The end of the Thanksgiving holiday brings the stretch run of the holidays into full force. Many of us celebrated the change in seasons by going to the mall or shopping centers, looking for the best bargains on Christmas items. Others spent it by finding every possible way to enjoy leftover turkey and ham.
For all of us, there is a much deeper reason for the season. While this season is filled with celebration and activities, we know that it’s not about the gifts or the parties. This season leads us to our celebration of Christ’s birth on Christmas morning.
Today is the first day of Advent and the first day of our journey together toward Christmas morning. Advent is one of the most significant times of the Christian calendar, and not just because it starts a new Christian year. In this season, we are reminded and called to live in expectation of Christ’s return. Advent isn’t just about getting to the celebration of Christ’s birth, but it reminds us that each day is an opportunity to live in expectation of Christ’s return. The first Advent, Christ’s initial coming, has occurred, and today we live as people of the Second Advent who await Christ’s return.
Advent gives us an opportunity to take on more of the characteristics of Christ and make them part of the lives of our worshiping community, our communities at large, and our own personal lives. During this season of expectation, this is where our focus will lie. Our focus will be on what it means to “Incarnate the Emmanuel.”
What do I mean by this? Incarnation means God taking on human form. We see this in the introduction to John’s Gospel, when he writes about Christ, the Word, being present at the start of creation and taking on the form of humanity at Jesus’ birth. With Emmanuel, we are speaking of one of the names for Christ. In Isaiah 7:14, we see the promise of a child being born to a virgin. This child, the Christ, would be given the name Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”
There is something here for us when we put these two great concepts together. As followers of Christ, we are called to allow Him to be incarnate in us. This means that as we grow in our relationship with God, we are to take on more of the characteristics of Christ in our own lives. Essentially, we become less and Christ becomes more. Our needs and our hopes become secondary to Christ living in us.
We are going to focus on this throughout the Advent season, on what it means for us to be more like the Emmanuel. Our devotion book will serve as an enhancer for what we will talk about on Sundays, so I want to encourage you to take time to read these devotions. May this be a time of spiritual growth and development as we await the celebration of Christ’s birth.
Part of what we will do is look at various Advent themes and how they apply to our desire to live more like Christ. Some are traditional ideas that come out at Advent, but we will apply them to this idea of what it means to live Christ-like lives, so that we may influence the world and our communities through our witness and our hope.
Speaking of hope, this is the first Advent theme we will examine. Typically, it is one of the first themes of the Advent season. Paul tells us that hope is one of the three greatest gifts that God gives us through the grace of the Holy Spirit, with the other two being faith and love. In our passage for today, Paul writes that we are to live with hope as we look forward to the day of Christ’s return. Hope, then, is an important idea for us in our relationship with Christ.
This is an important statement, but we are left with a question. What do we mean by hope? It’s a word we know, and I am sure we use it in regular conversations with our friends and family. We say this word “hope” a lot, but sometimes it seems to be one of those words we drop in our conversations without really knowing what it means.
When we say we have hope in something, we are placing our confidence that something good will happen. We hope for someone’s recovery from illness. We hope for someone to find a job when they have been laid off. We hope for many things at many times. Notice what we are not doing here. We are not placing our hope in things that are negative. Augustine once wrote that true hope only has its object in that which is good. This means we don’t hope for bad things to happen, but we place our hope in the positive things of life.
All of this to say that when we place our hope in something, we are placing our confidence in and trust that something good will happen.
Hope says something to us as followers of Christ. It shows us where our hope comes from. We can place our hope in many things, but only one hope will not fail us – our hope in Jesus Christ. Our hope comes out of the grace we receive when we place our trust in Jesus Christ. It is a fruit of our relationship with Christ. We place our hope and confidence in the truth of the Christian message, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We say that we believe in Christ’s words, his teachings, and his life. We hope that one day Christ will return. We hope that God desires his kingdom to be seen in this world, because this is, as Revelation 21 tells us, the world we will inherit when Christ returns.
In a way, hope is something that is common to all of us, but is uniquely Christian in its application. When we think of hope in a Christian sense, there are two general concepts that come out, and both have been alluded to this morning. The first is that our hope rests in the life of Jesus Christ. I call this our hope in God’s promises. We are placing our trust in God’s action, anticipating and hoping that God will fulfill the promises he has made. We see this type of hope throughout Scripture. Abraham was guided by hope to follow God in leaving his home to move to Canaan. The people of Israel clung to their hope of a savior during their time in captivity. In Luke 24, the disciples on the road to Emmaus talk to Jesus, whom they thought was a stranger, about having hope in Jesus being the long-promised Messiah. Even more, throughout Paul’s writings, we get this idea that our hope comes as confidence and expectation that God’s promises are real and God will fulfill his promises. In Colossians 1:23, Paul writes about the hope of the gospel, which is the message of Jesus Christ.
We know we can place our hope in God’s promises, because we know they are real and true. As people who await Christ’s return, we know God fulfilled his promise of a savior and we know that at Christmas, the savior came and began to live among us. What a joy it is to know that we can freely and confidently place our hope in God’s promises. Unlike the world’s promises, these promises will not fail us.
There is also a second kind of hope, which goes in line with what Paul writes in Titus. This hope is what I call the living hope. It is the hope that sustains us and guides us each day of our lives. It is a hope that gets to the idea that God wants to bring forth New Jerusalem, a new creation, and desires for his kingdom to live among us.
This might be the most difficult of hopes, because it is the hope that says God’s love and grace will impact the world, even when it is clouded in darkness. It is the hope that binds this tension that we see in our passage from Titus. Paul says we are to live in this world with “wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God,” even when it seems like it is difficult to do so, or when darkness surrounds us. This tension points to what it means for us to live as followers of Jesus Christ, as we await for the expected return of Jesus Christ.
In the middle, tying the two together, is our call to live with hope each day of our lives. We can have a living hope because of the resurrection, as we see in 1 Peter 1:3. Christ’s resurrection says this world does not have the final say, but God has the final say. Because Christ lives today, we can have hope that God is at work in the most difficult of situations and the most unhopeful of times. God is present, so we can have hope. Living hope is what guides us to live each day as followers of Christ, who desire to live in faithful obedience to God, through faith in Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is what helps us endure the difficult times, and it is what humbles us in times of blessing. Our living hope in Christ is what should define us as followers of Christ, not just in this season of Advent when hope serves as our focal point, but at all times.
When we tie together our hope in God’s promises and our desire to have a living hope, we see this as our calling as followers of Christ. We are called to be people who live with hope, and not despair. To allow our expectation of Christ’s ongoing ministry through God’s Spirit to define us. To allow the hope of Christ to be at the center of our heart.
In our time together, I’ve probably made hope seem like an easy thing to grasp. We all know that hope is not as easy as simply saying “I hope in God.” We struggle with not always being able to see God in our midst. We struggle with faith and hope, because we want something tangible to believe in and hold onto – like our government, or our paychecks, or even the work of our own two hands.
But it is not hope if we can see it. If we see something with our own two eyes, we don’t need to have hope. What good would this world be if we did not need to have hope?
Hebrews 11:1 tells us that our faith in Jesus Christ serves as our confidence to live as hopeful witnesses in all times. It inspires us to live as witnesses of Christ, and it guides us when it seems like the darkness of the world has overcome us.
Our hope in Jesus Christ sustains us and helps us be patient and enduring as we await Christ’s return. It picks us up. It encourages us. It defines us.
In this season of Advent, let us live as people of hope. Let us place our confidence in Jesus Christ – that the words of the Gospel are true and God’s promises are real. We can, because hope has come in Jesus Christ, and we will celebrate his birth on Christmas morning, as we await his glorious return.
Let us also be people who live each day with hope. Let our hope in Christ guide us to grow in the likeness of Christ. As William Mounce writes, our hope should allow us to live “reverently” as faithful witnesses of God’s love. May our hope inspire every person we meet. May our hope be a true reflection of Christ and his love for us.
May this season of Advent be a reminder of our call to be children of hope each day of our lives.