I hope I get that new job. I hope my home gets cleaned soon. I hope to have time to make it to that party. I hope my parents get healthy soon. I hope my brother finds someone to marry. I hope my kids turn out to be good people.
Plenty of things to hope for, right? And these are all good things – healthy family members, successful careers, good relationships. But what happens when those things don’t turn out the way we think/hope/work for? Where is our hope found then?
Yesterday marks the first Sunday of Advent, a season that is begins four weeks before Christmas and marks a new season in the Christian calendar. Advent means “waiting”and depicts a time of longing, waiting, and remembering Jesus’ birth. This is a time to pause and create space in our lives, our homes, and our hearts to reflect on who God is, what He has done and how Jesus’ birth radically changed everything. Because it did. And His birth matters – it mattered 2,000 years ago when He came to a people group that had been longing and waiting for hundreds of years. The Israelites were waiting for a Messiah who was promised by the prophets, a Messiah who was supposed to set the Israelites free from the oppressive hand of Rome and restore them to the land.
And just as the Israelites longed for that Savior, we too wait. We pause and place ourselves in the story of Jesus’ birth, imaging how young Mary might have felt with the news that she, an unmarried teenager, would give birth to God’s own Son. We imagine what it would have looked like for the angels to sing praises in the field and the shepherds to drop what they were doing to visit the newborn.
And we remind ourselves of God’s power and humility as Jesus was born with all the strength and authority of heaven yet all of the meekness of a helpless babe.
Often times, four themes of Advent will be celebrated, reflected on, and prayed for during this season.
Hope, peace, joy, love. Four separate themes that point to Jesus’ birth and to the dramatic change that occurs when God comes to earth and changes creation for all of time.
Today we look at hope, as I opened with many ways we externally proclaim hope – hope in careers, hope in success, hope in good health. The list can go on and on.
But we have probably all had seasons of time where things felt hopeless. Maybe we felt like we could never get ahead – the car breaks, our washing machine needs to be replaced, tuition for school must be paid, the list goes on and on. Maybe it’s with health or relationships or work. We may say something like, “If only I could fix ______, then life would be okay” or “Once I get _______ done, things will feel back to normal”.
But it rarely works like that. Hopefully we have more good seasons than bad, but those bad or difficult or stressful seasons still come. And when we place our hope in external situations then that hope is always in tension, always teetering on the edge of a cliff.
But Jesus’ birth offers another option.
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 6:19 – 20
In Advent, we are reminded that our hope is not found in job security, an emergency fund, healthy family members, good relationships, or everything going smooth enough. In Jesus, our hope is as secure as an anchor to our soul.
Do you know what an anchor does? It is dropped by the ship when they find their spot to set up camp, so to speak. It is a way of saying “We are going to spend some time here. We are going to hold tight to this area, not be swayed or pushed away from shore. No, we’re staying right here.”
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:58
Because of Jesus, we have hope. A deep, firm hope that tethers us to God and to His love, peace, and joy. Hope anchors us not to our external situations or things that may change, but to the One who never changes. Hope says that it isn’t about working harder or waiting until things finally change. No, hope whispers grace. Hope shouts Jesus’ birth. Hope sings of God’s goodness, that because of Jesus’ birth, life, and crucifixion, we are in a right relationship with God. Hope says that though our external situations may (and will) change, because of Jesus we never will. An advent hope reminds us to wait, to stand firm, and to trust in the goodness of God.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.
1 Peter 1:3 – 4
So, stand firm in your hope of Him. Slow down this holiday season and make intentional room to reflect on all that He has done this past year. Read through the birth narratives in the Gospel of Luke chapter 1 – 2 and the Gospel of Matthew chapters 1 – 2. Release the things you think you need to have hope and remind yourself of hope in Jesus, the Son of God who came in human form to redeem all of creation back to God. And, if you would like, pray through the prayer below, reminding yourself of what Jesus’ birth means.
A Prayer for the First Sunday of Advent
(taken from the Book of Common Prayer)
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
// Take a deep breathe this morning. Reflect on where you are tempted to place your hope – is it a job promotion? Is it financial security? Is it in things finally settling down? Pray and invite God to show you how real hope in Him is.
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