With Thanksgiving now over, our focus turns to Christmas. Signs of the impending holiday are everywhere in terms of decorations, store displays and television programming. The church is also getting ready for Christmas with the annual season of Advent.
Advent is a four-week period designed to prepare us for the birth of Jesus. The traditional color is purple, which is the color of royalty as we await the King of kings. Those churches that observe Advent (and not all do) typically focus each of the four Sundays on a different theme or topic. The first Sunday of Advent, which is this Sunday, November 28, most often centers around hope.
Sometimes the circumstances of our lives cause us to lose hope. We encounter health, financial or relationship problems that seem insurmountable. This can cause us to lose hope in God or question His presence in our lives. Why would a loving God allow all these bad things to happen? As these feelings spiral out of control, we can fall into hopelessness.
Jesus brings us hope, not just for our everyday situation but for our spiritual condition. In terms of our earthly circumstances, we have to remember that God is a loving, personal God who cares for us intimately. He created us and knew us even before we were in our mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:5), we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), and before a word is even on our tongue God already knows it (Psalm 139:4).
God does not want us to suffer in this life, but suffering is a natural consequence of sin (Romans 6:23). What we often think of as God’s indifference is more likely the result of living in a broken and sinful world that has walked away from God. There is poverty and deprivation in this world because of sin. People get sick and die because of sin. Aging, sickness and physical death is the end result for all people, and it can cause great hopelessness.
That’s exactly why we find hope in the birth of Jesus. Yes, our bodies will eventually die one day, and we may face difficult problems and circumstances in this life, but we know that in Jesus we have overcome the world and its trouble (John 16:33). In God, we find strength, hope and courage to keep going, even in the face of great difficulties (Isaiah 40:31). Most importantly, Jesus gives us hope in our eternal future. By His work on the cross, we are redeemed, restored and saved from condemnation. We have hope because, “God sent His only Son that all who believe in Him may not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
It’s important to understand that hope in this context is not the same as wishing for something and “hoping” it comes true. I can hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow because I want to go fishing, or I can hope my favorite team wins the ballgame. Those things might or might not happen. The kind of hope Jesus brings is more of a certainty because God is faithful to keep His promises. “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).
We’ll continue this discussion next week as we talk about peace on the second Sunday of Advent.