I’m so glad to finally be here today. And I don’t mean sitting in my office, though that’s good too. I mean the Christmas season! I know some of the stores have had decorations out for months and winter weather has been here for several weeks, but now that Thanksgiving is past, I can finally turn my Christmas lights on and listen to Christmas music without feeling guilty.
I know many of you love this time of the year too! I imagine most of you have your Christmas tree up already. It’s just so much fun with all the lights, the gifts, the trees, the shopping, the caroling, the cookies, the eggnog, the stockings over the fireplace. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
But in the holiday cheer, we often miss the fact that not everybody feels the way we do. For some, this is actually the most difficult time of the year.
This is when some of you are reminded that:
- Your loved one who passed away won’t be around this Christmas
- Your relationship with your kids is so damaged that they won’t be coming home this year
- Your finances suffered all year and so buying nice gifts is out of the question
- You miss how things used to be – you used to be in love with your spouse, your kids used to be innocent, you used to be healthy and active.
But now you realize how your lives have lost the hope, joy, love, and peace you once had. Things used to be simpler, and better, but now everything seems gloomier. And that’s why, for some of you, Christmas is just hard.
I understand that not everybody is in a place to enjoy Christmas this year. That’s why our series this Christmas season is for all of you who aren’t excited about Christmas. Over the next 4 weeks we want to offer you:
- A Hope for a better future
- A Peace that brings silence to all the chaos
- A Love that embraces you even when you feel completely alone
- A Joy which never fades regardless of the circumstances of life
In saying that, I want to encourage you to check back into this blog over the coming weeks. So many people are living hopeless, unhappy, empty, chaotic lives, and I want you to hear that that isn’t how your life is supposed to be. There is a better way. I know to some of you that may sound trite, but I truly believe that. Jesus, the center of the Christmas celebration, changes everything!
Hope: Something Better is Out There
Today I want to offer you hope. Hope that something better is out there for you. But to do that, we need to know what hope is. Surprisingly, when I thought about the word hope, I couldn’t think of a clear definition myself. So to help us think clearly about hope, lets look at its definition:
Hope: Desire for Better with an Expectation of Fulfillment
It’s a lot like a wish – except a wish really has no expectation of fulfillment, other than random chance or getting lucky. But true hope includes a confidence that what you want will actually happen.
If you are reading this and recognize that you have lost hope, albeit in all or life or just in one area of life, it means you have lost one of two things: Desire for Better or Expectation of Fulfillment.
You no longer even have a desire for things to improve OR you don’t think your better is even possible.
And while that seems dark to some of us, its just a reality for many people. As a foster parent, I have had children in my home who have had so much bad stuff happen to them that they don’t actually think anything good should or could happen for them. They are without hope for a better life – they don’t even desire a better life because it feels so far out of reach.
Closer to home for many of you is the situation where you want your marriage, or your relationship with your kids, your job situation, or even the injustices of society to improve. But it never does. It only seems to get worse and worse. And so eventually, some of you just give up hope. You figure you might as well just learn to live with a lousy marriage or never speaking with your kids, or hating your job. You no longer feel like better is possible – and your hope is gone.
Right now I want you to think about where you may have given up hope in some area of your life. For some of us, we gave up hope in some aspect so long ago that we have forgotten what we even gave up.
- Maybe you gave up hope that your parents would ever say a loving word to you
- Maybe you gave up hope of ever finding a spouse
- Maybe you gave up hope of your spouse or your kids ever turning to God
Whatever the situation, you have just learned to live with the brokenness. But that’s not how we were created to live. We were created for something far better than that. Something I often yearn for.
Isaiah’s Prophecy of Hope
Like I love to say, we aren’t the first people in the world to experience this hopelessness. This is a problem which has faced all of humanity. And as such, the Bible, the most honest and comprehensive book ever written, tells us where to look when our hope is gone.
In Isaiah 9, we see a prophecy written by the prophet Isaiah who lived during the end of Israel’s reign as a kingdom. At this time, around 700 BC, the Assyrians were rising to power and were conquering all the nations in the middle east. And Ahaz, a foolish king of Israel, put his hope and the hope of the people of saving the kingdom not in God but in Assyria, surrendering the soveriengty of the Davidic throne to the Assyrians. And then when that didn’t work, the Israelites put their hope in the Egyptians to save them. And guess how that turned out?
And it was to these people who putting their hope in all the wrong places that Isaiah offered the right place for them to put their hope and why they could be confident this better life would happen.
For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice
from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord Almighty
will make this happen!
The hope for the Israelites was not going to be found where they were looking. They were looking for self-protection at any cost. They were looking for military power. They were focused on their own kingdom. But Isaiah tells them to put their hope in a child, one given by God. But he would not be any child, he would carry the government of God’s kingdom on his shoulders. And he would not rule like the kings had ruled before. The titles given to this child point out his character. They show how he would be different.
First, he will be called Wonderful Counselor. For many of us, we don’t realize the depth of the meaning behind these titles. At first glance, you might think he would just be a great therapist. But this term Wonderful is used over 70 times in the Bible most often to describe the supernatural power of God. And the term Counselor points out wisdom in giving advice and in leading. So the child the people were hoping would one day come would have supernatural wisdom to lead them according to God’s wisdom.
Second, he will be called Mighty God. This child was to be more than wise, but actually have the power and authority of the Almighty God.
Third, he will be called Everlasting Father. Now, this is unusual in that it doesn’t call him an everlasting king. And rulers over Israel were almost never referred to as fathers of the people. But this child would be different. Rather than ruling through authority and power, he would rule with care, concern, and discipline for his people.
Fourth, he will be called Prince of Peace. While the kings of the day wanted to create stability through peace, it was rarely actualized. Instead nations were regularly involved in war, fighting to survive. But the people looked forward to a child who would finally bring peace to Israel.
And not just peace, but he would bring fairness and justice to the throne – for all eternity.
Doesn’t this sound good to you? When you read this, doesn’t this resonate with you. Like yes. I want this! When I read this passage I get excited because it sounds so much better than the conflict filled world I see in the news each and every day. And this is the desire that Isaiah is telling the people that they should seek after. They should look forward to this better future. One that lasts for eternity.
And it isn’t just wishful thinking to look forward to this. There should be an expectation of fulfillment as the passionate commitment of the Lord Almighty will make it happen!
But then, after this incredible prophecy of hope, the people of Israel had to wait. And wait. And over 700 years later, we come to the time of Jesus’ birth, where the people are still waiting and hoping for this child. At this time, instead of the Assyrians ruling over the people, it’s the Romans. But they are still left under the control of another nation, living in injustice, in a pagan culture, feeling empy and separated from God.
Think about that. 700 years waiting for a desire to be fulfilled. 700 years! Do you think some had lost hope? I know I would have. But God is a God who fulfills his promises. He is a God who can be counted on. He is the reason why some Jews maintained their hope after such a long time – like Simeon the righteous man in the temple and Anna the prophetess.
Prophecy Fulfilled: Hope is a Person
And one night, to a young woman, this hope was finally fulfilled as this prophecy came true. In the first chapter of Luke, we read about God breaking his 400 year silence since the last prophet of the Old Testament spoke as he sent an angel to appear before Mary and give her this important message:
“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
Imagine for a moment how Mary might have felt as she heard this angel basically tell her, your child will be the one promised by the prophets, the one who will sit on the throne of David, the one who will reign with peace and justice for all eternity – the one all Israel has been hoping for.
And nine months later, one silent night in Bethlehem, this hope for peace, justice, and righteousness had a name. God fulfilled the desire of the people in a person, his Son, Jesus Christ.
Jesus is why we celebrate Christmas – we recognize his arrival into the world as a child born to us, a son given by God.
Hope for us Today
Just like he personified hope to the 1st century Jews who were waiting for a Messiah, a savior, he is hope to each one of us.
This is where so many people – Christians included – get tripped up in life. We are hoping for our own lives to be how we want them to be. We are trying to build our own kingdom, our own happiness, and do it our own way. We are just like the Israelites, putting their hope in the Assyrians and the Egyptians to protect their kingdom rather than looking to God to protect HIS kingdom. And just like them, often our hopes fail, because people fail us, our health fails us, our job fails us, and we are left feeling hopeless because our desire to be king of our happy kingdom is never fulfilled.
You see, the promise of the Bible isn’t for you to be happy and get what you want in life. Those are wishes. Those are desires for better with nothing you can totally depend on to fulfill those expectations. The Bible does give us a hope – something that we know will be better and we know will come true – the Kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God, where Jesus reigns as king, is one where conflict and wars will one day cease. It’s a kingdom where the injustices of this world will one day be made right. Where the haves and the have nots will both be treated fairly. In his Kingdom, Jesus will reign with supernatural wisdom, with might over everything – sickness, disease, and death – he will reign with care and concern like a loving father, and with peace that will bring an end to the conflict in your heart.
And the best part is, we don’t have to wait 700 years for this Kingdom. It is here – NOW. It is available to all of us to become a part. It offers a better life both now and for eternity. Not a better life in perhaps the way you have tried to script your life, as king of your own kingdom, but a better life in the way God wants you to live as a child in HIS kingdom. A life filled with hope, joy, love, and peace.
Now for those of you who have lost hope in some aspect of life, I need you to ask yourself: Is your hope for your own kingdom or for God’s kingdom? If your hope is anywhere but God’s promise to bring forth God’s kingdom with Jesus reigning as the fair and just king – then your hope is just a wish.
Here’s the practical way to see what it means to put our hope in Jesus.
- Putting your hope in your spouse to change is dangerous – he might not. But putting your hope in Jesus to renew your marriage – you will not be let down in that hope. And even if you have to wait and wait like the Israelites, Jesus is waiting with you.
- Putting your hope in your job to bring you satisfaction and a more comfortable life is also dangerous – it comes with no guarantees. But recognizing that all work brings glory to God gives you hope in knowing you are part of God’s kingdom wherever you work.
- Putting hope in somebody to finally come to faith in Jesus puts pressure on you and them to get them saved. But putting your hope in Jesus to call his children to himself gives you great peace in knowing WHO it is who will fulfill those desires. After all, Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith.
For those of you who know Jesus is the source of your hope, my goal here has been to encourage you in this hope. To inspire you to realize the power of this hope for THIS life – NOW. And to encourage you to bring this hope to a life in need.
This year during the first week of advent, we celebrate the coming of Jesus, the hope of the world. We remember the words of the prophecies which pointed to the coming of a Messiah. The words which the Jews held onto for 700 years. Words God promised to fulfill AND DID fulfill in the Birth of Jesus. Words which still speak to us.
For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.
will never end.
for all eternity.