Advent: Hope

Good morning.  My name is Phil Human and I’m one of the pastors here at Journey.  And today we’ve begun something that we’ve never done here at Journey – and that is to celebrate the advent season by lighting an advent candle.  We’ve never done this over the ten Christmas seasons we’ve celebrated at Journey.

Advent means coming – and it’s a celebration of the coming of the Savior.  And the candles act as a kind of countdown to Christmas.  And each candle represents a theme that we will celebrate.  Hope, peace, joy and love.  And then on Christmas Eve we celebrate Jesus and we’ll light a white candle in the center.

In my research no one is exactly sure where it started – it appears to likely be a German tradition.   And I also learned that everyone seems to celebrate advent a little differently.  Sometimes the pink candle is love.  Sometimes its joy.  Some traditions don’t use a different color at all.  Sometimes people include faith as one of the four.

It’s simply a tradition – and a reminder!  That Christmas is coming!  So thank you in advance for those who are willing to read a portion of scripture for us – if you would like to read you can let us know – we are looking for people to help us.

This first candle we lit represents Hope.

Now there are two ways we use the word Hope.  The first was is to define Hope as a wish, essence.  We hope the Huskers are better next year.  It’s not guaranteed.  It’s uncertain.  We hope it will be true.  But – cross your fingers.  I hope I get that one gift I really wanted this Christmas – that’s one kind of hope – it’s a wish.

But as opposed to a wish –  Biblical hope is a confident expectation that God has something good planned in our future.  And far from a wish, this kind of hope is based on the unfailing promises of God.  And so this kind of hope is confident assurance that everything is going to be okay.  And it involves a sense of eager anticipation for the day to arrive.

And in that sense – it totally makes sense that hope is an important theme during the Christmas season.  Can you  think of any image that better pictures eager anticipation than children waking up on Christmas morning and running to the tree to find out what Santa and family has brought?

Some of my favorite memories of my childhood involve waking up at ridiculous hours on Christmas morning and stomping around our upstairs room in a vain attempt to wake up my parents.

We’d each take turns at say 4:30am to take the walk downstairs to – through the living room – and to the bathroom in an effort to scout out what we could see – and then to return with reports.

Christmas is all about eager anticipation!  It’s all about the idea that something good awaits in our future.   And so it makes sense to talk about Hope on the first week of Christmas.

It also makes sense to talk about hope because, if you are lacking hope – if you find yourself feeling hopeless?  Well this time of year can be ever so difficult to endure.

May I ask – how you doing in the Hope department?  Are you running low? Are you out of hope?

Biblical Hope is confident expectation and eager anticipation that God is up to something good.  But what if it’s been a while since you’ve experienced something you’d call good?

Let’s talk about why Christmas Hope is necessary.   It’s necessary.  You know why?  Because if you don’t have hope you don’t have peace.  If you don’t have Hope you don’t have Joy.  And good luck mustering love from a hopeless heart.

Hope – Christmas Hope – is necessary because let’s be honest – life has a way of grinding it out of us.

I can almost remember when too.  I think I was about 12 – it was right about the age where people started telling me I was too old to go trick or treating on Halloween.  Remember about that age?

And it’s Christmas morning and there I am opening presents with my two younger brothers on Christmas morning and they are opening lego sets, and nerf football, and I’m opening up – socks?  Socks?

Something’s changed!  Yeah, you’re old now – welcome to life kid.  Smack!

Ohh life hurts.  By the way I just realized that I bought my son Josh socks for his birthday last month.  I have officially turned into my mother.  (Go to the bathroom before you leave?)

Now some of you weren’t afforded such a gentle introduction to the harsh realities of life.  Some kids unfortunately get thrown onto the jagged edges of reality far before they ought.

But at some point in all of our journeys we will discover those jagged edges of life in a broken world.  And we will learn that the difficulties of life has a way of Life is grinding our souls.

And if we aren’t careful we can find ourselves sliding into cynicism.  And the pressures of life can creep in and rob us of our hope and put fear in it’s place.  And that’s a lousy place to be.

But if you are there today, you aren’t the first.  In fact – as we look at the Christmas story – I can’t help but wonder if Mary ever felt hopeless.  Pregnant teenager.  Dealing with all the whispers from peers and neighbors and perhaps family members?

I wonder if Joseph ever felt hopeless when he learned that his fiancé was pregnant, and he knew that it was not his doing.  Was he crushed?  Was he embarrassed or angry – did he ever feel he was in a hopeless situation?

I wonder if Simeon – we read about him in Luke 2 –  Simeon, who was told by the Holy Spirit  that He would see the coming messiah with his own eyes but now an old man praying in the temple, wondering if God’s promises were trustworthy.

I wonder if Anna – in the same chapter in Luke, a widow after seven years of marriage, now 84 years old.  I wonder if she ever felt hopeless.

I wonder if the Shepherds – the lowliest job there could be.  I wonder if they ever felt like they were in a hopeless situation.  Stuck in poverty in a dead end job?

I wonder if there’s something going on in your life that makes you feel hopeless as well.

Maybe you feel like Job today.  Job – in the midst of his pain and anguish in life, felt hopeless.  He was in despair.  Listen to the raw emotion of his plea when he asks…

Job 17

15Where then is my hope?
Can anyone find it?
16 No, my hope will go down with me to the grave.
We will rest together in the dust!”

That’s pretty low.  But have you ever feel like this is the only prayer you can muster with any authenticity?

What do we do?  Well, the good news is that Hope is available this Christmas!

But here’s the deal – you aren’t going to find Hope just by jumping into the Holiday traditions.

As good as finding a killer deal on Black Friday might feel – that will not restore Hope to your soul.

Listening to Christmas songs all day on the radio – hey if that’s your thing then go for it.  Maybe you want to listen to the great Christmas song Christmas Shoes on loop all day.  Christmas shoes is the touching story of a boy scam artist getting people to buy him shoes that he will later sell on Ebay.  But if that’s your thing go for it, but it will not bring you hope.

Hope isn’t restored from watching Hallmark Christmas movies – you know – the one about the career woman who was so busy she forgot about the magic of Christmas until she moves to the small town where she meets a helpful and kind flannel wearing bachelor woodsman and a dog, who together teach her about the true meaning of Christmas.  You know – any one of these movies…. 

You know what – go for it. It’s okay to enjoy a little bit of guilt free entertainment doing something that makes you smile.  I don’t know – it kind of feels like there’s something odd about these movies and their posters.  (Will Ferrel All the Same)

Laughter is good.  But even laughter will not restore Hope to a worn down soul.

So what will?  The same thing that restored Hope to Mary and Joseph, and Simeon and Anna and the Shepherds.

Christmas is necessary because life is difficult and hard.  And without Jesus there would be no hope of it ever getting better.  But Jesus did come.  He was born to us.

And, as Matthew 12 tells us

Matthew 12

“Look at my Servant, whom I have chosen.
He is my Beloved, who pleases me.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
19 He will not fight or shout
or raise his voice in public.
20 He will not crush the weakest reed
or put out a flickering candle.
Finally he will cause justice to be victorious.
21 And his name will be the hope
of all the world.”

But the good news is that Hope is available this Christmas.  And it’s found in one person – We find Hope in Jesus.  The Savior of the world.  Who will not crush the weakest reed not put out a flickering candle.

Hope is available – abundantly available through faith in Jesus.

Listen to Simeon – listen to his words… in Luke 2

28 Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,

29 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,
as you have promised.
30 I have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared for all people.
32 He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

Is it too much to say that Simeon was the first Christian?  Was he the first to place his faith in this 8 day old Jesus?

Simeon gets it right.  He sees Jesus for who he truly is.  He sees what many before him longed to see with their own eyes.

See – the events of Christmas – the first coming of Jesus, was a long awaited arrival.  In fact – the first mention of Christmas occurs in Genesis 3 – when God gives a hint to us of what his plan will be to rescue mankind from Adam and Eve’s dreadful decision to rebel against God’s reign.

That’s the first glimpse of this Jesus but not the last – in fact-  you know if you want to mail me a card – you’d ask for my address?  I’d say – united states, okay – which part?  Nebraska.  Which part?  Gretna.  Which part?  Chestnut Ridge.  Which part?  217th st.

And in a similar way, the bible gives us hints all along to help us find the address fo the promised Savior.

In Genesis 3:15, God tells the Satan – that one day a woman will give birth to a son, and that the serpent would strike his heel, but that the son will crush Satan’s head under his feet.

  • Numbers tells us he will come from Jacob,
  • Micah – from the tribe of Judah
  • . Jeremiah told us he’d be from David’s line
  • Isaiah told us he would be born of a virgin.
  • Micah told us he would be born in Bethlehem.
  • Hosea told us that he’d come from out of Egypt.
  • Isaiah told us he’d come from Galilee!

How did all three of these prophecies come true?  How could the savior come from Bethlehem, Egypt and Galilee?  We see Jesus born in Bethlehem, Run for his life to Egypt – come back from Egypt two years later to live in Galilee.

The point is that the entire old testament from the third chapter forward is looking forward with eager anticipation – they are on the edge of their seat excitement for the day Jesus, the hope of the world, will be born.

Hope is found, not in that Christmas bonus you are hoping you get, or that raise, or getting that special gift, or even giving that special gift.  All these things are good.  But it’s Jesus, and Jesus alone, who provides a hope that can anchor the soul.

And Simeon is the first to announce that he knows it. That he recognizes it, and he blesses the Lord, and thanks him for leading him to Jesus.

And check this out – if Simeon was the first to recognize Jesus as the savior of the world, you just might be the latest.

Christmas Hope is needed and Christmas Hope is available,  Right now.  Through faith in Jesus.  Salvation is the greatest gift – given from a loving God to whosoever will think highly enough of Jesus to trust Him with their entire lives.

“But Phil,” one might say, “I have placed my faith in Jesus and yet, I am finding myself feeling hopeless yet.  I am in a season and I am feeling hopeless.  What now?”

First – Id’ encourage you, if you have been reluctant to do this – to be brutally honest with God regarding your situation.

Be honest with God – honest and as raw as you need to be – the psalms are filled with people who have been given permission to speak freely with God.  It’s okay.  What is it that is most troubling your soul?  Psalm 42

Why am I discouraged?
Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
I will praise him again—
my Savior and my God!

Next word is eager.  Be eager to hear from God.  Expect him to speak.

Be patient.  And this is the most difficult one to deal with but sometimes we have to speak patience to our soul.  God is rarely one to be hurried or rushed into action.

Psalm 62:5  Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.

Be diligent.  Continue forward.  Don’t give up.  Don’t stop doing what you know is best to do.

Hebrews 6

We who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. 19 This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.

Ultimately, the way out of despair is to meditate on the birth and the life and especially the death of Jesus.  And to dig deeply into God’s promises.  See Hope isn’t built on anything less than God’s promises are true.

And the promise of Christmas is that God so loved you, that he sent his only begotten son into the world, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have life – abundantly.  Eternally.

And so – we turn to the communion table.  As a reminder of this love.  If God loved us enough to take our place on the cross – he will not abandon us.

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