The Christmas season is a great time to make family memories. However, discovering lice in your home, as a friend recently did – while hosting an extended family Christmas gathering – is not the kind of Christmas memory anyone wants! It’s hard to think of anything more universally despised than these nasty bugs that take up residence in our hair. We describe things we dislike as “lousy,” which literally means infested with lice. Even the mere idea of lice is so potent that some of you may get the sensation of itchiness on your heads just by reading this!
My family of six experienced lice once when I was growing up. We were at a restaurant, and one of us kids observed and casually commented that “Cara has bugs in her hair.” That’s a sure way to end your dinner out! My parents rushed us home and started weeks of meticulous combing, hair treatments, boiling everything that could fit in a pot, washing and re-washing all clothes and linens, etc. Not fun.
If there is such a thing as a famous lice story, it may be the one told by Corrie ten Boom in her book The Hiding Place. Corrie and her sister, Betsie, were prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp and were assigned to a dormitory crawling with lice and fleas. Determined to live out 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 and “give thanks in all circumstances,” Betsie prayed and thanked God for all aspects of their situation, including the bugs. Corrie, quite understandably, balked at that! These two women faithfully read their smuggled Bible with other prisoners every day. They initially were very secretive for fear of the guards but eventually had such a crowd that they added a second gathering so everyone could hear. They did not understand why the guards allowed this. Only later did they learn that the guards refused to enter their Bible-reading room because of how bad the bugs were!
Being in a concentration camp is horrible enough, but having lice on top of that is, well, lousy. That would seem to be a situation of total despair, irredeemable, completely devoid of hope. Yet God entered literally lousy circumstances and somehow worked good in them.
Inheritance of Hope families can relate. A young parent receiving a terminal diagnosis is lousy. Dealing with difficult treatments while wondering what will become of your family? Lousy. Spouse and kids fearing the loss of their loved one? Lousy. Families’ lives becoming consumed by illness, uncertainty, and death? Lousy. The circumstances that Inheritance of Hope exists to serve are lousy by anyone’s definition. We don’t sugarcoat them or downplay their severity. Yet consider this quote from our co-founder Kristen Milligan:
“I have discovered that my cancer is a blessing, allowing me the time and opportunity not only to strengthen my faith and my relationship with my family, but also to use my experiences to help other families with children learn to cope with the challenges of a terminal illness.”
Again, I would never suggest that anyone in Kristen’s circumstances should pretend that they aren’t lousy. The grief, despair, and fundamental wrongness of young families having to face the loss of a parent are real and severe. Yet God can work good in them. Good does not come from within situations like these but enters into them from the outside. We could say that God’s goodness intrudes or invades – it is a foreign power that comes into unsuspecting territory.
This surprising, situation-flipping, even hard to believe at times coming of God into lousy circumstances is what we celebrate at this time of year. Advent means just that – coming. And how does God come?
- As a pregnancy to an unwed mother. (lousy)
- To a world where no one gives up their bed to aid a young woman in labor. (lousy)
- To a world where power-seekers, like King Herod, destroy whatever stands in their way, even by slaughtering children [Matthew 2:16]. (lousy)
- As a child who has no memories of his dad past twelve years old. (lousy)
- As an adult whose truthful words earn not praise but death threats [Luke 4:28-29]. (lousy)
- As a poor itinerant whose people are oppressed by an empire. (lousy)
- As one who is innocent but punished for false accusations. (lousy)
- To a world that sends its own savior to crucifixion. Lousy, lousy, lousy!
Our world has much that is lousy, much that rightly is mourned, even in this “season of good cheer.” Yet Christ has come, Christ is coming even now, and Christ will come fully. The promise of resurrection and new creation remains. Thank God that this world has been visited, invaded, by one who can not only make this statement but can also bring it to reality: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”