This advent season, our little church family has walked through a time-honored tradition of lighting a candle each week, representative of the coming of Messiah and the indwelling life of peace, love, joy and hope that He brings. We have rejoiced in worship over the babe in the manger, the tiny Son of God, born to set men free. My father (our pastor) and my husband have taken turns teaching on those four subjects and yesterday, dad addressed the hope that we have in Christ.
And it wrecked me.
There was not even a little prologue with a funny joke in it, he just got up there and launched right in to the problem we have with hope and why our hope isn’t working. No transition, no fuzzy little Christmas story anecdote, just this:
We are created with the capacity and need to Hope in the Creator. But because of the fall, we hope in the created instead. We have our little hopes and dreams and ideals and when those hopes are dashed, we go looking for something else to replace them. You know how we know? Because when things do not go our way, we become despondent. When you have to junk one of your cars and your health insurance goes up and your dryer dies and your other car quits in the middle of the highway and your husband learns he will no longer have a job in a few months (the same few months in which you are hoping to adopt another baby) and you leave a $4 tub of organic yogurt out all night and it curdles and you cry over the darned yogurt, you realize that perhaps your hope wasn’t in Jesus, it was in what Jesus could do for you.
We have in mind that Jesus is hope the way we want it. So we see Him not as Hope itself, Hope Incarnate, but as the facilitator of our little hopes – we see Him as a means to an end. If I trust Jesus enough, then He will perform this way for me – He will give me a new car and a great job and fill-in-the-blank. It’s not as though any of us set out to do this, though, right? We know God is not a vending machine. We have our quiet time and our Bible studies and our prayer and various ministries in which we participate and we discuss faith in Jesus and His life in us. But when things don’t go our way, there is a secret despair and frustration…I was hoping You would exempt me from painful adversity, Lord, so I could feel safe and secure. I thought I heard You say this to me…so why are You not following through on Your end of the bargain?
But then this:
When our false hopes seem to be “working”, we are not teachable. But when those hopes are dashed, we are able to see and access the real Jesus, the real Hope. And God will cause every created “prop” we try to use as a substitute for total dependence on God to FAIL, so that we may know Him and He may be elevated. When our hopes are dashed, we are primed for sanctification. We speak often and with fondness of “being made into the image of Christ” – forgetting that He was despised and forsaken, a man of sorrows and acquainted with much grief. He, who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? These “all things” include such painful adversity from which we are so quick to ask God to exempt us. These “all things” include many sorrows. These “all things” include the frustration and illness and unemployment and unrealized expectations that come along life’s way, that we may be softened to return our hope to the only true and capable recipient of it: God alone.
Hope came in the manger and we rejoice in that this Christmas. We rejoice over the baby and the young mother and the carpenter father. We rejoice in the glad tidings of great joy, because Hope came down. But we look past the sweet baby Jesus, because Hope grew up – Hope led a sinless life and died a sinner’s death – He became not just manger Hope, but resurrection Hope!
To truly worship at the manger is to see the cross. The glorious resurrection. The Son of God lifted up, high and exalted. The Hope of nations. The Hope of our hearts. Christ in us, the hope of glory.
This is He, our only Hope, whom we worship this Christmas.