The Gifts of Christmas: The Gift of Hope

 Do you ever feel like Charlie Brown? In the midst of the Christmas decorations that came out before Halloween and the push to get out there and shop—do you ever want to just stand up and shout in exasperation like Charlie Brown, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!”

 I’m sure you’ve seen the classic TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas. It’s been airing since 1965. That’s a pretty good run! Especially for a cartoon that was produced on a low budget and what was basically a last-minute production schedule for animation. It all came about when Coca-Cola came looking for a Christmas special to sponsor for holiday marketing. The cartoon Peanuts was wildly popular, so they asked for a meeting and ideas. Peanuts creator Charles Schulz and the producers threw together an outline in a day, and the Coke execs went for it. Schulz was adamant that the true Christmas story be presented, complete with a scene read straight from the Bible. The TV producers worried that it would be too controversial to read the Bible on national television, but Schulz insisted. Controversial or not, you could say the show has done pretty well.

You’ve probably seen it a time or two. If so, you know that Charlie Brown is surrounded by all the trappings of Christmas, but they all come up empty. When he wonders aloud what Christmas is really about, his best friend Linus sets him straight with a clear answer straight from the Gospel of Luke. Linus recites the passage in one of the most poignant scenes in television history:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

In those words, Charlie Brown finds hope. It’s where the whole Christmas experience turns for him and good ol’ Chuck realizes the true meaning of Christmas. He goes from depressed by the season to inspired by it. He goes from an inward focus of questioning to an outward focus of sharing the season with others.

Today I invite you to hear the same words of hope and experience the One who brings hope alive.

When do you hear the word hope used?

I hope it doesn’t rain.                                 I hope the Steers play better?

I hope I get the job.                                     I hope the world will be at peace.

I hope she shows up.                                  I hope she gets better.

What do you notice about our use off hope? Hope is often characterized by doubt, uncertainty, and a lack of control. We hope for things that may or may not happen. But in Jesus, hope is a guarantee, a sure thing. Our hope is actually a “know-it-to-be” rather than a “maybe-so.” Let’s unwrap this gift of hope by looking at past hope, present hope, and future hope as we journey toward Christmas.

 

  • Past Hope

 

  1. What is the longest you’ve waited for something? Is there anything you’ve been waiting for your entire life? The people of Israel knew all about waiting. Their entire history was marked by waiting as they looked forward to the coming of a Messiah who would set them free. The OT is full of prophecies about the Messiah. Isaiah 7:14 is one example: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

And another well-known prophecy from Isaiah promises, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

These and other prophecies gave a clear expectation of God’s promised Messiah—hundreds of years before the arrival of the Messiah. The promise didn’t always make the waiting easy. Israel experienced numerous times being taken into exile and when they weren’t in exile they seemed to go from a good king to a bad king frequently.

As we prepare for Jesus’s coming this Christmas, we share in the expectation of the people of Israel that the Messiah will come. Like them, most of us have situations and circumstances in our own lives that make it difficult for us to wait on God. And like them, we still wait for the complete fulfillment of God’s salvation in our lives and for the world.

As we look back on the hope the Israelites had for a coming Messiah and the fulfillment of their hope, in Jesus’ coming, we gain confidence and renew our faith in God’s promises to us. That is the essence of our faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Confidence in what we hope for…We can have confidence that Christ will fulfill his ever promise, assurance even though we cannot see it right now, He will do it. We have the confidence and assurance that there is much more to come—that God will complete His good work in you and me and that He will fulfill His promises to make all things new and complete in the end. Let this month be a journey of building confident hope as you wait for Him to come again.

 Present Hope

In the first chapter of Luke, we see Jesus’s birth foretold again. But unlike the Old Testament prophecies, this is a much more personal and imminent foretelling. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her about the coming of Jesus. Listen to Luke 1:26–38

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. Luke 1:26–38

In the midst of life’s questions, do you ever find yourself wishing that Gabriel would just show up and let you know what to expect? I mean, wouldn’t it be easier to just know?

Well, maybe. But in Mary’s case, perhaps it would have been easier not to know. What do you do with information like this? Mary was given a direct message from the angel Gabriel, but even then it took faith to place her trust and hope in God. Thankfully, Mary responded in faith and held fast to the hope of the promise of Immanuel, God with us.

Today, as we begin Advent, we can have hope for the present life situation. Our present hope is based on what Jesus has done and what he has promised to do. Jesus has come and made a way for us to be one with God, through His death and the forgiveness of our sin. His coming changes everything. As you sit here today, the present hope you hold on to may not seem to be changing things. Your heart and mind may be flooded with the concerns and stresses and hardships you face. Any signs of change in your circumstances may be slim to none.

That doesn’t mean change isn’t happening. It doesn’t mean God isn’t working behind the scenes, inside other people or situations. Mary was clueless what was going on. But it doesn’t mean God was not at work bringing about His will. One of my favorite passages is “I am confident of this that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.” Philippians 1:5. We may not see God’s hand but it doesn’t mean He isn’t working inside our hearts to teach and shape us. Regardless of what outward results look like at any given moment, we can put our hope in Jesus Christ for “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” Hebrews 6:19.

Our present hope in Jesus doesn’t stop the storms of life. It doesn’t change the immediate situations we face. But like an anchor holds a ship steady against the wind and the waves, our hope holds us firm and secure in the midst of life’s storms. Let this month be one of secure hope in the midst of whatever storms you face. Our hope is not in the shifting and changing of cultures, our hope is not in what we have, our hope is not even in our health nor in our finances. Our hope is in that which is firm and secure and unchanging… our hope is in Jesus Christ.

Future Hope

While our focus leading up to Christmas is naturally on the birth of Jesus and His arrival in our world, Advent is also about the future. Advent is not just about preparing our hearts for Christmas but also about preparing our hearts for when Christ comes again. And you may find that waiting patiently for the second coming of Jesus is even harder than waiting for Christmas. We long for the time when all will be restored and made new. We experience the pain and suffering of today and wait in eager hope for the future.

That is where our hope ultimately lies: that the baby who was born in a stable in Bethlehem and who died a sacrificial death for our sins and then rose and ascended into heaven will return again and complete the work of God in our world. And so we wait, placing our hope in Him with those of the past, for the present, and into the future.

The apostle Paul gave us a big picture view in Romans 8 of our present day sufferings and the hope we have for the future: ,

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us… 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”  Romans 8:18-25

It’s hard to be patient. It’s hard to wait especially when things do not seem to going the right direction.

But I encourage you to hope as many Jews hoped that the Messiah would come and he came.

I encourage you to put your hope in Jesus Christ, who has promised to complete the good work he has started in you. By hoping in Christ you were saved, continue to put your home in him for he wants not only to forgive you but to be with you for eternity.

I encourage you for the days ahead, when you might wonder where God is to put you hope in him. He is present and working out his will in you.

Prayer: God, thank You that in this season of Advent we can unwrap Your gift of hope. Help us to remember hope past, hold tightly to hope in our present realities, and wait with expectation for all our hope to be fulfilled when Christ comes again. Amen.

Benediction: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

2017

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