The Gift of Hope
First Sunday of Advent 2017
What do you want for Christmas this year? Monica always asks me what I want for Christmas. I do not like to be asked that question. There really is nothing I want that I do not have. I have a lot of things that I could really do without. I moved here 4 and half years ago in my car and Monica’s Subaru. We had them packed to the gills, but I brought everything I thought I needed to bring. Really, I probably brought more than I really needed. This church, you, have been very generous and have provided me with so much. Thank you. You are always generous with me. By the way, thanks for your expressions of appreciation in October and for the cards and gifts given for my birthday in November.
What do you want for Christmas? What are you giving for Christmas?
Listen to part of the story of the first Christmas. Listen for what was given on that night so long ago.
Luke 2:8-14 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
The angel said, “a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
There is only one hope for humanity, that is, as the angel put it, “for all the people.” We have no other. There is no other. If Jesus does not save us, we will not be saved. If you have not accepted Him, you are lost whether or not you know it or believe it. He is our Solid Rock. He is our foundation. Is your life based on any other than Him? If it is, you need to accept the truth about Jesus of Nazareth. He lived and died that we might have eternal life.
The angel appeared to the Shepherds that night. They brought to the shepherds, and to us through them, the good news. There is no news better than this. Proof of their announcement was to be found, and the hope was to be secured, as they went to see the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.
It is amazing to me, how we glorify the unimportant and minimize the important. Some of the newer translations get us back to what the original text said when Luke penned his gospel. The King James version said 12 “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
I remember as a child and I heard these words I thought how wonderful it was that they wrapped the Christ Child in ‘swaddling clothes’. To me, ‘swaddling clothes’ must have been really super fine, magnificent clothing for the baby we celebrate at Christmas. I did not understand that swaddling clothes were just rags. Our Lord was wrapped in strips of cloth. You know, just what ever was handy for a newborn child to be wrapped in.
I also did not know what a manger was. We did not call feed troughs mangers when I was a boy. Perhaps there were those who did. To me, as a child, a manger was a magnificent place for the Christ child to be laid.
It was not too many years before I came to understand the humility that was expressed in these words. Jesus came to earth. He left the glory of heaven to come down to us. He was not born in a palace. His birth was not grand and glorious.
Christmas and the story about baby Jesus was a wonder to me. I had a warped idea of what this was all about. Our Lord, Our Master… The Lord of the Universe was wrapped in rags. This was to be the sign to the shepherds.
How could a baby wrapped in rags give hope to the shepherds? It was not the stable, or the rags or the humble place of the birth that gave them hope. It was the message about who this child was, and what He came to do that gave them something to be hopeful about.
“A Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” He IS Christ. He IS the long-expected Messiah. The Jews had been living for years under the oppression of Rome. They were taught from their youth that one would come who would free them from bondage. Messiah was the very symbol of hope for the shepherds and their families.
Angels had come to announce that the long-awaited Messiah had just been born. He would be the Savior. A host of angelic beings came to sing praise to God. These humble people, caring for sheep on the hillside were the recipients of this good news that would be for ALL people.
God revealed His birth to shepherds, men of humble means. People who needed hope.
And this is what the Savior came to give us: HOPE!
What would be the opposite of hope? Hopelessness? Despair? Discouragement?
How often do you suffer with these maladies? Do you ever get discouraged? Has it gone so far that you would even call it hopelessness or despair? We all need hope.
When people lose hope, they die. Suicide is rampant in our world today. People are giving up on life in alarming numbers. Have you ever come to the point in life that you just wanted to give up? Have there been days that you just could not work up the courage to face another day?
People find hope in a lot of places. They get the courage to face one more day for a lot of different reasons.
Here is a quote I found on the internet: “It isn’t as bad as you sometimes think it is. As you heal and grow, it will all work out. Relax and trust yourself.”
What is the message here? Trust yourself? Is that the source of your hope? Is that what people are telling you is a good source of hope?
If that were the only thing I could base my hope on, I would give up. I would be discouraged. I would be hopeless and would know what despair really was.
But there is more. There is something more to base our hope on than telling myself everything will work out. I have learned I cannot be trusted.
Why do you think feel good movies are so popular? People need to have hope. I love science fiction. That is not news to most of you. I have told you that before. One of the reasons I like it is that so many of the stories are about hope for the future. There is usually a hero to believe in. We need heroes.
The angel that spoke to the shepherds that night, points us to the real hero in life. There is only one. He is eternal. He is always here for us. He will have the victory and He calls us to join Him for an eternal celebration of His victory. He promises us eternal life if we will simply put our faith in Him.
There is only one hero we really need. There is One to believe in.
1 John 5:13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. (NIV)
As we share this Christmas, the presence of Christ is the gift I want to encourage every one of us to give to somebody else this year. Give somebody this year the gift of HOPE!
Listen as I read the words we sang a few moments ago.
Have we any hope within us of a life beyond the grave?...
Do we know that, when our earthly house by death shall be dissolved,
We’ve a house not made with hands?
Blessed hope we have within us is an anchor to the soul,
It is both steadfast and sure;
It is founded on the promises of Father’s written word,
And ‘twill evermore endure.
Since we’ve walked the straight and narrow way,
our path has ever shone brighter, brighter day by day;
Hope within our hearts assures us it is better farther on,
It is brighter all the way.
Life will end in joyful singing, “I have fought a faithful fight.”
Then we’ll lay our armor down; And our spirits, freed from earthly ties,
shall take their happy flight To possess a starry crown.
We have a hope with our souls, Brighter than the perfect day; God has given us His Spirit, and we want the world to hear it; All our doubts are passed away. (We Have A Hope, William G. Shell)
Give the gift of HOPE for Christmas. Tell someone that God loves them. Tell them He is your Solid Rock. If you are not standing on the solid rock, make that choice today.