Have you ever felt hopeless? Your marriage seems beyond repair. Bill collectors are calling. Maybe that addiction you’ve been battling has roared back to life with a vengeance. I worked a crisis line for 3 and half years; if I had to sum up almost every person that called with just one word, that word would be hopeless. Countless people called me wanting to kill themselves. My job was to talk them out of committing suicide, in essence to give them hope. I suspect that the Jews of the first century struggled with moments of hopelessness as well. Think about their world. They were ruled by Herod a wicked man who was really a puppet of the Roman Empire which they hated. Herod was so paranoid that he killed several of his own sons because he thought they might try to take power from him. No one felt safe. Joseph and Mary were peasants, so their lives were filled with financial challenges. The Jews were considered God’s people, but He had not spoken to them through a prophet in 400 years. America hasn’t even been a nation 250 years, 400 is a long time! It probably felt like God had forgotten them. Maybe today when you look around your life it feels like God has forgotten you.
This holiday season many practice the tradition of the advent wreath. It’s a simple lighting of candles to prepare people for remembering the first coming of Jesus Christ. One of the candles is the Hope candle. Many of us appreciate the simple, yet profound light of hope that it offers us. Hope simply means confident expectation. How can we be a people of confident expectation in a dark world?
First, we remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness in keeping his promises. His incredible track record is the basis of our hope. For centuries God had promised to send a Messiah. Specifically, the prophet Isaiah spoke of a virgin giving birth to the anointed one. To Mary’s shock she was chosen for the honor and gave birth to a son, the long awaited Messiah—hope personified. I encourage you to study the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures and how they are fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s a remarkable track record that reveals God’s complete foreknowledge of history and offers us the comforting truth that nothing catches God by surprise.
Second, Jesus came to deal with our greatest problem--our sins. All of us have broken God’s commands and defied His authority. Each of us at times feels guilt for things we’ve done. In the words of theologian R.C. Sproul we have committed “cosmic treason.” Jesus came and lived a sinless life and offered that life as a sacrifice on the cross to satisfy the justice and holiness of God so that we can be at peace with Him. Through Jesus we have hope (confident expectation) that our heart-breaking sin problem can be resolved. Through the cross we are invited to enjoy a feast of forgiveness with Him and become part of His family.
Third, we can live in confident expectation at the end of life. No matter how much we exercise or how wisely we eat all of us will die of something at some point. I know that last line will never appear in a Hallmark card but it’s true. Only
Jesus has predicted his own death and walked out of his own grave. He is the one person who can be trusted completely to teach us about the afterlife. I have always deeply appreciated the story of the criminal on the cross next to Jesus who humbly asked for Jesus to remember Him when He came into His kingdom. Jesus, nailed to a cross and dying, responded with hope. “Today you’ll be with me in paradise.” God the Son becoming a baby and living a fully human, yet sinless life made salvation possible but the resurrection made it a certainty. We can have hope even in the face of our inevitable physical death because the one who rose from the dead says that he is preparing a place for us in the new heavens and new earth. For the Christian, a joy saturated eternity is not wishful thinking but an iron clad promise.
This Christmas season if you are looking for hope; find it in the person of Jesus.
Pastor Derek Dickinson
Journey Christian Church
Note: This article appeared in the Fairbanks Newsminer Newspaper on December 20, 2019