By: Melisa Carroll
Advent has never been more real for me than this year. As we wait in joyful hope and anticipation for the coming of the Christ child, my husband and I are also waiting to meet our future child through the process of adoption. Throughout this past year, the Lord has been teaching me in a very real way what it means to “wait in joyful hope.” And to be completely honest, it hasn’t been easy to wait joyfully and hopefully. The desire in my heart to be a mother is a strong one, and looking at an empty manger is a powerful reminder of something I want but can’t have… yet.
This past year has seen me laying down my timelines, plans, and ideas at the foot of that manger again and again; surrendering my will to His. I feel a lot like Mary who had to lay down all her plans for the future when she was visited by the Angel Gabriel. But what I often forget is that Mary accepted God’s will for her with trust and hope. She didn’t worry and fret about how God’s plans didn’t match hers or that He was asking too much. She just said yes. She trusted in God’s goodness, provision, and boundless love and said yes. Isn’t that what it means to surrender? To believe so deeply in a loving, good God that you are unafraid of whatever He lays before you because you know that He will be with you through it all? To happily sacrifice your own wants for the one you love simply because you love them?
When Mary arrived at that stable in Bethlehem, she likely looked at that empty manger and a spark of joy burst in her heart as she pictured what it would look like full. She didn’t see emptiness or lack, but who would soon be the fullness of all her- and our- hopes. The empty manger was, and still is, a symbol of hope. It speaks of what’s to come and the joy that spreads like fire when we let God work in our lives.
So this Advent, I invite you to look at the empty manger and see what God is asking you to surrender there. Then, I challenge you to surrender it with trust and hope into His hands and wait in joyful anticipation. Whenever you find yourself doubting, think about that manger again and its purpose. The manger was meant to be filled. It was filled with something unexpected, but nonetheless more bountiful, wonderful, and perfect than anyone expected. That manger shone in the night like a pyre, warming all those in its circle of heat, igniting within them hope and joy and filling the darkness with light.