Hope can make us optimistic, but there is a difference between human optimism and Christ-centered hope. Christian hope realizes earthly hopes and dreams may not come true, and when they don’t, those who believe in Jesus know that God has a place in heaven waiting for them. That is the hope that drives us through all our met and unmet expectations in this world. We have hope because of the grace and forgiveness of God, who sent his Son, Jesus Christ.
Well, I can officially say Merry Christmas now, and this week we are beginning a series we’re calling The Wonder of Christmas.
Over the next four weeks, we’re going to explore the hope, peace, joy, and love that come through Jesus.
We begin with hope.
And I want to ask you, what do you hope for?
Maybe it’s that…
*Family will all make it home or get along this holiday season.
*Next year will be different or better.
*Your relationships will improve, or you’ll find the relationship you heart desires.
*Your career starts its upward climb or stops its downward spiral.
*To get into your first choice of college.
*Or maybe that your life will have greater significance and purpose in the coming year.
Hope is the expectation that with _____________ I will be satisfied or complete.
*If only this event happens.
*If only I had that possession.
*If only they would fulfill my expectation.
*If only I were in this circumstance or place, I would be satisfied, I would be complete.
We often tie hope to optimism.
We say an optimist is hopeful, while a pessimist is hopeless.
We tend to use both as synonyms, but they’re not really.
Optimism is defined as anticipation for the best possible outcome.
Hope is defined as to want something in particular to happen or to be true and believe that it can and will make your life better.
Now, many philosophers in the ancient world did not regard hope as a virtue, and they concluded that there is no reasonable basis for hope and therefore to live with hope is to live with an illusion.
But hope is essential to life.
Why? Because you can’t live without hope.
Professor Lewis Smedes said, “Hope is to our spirits what oxygen is to our lungs. Lose hope and you die. They may not bury you for a while, but without hope you are dead inside. The only way to face the future is to fly straight into it on the wings of hope…hope is the energy of the soul. Hope is the power of tomorrow.”
A Christ-centered hope is the confidence that, because of God’s past actions and trusting him in the present, I will experience his goodness now and in the future.
And that’s the wonder of Christmas, the promise of hope.
A baby born, Son of God and Son of Man, and with his life the promise of a hope-filled life.
As I began to think about this talk and was looking at what Scripture says about hope, I was struck by one phrase.
The Apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Rome, says, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed…” (Romans 4:18)
Against all hope in hope believed?
It sounds a lot like wishful thinking, like the odds are stacked against me, but I’m going to hope for *fill in your blank* anyway.
I think of Rudy Ruettiger, who had a dream to play college football for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
At five foot six inches and weighing in at 165 pounds, he falls in this category of the odds were stacked against him.
The average size of a starting offensive lineman in college football is six foot four inches and weighing 309 pounds.
He made the practice squad as a walk on, and in the final game of his senior year, was put in at the end of the game.
On the last play of the game, he sacks the quarterback and is carried off the field on the shoulders of his teammates.
Against all hope, in hope he believed!
But to understand Paul’s reference, we need a little background.
When the acts of creation were completed, God gave Adam and Eve free reign over everything, with only one restriction.
Don’t eat from the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
But they did, and sin entered the human experience, breaking the relationship between God and the Imago Dei, man and woman created in his image.
But God wasn’t going to leave like that.
He began his pursuit to restore that relationship, and it started with Abraham.
God told him to leave the life he had established and go to a place God would lead him.
No final destination given. Just go.
That’s a BIG ask.
And Abraham does. He packs up everything and begins a journey to … somewhere.
He’s promised by God that he would become the father of a nation, and that the families of the earth would be blessed through him.
That’s a BIG promise.
You can read the story beginning in Genesis 12 in all its twists and turns, and I have to believe along the way Abraham thought, “I hope I wasn’t just hearing things. I hope I wasn’t wrong to leave.”
Because here was his challenge. Abraham was not in what we would consider the prime of his life.
He was 75 years old and childless.
He was given a promise that by all accounts and reasoning looks improbable and impossible.
How would a childless man father a nation?
My family was just together for Thanksgiving, and I imagined my parents, both age 79, announcing to the family at the table over plates of pumpkin pie, “Everyone, we’re going to have a baby! Gods promised us.”
That’s insane! It’s irresponsible! It just feels so weird.
Fast forward ten years after God’s promise to Abraham.
He’s still childless and asking God, “I thought you said I was going to be a dad, have a family of my own?”
Have you been there with God, in the place of waiting, your patience waning and wearing thin, ready to give up or make something happen yourself, ready to take control?
“God, you made me a promise and now is the time to make good on it.”
I have. I experienced several difficult years that began with some painful endings.
I was reading through the book of Job one day, and God gave me a promise.
After all Job had gone through and lost, his family, possessions, friends, his prominence, we’re told “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part.” (Job 42:12)
I felt God promised me that day that if I held on to Him amid a dark, challenging season of life, he would be faithful to bless what’s ahead of me.
I believed in that promise so much I had it tattooed on my arm!
But what followed was waiting, nothing changing, impatience growing, quite a few conversations with God that began with, “Hey, just to remind you, you promised me…”
Waiting is hard, isn’t it?
Who are my impatient people?
Speed means everything to you, whether it’s cars or your internet, everything has to be fast.
You read the last page of a book first because you have no patience to read the whole thing.
You’re frustrated when Amazon Prime can’t deliver the next day!
Our culture has promoted the belief of instant gratification and we have bought In.
We can’t wait for anything, sometimes, even for God.
Abraham and Sarah, his wife, had been hoping in God’s promise, but, after eleven years of waiting, they’re still without a child.
And herein lies the struggle; what do you do when hope goes unfulfilled?
What’s your response?
Maybe you’re tempted to give up.
You’ve lost the hope that was inside of you and decided this just isn’t going to happen.
It’s been so long, so much has happened.
You feel defeated and disillusioned.
You buy into the lie that God didn’t really promise you, he doesn’t care for you, or he’s forgotten about you.
Or maybe you take control.
If God’s not going to do it, you will!
You’re done waiting, he’s had more than enough time and opportunity.
This needs to happen and now, so lean into your…
*Financial resources, you have the capital available and are ready to spend it.
*Maybe it’s your knowledge, you have the education and intelligence to figure out a solution.
*Or your connections, you know the right people who can make it happen and you won’t hesitate to pull those strings.
That was Sarah. She took control. Genesis 16 tells the story.
She tells Abraham its God’s fault, he’s prevented her from having children, so here’s what we’re going to do.
You’re going to have a child with my servant, and we will make this happen.
I’m done waiting.
And he listened, he went along with it. Abraham gave up.
He became a father to Ishmael with Hagar.
Thirteen years later, at age 99, God appears to him again and repeats the promise.
“You will be a father to many nations, and I will give you a son.”
He laughs and mutters under his breath, “I’m almost 100 years old, and Sarah is 90, so that ain’t gonna happen.”
He tells God, “We’re good, we took care of it, I’ve already got a son, Ishmael.”
Yes, yes you do, but my promise was to you through Sarah your wife, not Hagar.
But God doubles down on the promise, making a covenant with Abraham, and a short time later, Abraham is visited by three men who tell him “Within the year, Sarah will be pregnant.”
She hears this and now she’s the one laughing in disbelief. “Ain’t no way that’s gonna happen.”
25 years ago, maybe. Now, no way.
She had lost hope.
But God asks one of those questions that just hits you, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
Now, here’s what is so encouraging about this.
Even though, just like Abraham and Sarah, you may doubt, become discouraged, want to give up or take control, God will always be true to his promise.
If you have ever been told by a church, or believed about yourself, that because of something you’ve done or didn’t do, you’ve messed up God’s plan for your life, that he’s going to take back what he promised, look at God’s response to Abraham!
God didn’t nullify the promise he had made because they had lost hope and acted on their own, and he won’t with you either.
Did Abraham have issues he had to deal with and consequences in his life because of his impatience? YES!
And maybe you do too!
But God keeps his promises.
What’s the promise God has made to you that you’ve been waiting on?
The one you’re about ready to give up on or take control of.
The one you’ve lost hope in.
Is anything too hard for God? To impossible or improbable?
Abraham, at 100 years of age, and Sarah, at ninety, have a son, Isaac.
25 years of imperfectly, impatiently, by their fingertips holding on to hope, but God did not revoke his promise and hope was fulfilled.
You see, Christian hope is based on a promise given, and through Abraham, God was once again bringing the promise of hope to the hearts of humankind.
A hope that keeps you moving forward through dark seasons.
A hope that keeps you focused in the fog of uncertainty.
A hope that is not dependent on your successes or derailed by your failures.
A hope that looks forward with confidence believing in the One who made the promise.
Now, at this point, you might be thinking, “this is not the story of baby Jesus.”
What in the world does this have to do with Christmas?
The first book of the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew, begins with the family tree of Jesus.
Listen to what Matthew writes.
“This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac…” (Matthew 1:1-2)
Matthew goes on listing name after name, ending with, “and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.” (Matthew 1:16)
42 generations are listed, a couple thousand years.
All of it began with a promise, to a childless man, that the nations would be blessed, and ends with a baby born in a stable.
Hope was what the angels sang about to the shepherds in the fields and what the shepherds came to worship.
Hope is what brought the magi who traveled so far.
It’s a story of hope because it tells of the coming to earth of the One who is our hope, Jesus.
We live in a world broken by sin that desperately needs a light of hope.
God loved you so much that He sent His Son to make it possible for us to once again be in relationship with Him through Jesus’ birth, death, and his resurrection.
Hope begins with being reunited with God, and once you are, hope spreads to all areas of your life.
In the well-known Christmas carol, O Holy Night, there’s a line that says “the thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices.”
Have you felt weary any time recently?
Have you felt like hope has been hard to find or hold on to?
*Your career hasn’t gone the way you wanted
*Your business plan was sideswiped by a pandemic
But it wasn’t just you. Over the last 20 months…
*Anxiety and depression increased by 400%, with some data suggesting one in four adults ages 18 to 24 have considered suicide.
*Alcohol sales were up 55%.
*Opioid overdoses increased in 30 states.
*Domestic violence increased nationally by 20%.
*We’ve lost hope in political leaders and religious institutions.
*And don’t even get me started on the news where it’s impossible to keep from being sucked into the hopelessness and chaos that seems to surround us.
The world is weary.
Jay Kim writes in his book, “Hope: An Expectant Leap,” “This is what Christian hope looks like. It doesn’t ignore fear, anxiety, and doubt; it confronts them. It holds steady, clinging to peace in the midst of chaos. Through life’s many treacherous storms … Christian hope is (anchored) by something greater that has happened and something greater that is going to happen again.”
The writer of Hebrews uses this metaphor of an anchor as he reflects on the story of Abraham and the promise of hope for us today.
He says, “When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself… Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (Hebrews 6:13, 17-19)
God’s promise was guaranteed, it was never in question.
He cannot lie, he can’t violate his very nature.
And considering God’s nature, we can “take hold of the hope set before us” as heirs of that promise.
The person and work of Jesus, the gift of salvation, the forgiveness of your sin through the cross by his grace.
Paul said in his letter to the Galatian church, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:29)
We look back on the birth of Jesus, and we also look forward to his return.
We wait like Abraham waited, believing, and trusting God.
And this hope is an “anchor for the soul.”
Anchors were common figures of hope in the ancient world, especially in the early church.
In early Christian iconography in the Roman catacombs, an anchor is often found on the tombs of Christians as a symbol of their firm hope in an eternal life through faith in Jesus.
You see, the hope you have in Jesus is not just wishful thinking.
Hope is faith and trust that the God who sent his Son to be born in a stable, and later raised him from the dead, is now alive in you and accomplishing his promises to you.
It’s an expectation and anticipation of something spectacular; salvation from sin and eternal life.
It’s a confident expectation in the promises of God.
To believe in that hope is to live with the peace, joy and love that it brings every day.
It’s hope for the impatient and the impulsive, the hopeless and helpless.
It’s a hope that meets you in the everyday ordinary and in the beyond your ability.
This is the wonder of hope.
But if you haven’t placed your faith in the person and work of Jesus, don’t let this Christmas go by without receiving that thrill of hope.
So, a couple of questions to leave you with.
First, Where or in whom have you placed your hope?
That with *whatever you fill in the blank* you will be complete or satisfied.
Second, Is that hope something you can anchor your life to?
Something you can count on no matter what tomorrow brings, something that will never change.
And lastly, What keeps you from fully placing your hope in Jesus?
Where have you grown tired of waiting, taken control for yourself or simply given up?
Can you rest in the words of Paul, “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.” (Romans 15:13).
Blue Oaks Church