A Season Of Hope

Like Buddy being excited for Santa and then only seeing a fraud, we also experience tremendous letdowns when we have placed our hope in things that cannot deliver. We may hope in a friend who betrays us, a philosophy that proves itself empty, a job that leaves us, or a family member that dies. Hope in anything other than Jesus cannot deliver.

Because hope is only revealed to be authentic hope when hope is actually needed. If it isn't found in the despair, in the rubble, in the darkness, then it isn't really hope. It's just happiness disguised as hope. For hope is found in the death of things.

It is to the sick and sinners that Jesus came to bring hope. And this is a message that we, those who are greatly blessed often forget. We think Jesus is contained in the lives of the righteous and worthy.

"The hope of Jesus is heavy and hard. It contrasts sharply with the cheap and cross-free hope of the wealthy who have plenty. Hope is easy and flimsy for those who already have richness, fullness, and laughter now, but hope is hard for those who are denied the riches, prevented from fullness, and have no reason to laugh." (my changed version of Bruegammann, Prophetic Imagination, 104) 

The truth is that our righteousness is but filthy rags. We get our fill of the Proverbs or some modern self-help Christian teacher and begin to think that we live in such a way that we deserve the blessings that God gives us. Our pride prevents us from recognizing the truth that we are not worthy of the blessings we receive. We are not deserving of the grace that comes through Jesus. We are sinful, spiritually sick, and in need of a savior. We are but bones in a grave wasting away. And our pride prevents us from recognizing how blessed we really are.

The most disgusting thing in the world is a self-righteous, self-proclaimed Christian who acts like they are right with God while living a life devoid of loving those who Jesus came to love. They read their Bible and they pray. They're religious but not a follower of Jesus. A self-righteous, self-proclaimed Christian who isn't willing to sacrifice their blessings so that others may see Jesus. The solution to this problem is to recognize our sinful state and the role that Jesus plays in our lives.

For God emptied Himself of all of His privilege and became human when He came to earth as Jesus. That is the beauty of the Christmas story. He who is worthy of all worship became a servant to those unworthy. He became a vulnerable, fragile, little baby to save people like you and me. He gave up all that He deserves to give us that which we don't deserve.

Jeremiah wrote,

Thus says the LORD: “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the LORD, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy.  There is hope for your future, declares the LORD, and your children shall come back to their own country. Jeremiah 31:16-17 (ESV)

Like the Jews in the Old Testament, in Christ, we can always look expectantly for a better tomorrow. We can have hope for the future. The deliverer and king has come.
Yet He came differently than expected. He came in a manger. Being removed from that culture and having been inundated with the Christmas story since birth, the meaning of this element of the story may have lost its significance to us. But to the people of the time, especially to the poor, it had a significant meaning. Jesus was born in a barn. God's grand entrance if you will. He came down to earth to live with us in the flesh, and He slept in a feeding trough for animals. He became the least for you and me, so that in Him the least would have hope.

If I were God, I would have planned it so that I arrived into a rich family, lived in a palace, and slept in a crib lined with gold with nannies meeting my every need. I would grow up with all of the comforts of this world. Leisure, entertainment, and toys. But I'm not God. And God was trying to teach us something in the way He came. He came through the poor and powerless. He came in a manger, setting his tone for his ministry. The first will be last. If we want to be His followers, then we need to give up what we feel we deserve and serve others.

He came differently than the Jews were expecting. The Jews were expecting a Messiah to save them from the Roman rule. Actually, not just to save them from Roman rule, but to establish  Jerusalem as the ruler of Rome and the rest of the world. Yet Jesus came differently than expected. He came and died on the cross. He didn't come to rule in the traditional ways of the world. True, he still wants to be our king, our master. True, He established a different sort of kingdom, the Church. But He came differently than the world expected. He came to serve rather than to be served. His weapons were love and truth, not swords and war. And He wants his followers to do the same, to serve rather than be served.

He also came in love - not might, not strength, not power. The world falsely believes that the things of this world are what's important. We see this in Black Friday. Some think that toys, gadgets, and entertainment devices will bring them happiness. They hope in them. But then, a month after the gifts are open, life is still the same. The gadgets, toys, and entertainment didn't change us. Without Jesus, we are still the same hopeless person we were before all the gifts.

We keep ourselves busy with false fixes. We place our hopes in the wrong things, time and time again. All this time wasted when the real solution is readily available. Jesus is the real solution. He's not the solution in some impractical "spiritual" yet non-political, non-physical way. We like to keep Him locked up in a prison we call "spiritual," so that He can stay there and not mess with our "real" lives. Our thinking is that if we keep Him spiritual, then He doesn't have to mingle with our marketplace life, our physical life, our political life, or any other aspect of our life. Yet Jesus wants all of our life.

He always was and still wants to be practical. He may have been born in a humble manger, but His teachings caused the powers that be to execute Him in a disgraceful fashion. For He wasn't just spiritual. He was upsetting the status quo. He was literally changing the world. And the powers of the time didn't like that. The spiritual answers that Jesus provides aren't just to give us spiritual guidance; they're supposed to change the way we live and the world we live in.

Our spirituality is not supposed to be just some personal, self-reflective wonderland. In every issue we face, whether politically, personal, at work, in the community, or at home, we need to follow Jesus' example that we are reminded of this time of year and serve others. Instead of force through government or in being someone's boss, we serve. Instead of all of the ways of power in this world, we worship the One who has true power and surrender to Him. God works in strange ways. He always has. The question is whether we will accept his strange ways as our real solution. He came in a manger. The world tells us that we need to be strong; God teaches us to be weak and depend on Him. Then we will be strong in His way, a strange yet amazing way.