Hope is an essential component of life, we are wired for it, it envisions, stirs and motivates us to keep moving forward in the most difficult of circumstances, when we lose it we are in trouble as hopelessness and despair set in – “hope deferred makes the heart sick.”
This year covid19 and the subsequent lockdowns and restrictions have struck a blow at what we deemed to be normal and life has changed for us all… lives have been lost, people have lost their jobs, isolation has caused untold mental and emotional turmoil, diagnosis and treatments delayed… and we are no longer certain of what tomorrow will look like… hope has been offered and deferred more than once… with a vaccine now available a measure of hope has been restored…
In such a world we turn to distractions, things that will alleviate the unknowing, the angst, the pain… one of the reasons people started putting their Christmas lights and decorations up earlier was just that… but in reality, it’s more of a breather than an answer…. A temporary respite…
With the Christmas cards and the tinsel, carols sung in beautiful arrangements, the feasting and the fun, the lights and the presents, it’s easy perhaps to think that Christmas took place in an idyllic world far removed from ours, that things were somehow better then, not so. It was a world of uncertainties. A world of oppression and injustice. A world where the powers that be controlled the way you lived and thought. A world where a step out of place could lead to the loss of life. A world where sickness and disease frequently meant loss of life. A world bound and bogged down by sin and all that flowed from it. A world of great darkness and lack of hope. A world where the prophetic voice was no longer being heard….
This is where the Christmas story is so powerful.
Hope promised. Over the years, the centuries, God had made a promise that one day he would intervene, he would send a deliver, a messiah. He would intervene to bring light into the darkness, to deliver those in bondage, to redeem, to restore, to bring justice to the oppressed, and set the captives free, and guide in the paths of peace…
Hope fulfilled. When we step into the New Testament there’s a sudden change of tempo. It’s like everything moves a few gears. After 400 years of silence, of wondering, of waiting, suddenly there’s a dramatic outburst of unprecedented heavenly activity, angels and prophets, and signs in the heavens… an old lady who has never conceived and was way beyond the age of possibility is told she will have a baby and he will be the forerunner of the One who is to come. Another was a young woman who has never had a sexual relationship is told the Holy Spirit will come on her, and the power of the most High will overshadow her, and she will conceive and that this child would be like any other child and yet unlike any other, he will be holy and great, the Son of the Most High, he will be called the Son of God, and his name would be called Jesus, and he would be a king forever…
Some months later, Elisabeth pregnant with John the Baptist says that when Mary who was pregnant with Jesus went to visit her, the baby in her womb lept for joy! John in his mother’s womb new who Jesus was! Their followed prophetic utterances as to the nature and role of these two unborns all rooted in God’s Old Testament promises.
Then on that first Christmas day, after Jesus had been born, there was a group of shepherds out in the field looking after their sheep, when suddenly an angel appears and declares, “Fear not….” It was the usual response when angels turned up. Angels caused that kind of response. Fear would have shut them off to the message. Fear is soul destroying. Fear also comes in when hope is lost… We fear the future and what it may hold. There’s a lot of fear around at the moment but he comes to dispel the fear.
Then suddenly a host of them appear and break out in chorus, “Glory to God in the highest…” This was something to be proclaimed and celebrated!!! Simply, the best news ever!
What was it?
1. It was Good news! – their world was full of bad news, much like ours, it wasn’t a nice place to live, life was hard and unforgiving, but this was truly good news!
2. It was good news of great joy. Just like today, joy was hard to come by and just like today, so many of the joys on offer were momentary, fleeting, and hardly great! We were made for joy! The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Our joy is found in him, but we were cut off from the source of joy. Jesus came to reconnect us and restore the joy!
3. It was for all people, not a select few. There world was full of discrimination, and as we have seen this last year we live in a discriminating world… But this good news of great joy is for all people! There’s no discrimination in the gospel. God so loved the world, not a part of it, but the whole of it, that he gave his only begotten son.
4. A Saviour was born! It was good news of great joy because the Saviour was born. We all need one… whatever our background, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, first world, second or third world… Education, social welfare, more money in people’s pockets, better living conditions, as good as they are, cannot solve our ultimate predicament, we have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, we are dead in trespasses and sin, we are condemned, we stand under the judgement of a holy and righteous God, we need a Saviour, someone who will rescue us.
What did that involve?
1. He came to deal with sin, pay the price for it…. His name was called Jesus because he would save his people from their sins. To do so he was ultimately born to die, to bear our sin, all that separated us from God. Because God loved us he came. And in him he would demonstrate his love in that while we were still sinners with our backs turned to him, he would die for us. He would pay sins price. He would justify the ungodly.
2. He also came to save and transform our way of thinking about ourselves and the world we find ourselves in…
In coming in human flesh Jesus changed the idea of what it meant to be human. Up till then the world at large had a low view of what it meant to be human. But the coming of Jesus in real human flesh would change all that. It would lead to an understanding of the sacredness of life as truly made in the image of God, therefore every life had value. It would mean every life had value, the rich and the poor, the privileged and those who weren’t, those with disabilities, the sick, diseased and dying. It would lead to care for the poor, the sick, the diseased, the dying, in a way the world had never seen, to hospitals and orphanages, to charities, to education etc. It would transform society, the world, as it was known. It is what has marked out ethics in the world at large since that day, and today is under attack as people forget the true basis for our humanity – even atheists like Richard Dawkins are now acknowledging that the world needs religion, a belief in God in order to have a basis for morality, of how we should think about and behave towards one another.
It challenged the multiple stories of the gods, of polytheism and set in motion a new way of thinking about the world.
None of us knows exactly what the future is going to be like, but the God who promised a saviour, and fulfilled it in Jesus two thousand years ago, is also the God who knows the future and has promised that one day he will come again.
Meanwhile in this moment of time, because of that first Christmas, the world has been changed forever… he offers forgiveness… the cleansing of our consciences… the renewal of our minds… peace and joy… a daily hope in him who is able to save, and keep saving us, and give us reason and hope for all our tomorrows, and also for eternity – an eternal hope. So many today, even Christians, live for the present. The early Christians lived for eternity. For them to live was Christ, but to die was gain.
In closing, let me ask, do you know him? Let me assure you, he loves you, he came for you, and invites you into his family – there’s no admission charge, no hidden fees, he’s done it all!
Maybe you are a prodigal… perhaps you think you’ve travelled too far, done too much, and Father wouldn’t want you back. Again let me assure this Christmas time he’s wanting to welcome you home, to forgive you, cleanse you, restore you, give you hope.
Whoever you are, wherever you are there’s hope for you in Jesus…
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Rom 15:13