped up and shared her story after a long "struggle with anxiety, stress, agoraphobia and codependency...On 21st September 2010 during the week of prayer in the prayer room at Huntfield Heights with Deb I allowed God into my heart and became a Christian. After this momentous occasion I found many things on my journey were a lot clearer and easier to understand...I really want to tell you that no matter how far you have travelled on your journey you will always have stones and pebbles to trip you up, but as long as you have your faith you can get through the troubles...I was once asked what I feel at this point in time and I answered, 'the feeling of achievement that I feel for this journey of healing is like that of a child that has just started to walk. I am up and walking and now I want to explore.'"
Dale's journey of faith has led him down an unexpected pathway of terminal illness: "In August last year I was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. As you can imagine, this has turned life upside down not only for me but for my family and friends also. As my condition has progressed I have had to come to terms with a number of things, including having to leave my work, having to take multiple medications and the prospect of a shortened life span...Where does hope fit into this. Perhaps if I borrow the words of an old hymn - "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness." I talk about hope because of the reason we are here together singing carols today. There is a saying, 'Jesus is the reason for the season.' Jesus is why I can talk about hope...I know people all over the world have been praying for me over the last year or so. Many have been praying I will be healed. I know I will be healed, whether that is during my time on earth or when I am in that place we call heaven where there will be no sickness."
Each story, while different, spoke of a common theme of hope that was found through Jesus Christ amidst their brokenness. These testimonies of hope put flesh on the carols we sung about Emmanuel - God with us. These testimonies fulfilled the missing dimension of Christmas I spoke about in my previous posts: The White Elephant of Christmas, Christmas Expectations, Christmas Hope. While I don't know what impact these testimonies had on the faith journey of those gathered tonight, I do know that there was no mistaking the source of hope in our message this Christmas!
"Hope is a candle. A light in the window showing the way for a heart to come home. Hope is a Saviour who was born in the manger, sent down from Heaven to rescue our hearts - Our Christmas hope" (Newsong)