Yet if you devote your heart to Him and stretch out your hands to Him, if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent, then you will lift up your face without shame; you will stand firm and without fear. You will surely forget your trouble, recalling it only as waters gone by. Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning. You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety. You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid, and many will court your favour.
To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God. Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame, but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse. Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long. Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.
For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.
Each year at this time challenges are issued from pulpits all over the world to remain focussed on what Christmas is really all about. It is so easy for us in our modern culture to trivialise Christmas and so lose its powerful meaning for our lives.
The true message of Christmas is really all about hope. Hope is one of our greatest needs, and hope is one of the greatest messages of the Christmas story.
It’s important for us to understand firstly just what this word ‘hope’ means from a Biblical viewpoint. For many the words hope and wish are the same, but that is not what Scripture teaches us. In the Bible hope is about confidence. A dictionary definition of this kind of hope is ‘a feeling of desire for something and confidence in the possibility of its fulfilment.’ A key word here is ‘confidence’.
Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1 is amazing: “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power for us who believe.”
So during this time of merriment and celebration, let’s take some time this morning to consider the true hope that Christmas brings:
The first point is that we put our hope in God, with a confident expectation that He will fulfill His promises. Just after Mary is given the news that she is to be the one who will give birth to Jesus, she meets her cousin Elizabeth and says: “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” (Luke 1:45).
That’s the language of hope. I mentioned last week that Mary had received some incredible news which undoubtedly had turned her young life upside down, but in the midst of all this turmoil, uncertainty and excitement, she knew that somehow, God was going to make good on His promise to her. What an amazing example she is to us. Hope is believing that what the Lord has said to you will be accomplished. Do we have that same confident expectation that God can be relied on to fulfill the hopes He has stirred up in our hearts? Have we claimed the promises which we see in Scripture and applied them to our lives with an unswerving belief and hope that God will do as He says?
The second point is that hope trusts in God despite the problems which surround us. Over the years we’ve become rather de-sensitised as to what was really going on in Israel when Jesus was born. Probably due to things like Christmas cards and cute pre-school nativity plays, the pictures in our minds of what that first Christmas was like is very different to the reality.
The whole Christmas story takes place against the backdrop of all kinds of suffering. King Herod was one of the most evil rulers in all of human history. He was systematically slaughtering new-born babies at the time of Jesus’ birth because he felt his reign was under threat. On top of that, the Jewish nation was subject to Roman rule, one of the cruellest regimes in history.
This is the kind of world into which the promised Messiah came. There was tragedy and heartache everywhere you looked. Yet the entire Christmas message is filled, not only with deep joy in the midst of great darkness, but also profound hope in the face of perplexing problems.
In Luke 2:25 we read “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” Simeon, in the midst of all this trial and persecution, was waiting and believing. That’s hope. Simeon’s hope was not based on a denial of the problems of the day but rather on a decision to trust in God despite the problems of the day. Simeon was blessed in the short term. Because of his faith in God, he was able to see Jesus with his own eyes, and he praised God for his faithfulness: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
The long term, eternal blessings of course, go far beyond what Simeon experienced in this life.
A third point I want to look at is an important one for us to see. So often we are challenged by sceptics and non-believers. We are asked to explain things which we simply don’t have the answers to. A classic example is a topical one: Virgins do not conceive and have babies. You don’t need a 7 year medical degree to work that one out, so how can we possibly believe it – let alone explain it.
But true hope trusts God to transcend our own understanding. In other words, we know that God is God, and we are not. Sometimes the simplest answer to the tough questions is the best answer. Occasionally “I don’t know” is a good answer. Of course, the sceptics will probably tell you that you’re evading the issue, but we know and believe that the sheer majesty of God goes way beyond the capabilities of our own understanding. I’m very comfortable with the fact that there are many things about God which I simply cannot understand or explain.
Mary, Joseph, Simeon, the shepherds, and all the others in the Christmas story are not given full explanations that describe in detail how God will fulfill His promises. Mary and Joseph were nothing more than normal people, not much more than common peasants.
They had no way of understanding and explaining the miracle of the virgin birth. In fact, Joseph’s biggest concern was dealing with the rumours and scandal he was convinced would follow the news of Mary’s pregnancy.
And they most certainly (in the short term at least) had no idea of the spiritual implications of what had happened to them. Simeon didn’t know the exact details of how this little baby would become a light of revelation to all of humanity.
But Mary, Joseph, and Simeon did not allow the limitations of human understanding to determine the height of their hope in God. Hope trusts God to fulfill His promises in ways that transcend our understanding and expectations.
Added to that is our next point – hope waits for God to accomplish His will, His way.
The modern world teaches us to take control of our lives. Be assertive and stand up for yourself, and if you don’t do those things, it is seen as a sign of weakness. But as Christians we have a new mind and a new spirit which controls us.
To the world, the word ‘submit’ is a negative thing, but for the Christian, submitting to God takes strength.
One of the greatest gifts God has given us in this life is our free will. Simply put, we can choose to do what we want. Unfortunately, exercising that right has created all sorts of pain and heartache, but it takes strength to turn back to God and to say to Him that our choice is to surrender to His will for our lives. Make no mistake – submitting to God takes tremendous strength. People who accuse believers of using Christianity as a crutch just don’t know what they’re talking about.
To truly hope in God means that we don’t go to Him with our agendas, asking Him to bless them and “hope” that He will do it. In every life something rules as sovereign. What is it that rules as sovereign in our lives as we prepare for Christmas this year?
The bottom line is that when we put our hope in God, He will not let us down. There are no guarantees that this life will be easy. Pain and heartache awaits us all, but Romans 5:5 tells us “hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.”
The conversation between Elizabeth and Mary in Luke 1 shows how hope does not lead to disappointment, but rather trusts in the ultimate fulfilment of God’s promises for our greater good and for His greater glory: “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.”
Mary trusted the promises of God and they were all fulfilled in ways she could not have expected in Christ. God has come in human flesh and has given us Himself. That is the hope of Christmas.
It’s the season to be jolly, and the secular world has fooled itself into believing the lie that all is well with the world. The truth is that this world is a dark and destitute place. We can only imagine just what the families of the school shooting in America on Friday are going through, and they need our prayers, but I was interested in a comment that the Governor of Connecticut made during an impromptu press conference at the school that night. He said “Evil visited this community today.” Of course he is absolutely right, but the reality is that evil has been visiting every human community in every corner of the globe since Genesis chapter 3. Sometimes evil manifests itself in horrific ways, just like it did at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday morning, but evil and darkness is everywhere.
The world tries to hide that darkness every year with tinsel and pretty flashing lights, but if we are only going to put our hope in the annual mantra of ‘goodwill to all mankind’, then the darkness will prevail, and hopelessness will remain. Sure, there are moments of hope in the world, but if it’s a hope not based on the promises of God, they are nothing more than a false hope.
It is only in Christ, the true Light of the World where we find hope. That is the message of hope which we are reminded of each year. Don’t fall into those pointless arguments that Christmas is nothing more than a pagan festival. The true Christmas which we celebrate and remember goes far beyond decorated trees, Santa Claus and exchanging gifts.
As Christians we know that this world is in darkness, and by His grace, God has revealed the light to us. That is our hope. God’s Spirit speaks to us in the stories of Christmas and He strengthens our hearts as we put our faith and hope in Him.
Scripture is full of the promises of hope in God, and there are literally thousands we could look at today, but I particularly like the words of our reading from Job 11 – a true message of hope in a dark world: “If you devote your heart to Him and stretch out your hands to Him, if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent, then you will lift up your face without shame; you will stand firm and without fear. You will surely forget your trouble, recalling it only as waters gone by. Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning. You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety. You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid, and many will court your favour.”
I want to close by quoting part of the devotional from the Christianity.com website printed in the bulletin today: “If you have Jesus, you have hope. And He is not a false hope, a childish fairy tale that we wish will have a happy ending. When Christ rose from the dead, that ended the argument. Period. Our hope in Him is solid and it is real. Christmas is a renewal of that hope. It reconfirms it for us if our vision has grown dim. It was settled long ago, so we don't have to doubt any more. Jesus is the fulfilment of our hope, our deepest longings come true.”
And finally, the words of Romans 15:13. “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.”