Topical Scripture: Galatians 4:4
Let’s begin with a quiz. The real St. Nicholas was born in what country? Turkey. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was created as a promotion for what department store? Montgomery Ward. What song does Lucy ask Schroeder to play on his piano in A Charlie Brown Christmas? “Jingle Bells.” Eggnog was first consumed in what US city? Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. (I got one right out of four.)
Here’s another question most people would struggle to answer: why did Jesus come when he did?
Why not when Moses was trying to save his people from Egyptian slavery? Or when the Babylonians were destroying Jerusalem? Why did he come when he did? And what does the timing of Christmas say to us today?
Last week we discussed the grace of Christmas and claimed God’s mercy for our past. Today we’ll focus on the hope of Christmas and claim God’s help for our future.
What about tomorrow is on your heart today? Where do you most need the hope of Christmas?
The timing of hope
Two thousand years before Christmas, the Lord promised Abraham “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2). The Messiah to come would come through Abraham’s descendants.
But which of his descendants? “A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17). But Jacob had twelve sons; which would continue the line of Christmas? “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet” (Genesis 49:10).
Which of Judah’s descendants? “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit” (Isaiah 11:1). Which of Jesse’s sons? The Lord said to David, “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom” (2 Samuel 7:12).
Matthew thus begins his Gospel: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1).
And there’s more. Scripture tells us not just about Jesus’ male ancestors, but his mother as well: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). We’re even told where the virgin would give birth: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old” (Micah 5:2). Both predictions were made seven centuries before Christmas.
Galatians 4:4 then describes the specific time when Jesus would come into the world: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son.” Historians point to the existence of a universal language (Greek), universal roads, a universal peace under Roman military authority, and a universal hunger for truth.
The universal language means that Christians could travel the Roman Empire without having to learn new languages to preach the gospel. Universal roads gave them access to the Empire. A universal peace gave them security by which to travel. A universal hunger for truth opened hearts across the world to the good news of God’s grace.
All were essential to the remarkable spread of Christianity in the years after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. All led to the hope of Christmas that came into the world on that Bethlehem night.
The promise of hope
Here’s the point: If Jesus would come where he did, when he did, he will come anywhere.
Frederick Buechner: “Those who believe in God can never in a way be sure of him again. Once they have seen him in a stable, they can never be sure where he will appear or to what lengths he will go or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation he will descend in his wild pursuit of [us]. If holiness and the awful power and majesty of God were present in the least auspicious of all events, this birth of a peasant’s child, then there is no place or time so lowly and earthbound but that holiness can be present there, too.
“And this means that we are never safe, that there is no place where we can hide from God, no place where we are safe from his power to break in two and recreate the human heart because it is just where he seems most helpless that he is most strong, and just where we least expect him that he comes most fully” (The Face in the Sky).
The One who came at Christmas promised us, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He will meet a persecuting Pharisee on the road to Damascus and make him the greatest evangelist and theologian in Christian history. He will meet an imprisoned apostle on Patmos and give him the Book of Revelation.
He will meet a troubled but brilliant monk named Martin Luther and make him the harbinger of the Reformation. He will meet an imprisoned theologian named Dietrich Bonhoeffer and make him a model of sacrifice and courage for all time.
The power of hope
Gabriel Marcel: “Hope is for the soul what breathing is for the living organism.” G. K. Chesterton: “There is one thing which gives radiance to everything. It is the idea of something around the corner.” Samuel Johnson: “The natural flights of the human mind are not from pleasure to pleasure, but from hope to hope.”
A mouse dropped in water will give up and drown in minutes. But if it is rescued, it will tread water for more than twenty hours the next time.
After World War II, the Allied armies gathered up thousands of hungry, homeless children. They were sheltered and fed. But they were afraid to go to sleep. Then they were given a slice of bread, not to eat but to hold. And they slept well, for they knew they would have food for tomorrow.
Austin pastor Gerald Mann saw his church grow from sixty to four thousand members in fourteen years. His explanation: “I know three things people want when they come to church: they want help, they want home, and they want hope.”
The return of hope
Where do you need hope for the future? What about the coming year worries you today? What about tomorrow is burdening your soul today?
The truth of Christmas is that God visits us in the dark. He knocks at the door of our hearts with the promise, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).
And one day, he will come again. The season of “Advent” is not just about Jesus’ first coming, but his second as well.
When he comes back, he will not be a helpless baby in a feed trough. The book of Revelation describes his return this way:
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:11–16).
In the meantime, the Christ of Christmas will meet us anywhere, hear any prayer, meet any need, and lead any soul in whatever way is for God’s glory and our best.
What about the future is on your heart today? Because of Christmas, there is hope. There is always hope.
But like all Christmas presents, the presence of hope has to be opened.
The single most meaningful Christmas present I own is an old steering wheel and wheel cover. The wheel belonged to my 1966 Ford Mustang; when it broke, I mounted it on my garage wall and have kept it ever since.
The reason is the cover on the wheel. It was my father’s last present to me. He bought it for me for Christmas in 1979. I opened it ten days after he died. I will have it the rest of my life.
I have kept the wheel because it reminds me of my father’s love for me. But even more, because it reminds me of my heavenly Father’s love for me. When my earthly father died, my heavenly Father was there for me. Over the years, when the future seemed most frightening, his power, grace, and hope were the gifts I needed.
Where do you need the hope of Christmas today?