The Christmas season is finally upon us. We can see and hear evidence of it all around us. So this morning, we are beginning a new sermon series that will lead us through the four main themes that are at the heart of Christmas: hope, love, joy, and peace. The holiday season, with all the tinsel, trees, gifts, and activities, can easily distract us from what really matters. This morning, we will discover the hope that comes to us through the birth of Jesus Christ. I am sure we could all use a little hope.
We can learn a lot about having hope by watching the way children embrace the holiday season. Nothing says “hope” like the Christmas list children make during this season. When they write down or tell you want they are wishing for, their hope grows and anticipates throughout the season that on Christmas morning that gift will be under the tree. One of the biggest joys of Christmas is seeing children run to the tree early Christmas morning and finding the gifts with their names on them.
But we all know that the true reason there is hope at the heart of Christmas is not because of gifts, but because of the birth of Jesus Christ. His arrival on the earth was the fulfillment of a prophecy spoken hundreds of years before. That prophecy is actually one of the most well-known scripture passages shared during this time of year.
2 The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. 3 You will enlarge the nation of Israel, and its people will rejoice. They will rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest and like warriors dividing the plunder. 4 For you will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders. You will break the oppressor’s rod, just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian. 5 The boots of the warrior and the uniforms bloodstained by war will all be burned. They will be fuel for the fire.
6 For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!
Isaiah wrote this around 700 BC (so 700 years before Christ came). The backdrop to Isaiah’s writings was extremely poor leadership. The people of Israel had been suffering through the reigns of four ungodly kings: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz (A-has), and Hezekiah. They were corrupt and had led the people so far from God. It was a very dark time in history. And Isaiah wrote these words knowing God would have to intervene to bring Israel back to Himself. The kingdom was crumbling, and the people needed hope.
This passage makes two major points. First it acknowledges that there is a brokenness and darkness that surrounded Israel due to sin and corruption. The second point is that there is an emerging light, there is hope through the birth of a child who would one day make all things right. The Jewish people in the Old Testament needed these words to remind them that God had not forgotten about them.
In the New Testament, the book of Matthew points back to Isaiah’s writings making the connection between what Isaiah had prophetically written and then what had actually taken place in a manger in Bethlehem.
Matthew describes a young Jewish man named Joseph who was presented with an extremely difficult decision to make. He was engaged to be married to a woman named Mary, but she was all of a sudden pregnant. Joseph planned to call the wedding off because it appeared his bride-to-be had been unfaithful. But an angel of the Lord spoke to Joseph in a dream and told him very clearly to go forward with the marriage because the child in her womb was from the Holy Spirit. Then Matthew says…
22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: 23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”
All of these events took place to fulfill the prophecy that God gave through Isaiah in the Old Testament, which claimed there would be a child born as a light in the darkness, a hope for all people. The child would be named Immanuel, which literally means God with us. He is the fulfillment of the Israelite’s hope that God would push back the darkness and shine a bright light into the world. But every day…
THE PRESENCE OF DARKNESS THREATENS OUR HOPE
One of the reasons we, today, can relate to this prophecy and the Christmas story so well is because we too live in a world that is dark and corrupt, much like it was for the Israelites. Our world is dark and corrupt because of the sin that so easily entangles all of us. There is war, disease, conflict, and oppression all around us. We too are in need of the Christ child to usher in a light to push back the darkness around us.
Christmas is that hope. Christmas is a reminder that whatever it is we need and hope for in our lives—healing, restoration, forgiveness, or a fresh start—it’s all available to us through Immanuel, Jesus, who is God with us. Hope is not a result of the absence of conflict, difficulty, or struggles. Instead, hope is a result of the presence of God.
GOD’S PRESENCE HAS COME TO GIVE US HOPE
The hard part about hope is that it often takes longer to be fulfilled than we would like. Like the Jewish people experienced, hope requires patience.
A really good example of patience, is this common plant that grows in the southwest desert of the United States called Agave Americana. It’s also known as then century plant and thrives in rocky, dry, and mountainous desert locations. It looks like an over grown succulent. And when I say over grown, I mean over grown. It grows these spaced out leaves that are each a foot wide. This plant can reach twelve feet in diameter and grow to be six feet tall. And its most unusual trait is its long reproduction cycle. For 20 to 30 years, this plant remains the same height and puts out no flowers. Some may think that’s all it does. But in 20-30 years, all of a sudden and without any warning, a new bud will sprout. Resembling a tree-trunk-sized stem that looks like asparagus, it will rise into the sky at a rate of seven inches per day until it reaches a height of 20 to 40 feet (34-68 days). Then, it finishes the show with a crown of several clumps of yellow blossoms that last for about a whole three weeks. So you get about 3 months of the spectacular show after waiting 20-30 years.
Similar to the Agave Americana plant, some of the greatest answers to our hoping and longing take time and patience in order to see the beauty unfold.
Isaiah saw that one day in the future, God’s beauty would unfold, that God would bring a great light and salvation through the birth of a child. It was not until hundreds of years (700 years later) later that Matthew recorded Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. Jesus is the very presence of God on earth. He offers forgiveness of sin, destruction of evil, and the promise of eternal life.
So why do we read Isaiah’s prophecy over and over again every year at Christmas? It’s because seeing the faithfulness of God in the past gives us deep and abiding hope in the present and unwavering trust for the future.
When the apostle Paul wrote at letter to the early church in Rome, he made an appeal for hope to those who trust in Christ.
4 Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.
Paul said everything that had been written in the past— all of the prophecy and fulfillment—is meant to teach us how to hold onto faith in God to answer our prayers. What has been written gives us endurance and encouragement that we can have hope. It’s important that we revisit the prophetic words of the Old Testament and the fulfillment that comes through the birth of Jesus because it reminds us that God can be trusted to come through and meet us in our greatest time of need.
AT THE HEART OF CHRISTMAS IS HOPE
Though there are many distractions during the Christmas season, this message is a reminder that hope is offered to us through Jesus’ arrival in the manger.
Dr. James Dobson told a story of an elderly woman named Stella Thornhope who was struggling with her first Christmas alone. Her husband had died just a few months prior through a slow-developing cancer. Several days before Christmas, she was almost snowed in by a brutal storm, and she felt terribly alone—so much so that she decided she was not going to decorate for Christmas. Late that afternoon the doorbell rang, and there was a delivery boy with a box. He said, “Mrs. Thornhope? Would you sign here?” She invited him to step inside and closed the door to get away from the cold. She signed the paper and said, “What’s in the box?” The young man laughed and opened up the flap, and inside was a little golden Labrador Retriever. The delivery boy picked up the pup and explained, “This is for you, ma’am. He’s six weeks old and completely housebroken.” The young puppy began to wiggle in happiness at being released from captivity.
“Who sent this?” Mrs. Thornhope asked. The young man set the animal down and handed her an envelope and said, “It’s all explained here in this envelope, ma’am. The dog was bought last July while its mother was still pregnant. It was meant to be a Christmas gift to you.” The young man then handed her a book: How to Care for Your Labrador Retriever.
In desperation she again asked, “Who sent me this puppy?” As the young man turned to leave he said, “Your husband, ma’am. Merry Christmas.” She opened the letter from her husband. He had written it three weeks before he died and left it with the kennel owners to be delivered with the puppy as his last Christmas gift to her. The letter was full of love and encouragement to be strong. He vowed that he was waiting for the day when she would join him in heaven.
He had sent her this young animal to keep her company until then. She wiped away the tears, put the letter down, and then remembered the puppy at her feet. She picked up the golden furry ball and held it to her neck. Then she looked out the window at the lights that outlined the neighbor’s house, and she heard from the radio in the kitchen the strains of “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.” Suddenly, Stella felt the most amazing sensation of hope washing over her. Her heart felt a joy and a wonder greater than the grief and loneliness.
“Little fella,” she said to the dog. “It’s just you and me, but you know what? There’s a box down in the basement I bet you’d like. It’s got a little Christmas tree in it and some decorations and lights that are going to impress you. And there’s a manger scene down there. Let’s go get it.” (Preaching Today #195 by Robert Russell.)
Our God is always right on time. He knows exactly what we need, and He can be trusted to reveal the light of Christ in order to push back the darkness in our lives. In a land full of deep darkness, a light has indeed come. The birth of Jesus was something promised that actually came to pass. Therefore, we can trust that God is still working today.
I want to invite you to express your hope in God this morning by bringing him the things that way heavy on your heart. I’m going to begin our prayer together and then offer you a moment of silence to speak to God, and then I will close us in prayer.
Father God, we come to you this morning in need of hope—hope that you are faithful and have provided all we need by sending your Son to us. We ask that the light of His life would shine into our lives and lift our heads. We offer to you the areas of our lives where we need your presence. (silent prayer) We trust you today with our very lives, and we look forward to seeing how you will come through. Thank you, Father for the hope that can only come from you. Thank you for showing us the heart of Christmas. Amen.