The Gift of Hope

Luke 2:8–14 NIV

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

As humans in the western world, far removed from this night in the Middle East, we get to experience the Christmas season just as everyone else in the west does. We get to see the sights, hear the music, sense the difference this time of year can make when the season is in its best form. At its best, the Advent season can provide a sense of warmth, even during cold December days. It can provide a sense of joy, even as the world around us seems to be so full of sadness. At its best, the Christmas season can make one feel as though there is love in this world, even as people seem to hate the rest of the year. For the “world,” (that term we use for those outside of the Church and those not born again as Jesus described it to Nicodemus in the gospel of John)  the difference, the warmth, the joy, and the love are fleeting. 

Make no mistake, Christian, this season is powerful IF we learn to harness and implement its message! The opportunity we have, as the Church, to take advantage of the extra good will, and the general feeling of happiness that is in the air at this time of year should not be lost. The power of this season on the souls of humankind is undeniable. Consider that even in war we sometimes have truces on Christmas Day; even in those times in history where our hate for one another has caused us to take up arms and start killing, the season of Christmas has caused some to say, “We should not try to kill each other on this day! Let’s call a truce! Then we can begin killing each other again tomorrow!”

(The following is adapted from http://time.com/3643889/christmas-truce-1914/)

One such truce happened "on a crisp, clear morning [just over 100 years ago, in the then young WWI], thousands of British, Belgian and French soldiers put down their rifles, stepped out of their trenches and spent Christmas mingling with their German enemies along the Western front. Most accounts suggest the truce began with carol singing from the trenches on Christmas Eve, “a beautiful moonlit night, frost on the ground, white almost everywhere”, as Pvt. Albert Moren of the Second Queens Regiment recalled, in a document later found.

Graham Williams of the Fifth London Rifle Brigade described it in even greater detail:

'First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing ­– two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.'

The next morning, in some places, German soldiers emerged from their trenches, calling out 'Merry Christmas' in English. Allied soldiers came out warily to greet them. In other places, Germans held up signs reading 'You no shoot, we no shoot.' Over the course of the day, troops exchanged gifts of cigarettes, food, buttons and hats. The Christmas truce also allowed both sides to finally bury their dead comrades, whose bodies had lain for weeks on “no man’s land,” the ground between opposing trenches.

While not a total truce, over 100,000 troops, some two thirds of active, warring soldiers, are believed to have spontaneously participated in the now legendary truce."

In a war that would eventually claim over 18 million lives worldwide, the occasion of Christmas brought a momentary respite from the carnage of battle. Such is the power of this “greatest story ever told!” There is something about a God/Creator coming in such a humble and quiet way as a babe in the manger, the feeding trough of farm animals, that is soul-touchingly powerful enough to halt the bloody motions of brutal war. But if it is powerful enough to stop men when in the throes of atrocious battle, shouldn’t it be powerful enough to change the world so that war, itself, is a distant memory of the days before Jesus got ahold of mankind completely? Isn't that the end-goal?

Arguably, that kind of peace will never happen on this side of eternity. But, I remind you, that is the task of Christians; we are here to facilitate the complete overtaking of men’s hearts so that the horrible actions of the past that have decimated so many lives through war, and other ways, becomes a terrible memory. And when that reality comes to pass, it will have all begun with the completely vulnerable babe in the manger.

So here is the Good News! While the “world” get a respite from the normal, everyday routine of deceit, and hate, and darkness that this life has to offer, we, as Christians, get to provide the message of HOPE that is the cure for the common world! Not just a cure for a season, but a cure for all time! We can provide the cure for the cancers of hate, violence, and all other forms of evil in this world FOR GOOD! Not just for a season! And even if you don’t believe that will ever happen on a world-wide scale on this side of eternity, it should be our goal in our individual lives.

As we live our own redeemed lives of peace, joy, love, mercy and grace, it shows hope to a hopeless world. We can have an effect on the hopelessness that prevails among the marginalized of this world! The gift of HOPE makes peace possible in this world!

Give the gift of HOPE! I’m not even asking you to NOT partake of all the other holiday stuff; the decorating, the gift giving/receiving, nor the endless, one after the other run of Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel. Enjoy all that, the movies, the lights, the gifts, etc., but also this year, give someone the gift of HOPE!

What is it like to live without hope? The world into which Jesus was born was, to many, a world that felt like a world without hope. It had been over 400 years since God spoke to the Hebrew people through the prophet Malachi. The Roman empire was the most powerful force on the planet, and they ruled the area of Jesus’ birth without mercy, and without much hope of freedom for the Jewish people. They lost all hope.

The writings of the time reveal a nation that did not know what to do with themselves because they were oppressed, and their God had not spoken in so long. One historical writing says,”…they tore down the altar and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until there should come a prophet to tell what to do with them.” (1 Maccabees 4:45-46 NRSA)

Hopelessness, when one is steeped in it, is a condition in which there seems to be no way out. Often, it's then that God shows up. He did on that night, to those shepherds. The shepherds were a marginalized lot who were seen as useless for anything other than watching sheep. It was to these that God chose to send His angels to make this AWESOME announcement to the world; not to the halls of royalty, nor the seat of political power, but to society's humblest. Isn't that just like our God?

THIS CHRISTMAS, GIVE SOMEONE THE GIFT OF HOPE! If there is anyone in this world that should know about hope, it is the Christian who has discovered God’s Son as Savior. There are people all around you that have no hope! They have lost a loved one. They have experienced a busted relationship. They have felt the pain of betrayal. Or they have come from a place of hopelessness by way of a messed up home and family, or a they’ve been abused by a world that is more than willing to use them and toss them aside.

The angel said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” Great joy for all people! Whatever their situation, we, Christians, are the people placed here by a loving God, and we have an answer whose name is Hope; hope is Jesus, and we celebrate His birth!

But don’t just celebrate in the usual way. Offer your Savior as a gift to others who are lost in hopelessness. It’s an awesome power, and an awesome responsibility to give Jesus as the gift of hope.Will you give the gift of Hope?