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Preaching the Hope of Christmas

Hope tethers us to an unwavering God.
Preaching the Hope of Christmas
Image: MatthewJean-Louis / Getty Images

As Christmas approaches each year, a familiar carol finds its way playing through the speakers of my car on repeat. “O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lowly exile here until the Son of God appears. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

These are well-known lyrics that have been sung for ages, and the ache that is captured in these words brings to mind hope. I can only imagine how long the waiting must have seemed for God’s people as the Incarnation of Christ grew closer—the longing and expectation that filled their hearts as they hoped for their promised Messiah.

We use the word hope a lot, and the context in which we use it often communicates not much more than a wish, a longing, or a desire. When a friend is sick, we say, “I hope you feel better soon.” When we leave the house a few minutes late, we think, “I hope I make it there on time.” I don’t doubt that we mean well when we express hope in these ways, but is this really hope, true biblical hope?

It is undeniable that I married an adventurer. He outshines me in his passion and pursuit of all things outdoors, and I am amazed at his courage to embrace the unknowns that come along with adventure. I, on the other hand, am far more comfortable within the confines of the hustle and bustle of a city.

Several years ago, I found myself on what I assumed would be a leisurely winter hike through the desert of Arizona, with Jeremy as my guide. While it was an incredible day in the mountains, I am never fully comfortable in those environments. I have far too active an imagination to be fully at ease in a setting like that.

We chose to hike a five-mile trail, which he assured me was not going to be strenuous. So, I did my best to swallow my fear, follow my fearless leader, and hope for the best. When we reached the halfway point, we found ourselves in the middle of a large, flat, desert meadow. A few cacti were scattered around, but what did not escape my attention was what appeared to be a large, muddy lake of water separating us from the other side of the meadow, which we needed to cross.

Clearly, this was God’s way of telling us that this five-mile adventure was going to end here. So, without much thought, I turned around and began to head back in the direction we came, assuming my fearless leader would fall in step behind me. He did not. My husband, the former boy scout, was not worried at all. He was certain and determined that we would not only see the other side of this mud pit, but we were going to finish this hike and enjoy it.

It was only minutes before we began to sink into the mud. As the mud began to fill our shoes, I realized that we had made it to the middle of this little lake, and there really wasn’t any turning back now. It became increasingly difficult to keep walking, as the weight of our now submerged feet grew heavier with each step. So? We took our shoes and socks off. That’s right. This city slicker was now marching barefoot through inches of wet mud, hoping to make it to the other side. Hoping.

Despite my assumptions of how I thought this “adventure” would end, which included missing persons reports among other things, we not only made it to the other side, we also did finish that five-mile loop. All I could do was hope that we were going to make it out alive.

What Is Hope?

Fast forward a few years to the present. As I began to study the theme of hope throughout Scripture, I found myself uncovering a definition of hope that has shifted my perspective on everything. As I look back at that seemingly treacherous hike, and even as I reflect further back on the majority of my life, I realize that I held onto an inaccurate definition of the word hope. The hope I was desperately trying to cling to on that hike was nothing more than a wish, a desire maybe, but it held no real certainty of fulfillment.

If we are honest with ourselves, I imagine many of us could say the same about our own stories of trying to cling onto hope in our seemingly hopeless situations. Perhaps hope has felt like little more than a wish at times, and because of that, our confidence in hope has faded. How do we return to true, biblical hope?

If we are ever going to navigate this hard life with hope intact and encourage others to do the same, we must begin with an accurate understanding of what hope really is. Hope is not a wish. It’s not just a desire. It’s far more than a longing, a perceived want, or even need. If it were only those things and nothing more, Scripture would not command us to hope—but it does. Because it is commanded of us, we can then assume that it is possible to possess and maintain real hope. We must lean in a bit further to see what we have been missing.

A good definition of hope is: A strong and confident expectation, an unwavering trust in the unchanging character of God.

Hope Is a Strong and Confident Expectation

What a difference from the world’s understanding of hope that claims not much more than hope being a wish or a desire. What if we allowed this new understanding of hope to reshape and renew our minds? I believe that a false understanding of hope has effectively led far too many of us to live and lead hopeless lives. We have an opportunity today to allow truth to become the loudest voice in our lives. The season of Advent provides an opportunity for us to move from hopeless living to hope-filled living.

If you and I are ever going to possess and maintain any amount of hope in our lives, we will need to understand what hope isn’t and start clinging to what hope is. Hope is not a wish, a want, or a desire. Hope does not leave room for the insecurity that a mere wish, want, or desire can bring. Hope is so much more than that. Hope expects with a sense of strength and confidence because the object of our hope is Christ. Hope does not waver. Hope is the anchor for our souls.

‘We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.’ (Heb. 6:19a)

Think of what an anchor provides for a ship. It helps to secure the vessel in place. It helps prevent the outside elements from moving the ship in a direction it does not wish to go. Now, take that visual and translate it to your life. Hope is your anchor. It secures you in place. It prevents outside elements from moving you in a direction you do not wish to go. This is hope.

Imagine living your life from this perspective as opposed to the faulty understanding of hope that so many of us have tried to hold onto. What a difference this true understanding of hope could bring! This hope says, “You can remain steady and secure even when your circumstances are not.” This hope says, “You can remain strong and confident in the face of the unknown.” This hope breeds deeper trust in us.

Hope Is Unwavering Trust in the Unchanging Character of God

Notice that the first part of the definition of hope had to do with us. This second part has everything to do with God. The first part revealed who we can be when we possess a biblical understanding of hope: strong and confident. This second part reveals the reason why: God is who he says he is.

God’s character does not change, even when our circumstances do. Here’s another way to say that: Our circumstances will never alter the character of God. Not ever. God remains the same, even when everything around us doesn’t. God is steady, even when we are shifting. God is faithful, even when we are faithless.

‘… if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.’ (2 Tim. 2:13)

It is because God’s character does not change that we can have unwavering trust in him. Hope is the ability to have unwavering trust BECAUSE God’s character does not change. Our hope is resting in something secure, not something that wavers. Therefore, we do not need to waver either.

As you reflect personally on biblical hope and as you prepare to encourage your congregation this Christmas, consider the ways you use the word hope. If you find yourself wavering today, unable to possess and maintain hope, might I suggest that perhaps your hope is misplaced? We put hope in all sorts of things. We put hope in desired outcomes. We put hope in the expectations that we place on others. We put hope in success and achievement. We put hope in material possessions.

Notice how all these things are temporal. None of these things last, not eternally anyway. Also, notice how all these things leave room for disappointment. The outcomes that we chase often turn out much differently than we wanted them to. Expectations are often not met. Successes and achievements come and go, and the happiness that they can bring is fleeting. Material possessions always fail to provide lasting joy, yet we keep putting our hope in them and what they might provide for us—and we keep coming up short.

If our hopes are misplaced, our joy will be also. Jesus is the creator of hope; therefore, he is also the source of hope. He is the provider of hope, and he is the sustainer of hope. Hope is found in him, and every time we continue to look for hope elsewhere, we will come up short.

As we prepare our hearts for Advent, remember this: Hope tethers us to an unwavering God. Hope secures us to a God who is not moved by the things that move us. Hope anchors us to steady and solid ground. Hope fixes our gaze on Jesus instead of our circumstances. Hope reminds us of who God is: The long-awaited Messiah, the Suffering Servant who left glory to become like us, to rescue us, to save us.

Cherie Wagner is a wife, a mom, a women's ministry leader, and a passionate pursuer of biblical literacy in the Church. Connect with Cherie at neuething.org.

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