The Hope of Christmas

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?

The Power of Persistent Prayer

Topical Scripture: Luke 11:5-13

2020 has been a year like no other in living memory.

It started as 1973, with the impeachment proceedings. Then it became 1918 with the coronavirus pandemic. It added 2008 (and maybe 1929) with the recession. Then it added 1968 with racial issues. None of the last three will end any time soon, and we can add the election this fall.

Psychologists distinguish between acute stress, something we experience in the face of immediate but short-term challenges, and chronic stress, which is ongoing and debilitating. Of the two, chronic stress can especially lead to depression and other physical and psychological challenges.

Today we’re beginning a series on hope for hard times, turning each week to Jesus’ timeless parables for the wisdom and encouragement we need. On this Father’s Day, we’ll begin with the power of persistent prayer. We’ll see how this power unlocks the door to God’s strength, encouragement, and hope. And we’ll see why it is especially valuable for fathers in our culture.

Before we study Scripture together, let me ask you to make this personal. Where do you most need persistence in your life? What in your past, present, or future is most on your heart this morning?

Name the reason you need the power of persistent prayer. Now let’s learn how to experience it from the Father who loves us all.

A rude neighbor

Today we’ll study one of Jesus’ most misunderstood parables. The problem is not the setting of the parable itself, for it was one of the most common of his time.

The first man in the story has a problem, much more of a crisis in Jesus’ day than in ours. A traveler has come to his home at midnight—not at all uncommon, since most people traveled at night to avoid the day’s heat. This man was supposed to bake enough bread for anyone who might come to his home that night, for this was a basic requirement of hospitality in their culture.

To have someone come to your home and have nothing to feed them is for us an inconvenience; for them it was a very major failure. If you were to invite the family over for Easter dinner, then forgot and had them all arrive but had nothing to feed them, you’d have this man’s situation.

So he goes to his neighbor at midnight for help. This neighbor has baked enough bread; that isn’t the problem. But his door is locked, something never done in the ancient Near East unless a family had gone to sleep and did not want to be awakened. A locked door was their “Do Not Disturb” sign, never violated.

The reason was simple. Common homes in Jesus’ day were one room, with one window and a door. The first two-thirds of the room was a dirt floor where the animals slept for the night. The back one-third was a raised wooden platform with a charcoal stove around which the entire family slept. For this man to get up at midnight he must awaken his family and then his animals just to get to the door.

All this to give the man what he was required by social custom to have anyway. If your family came for that Easter dinner and you were unprepared, so you went to your neighbor and asked her to give you the meal she prepared for her guests, you might anticipate her reaction.

In Jesus’ story, the neighbor gets up despite all this—the rudeness, the inconvenience, the breach of social custom—because of the man’s “impudence.” The Greek word means “shameless refusal to quit.” He simply will not go away until the man gives him what he wants. And so he does.

So Jesus concludes: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (v. 9). The Greek could be translated literally, “ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking.” Practice persistence with God.

A loving father

Now, what does Jesus’ parable mean for us? First, let’s dismiss what it doesn’t mean.

Jesus is not teaching that we can wear God out if we ask for something enough. That God is the man inside the house asleep, but if we come and bang on his door loud enough and long enough, he will give us what we want. Even if he doesn’t want to, if we keep asking, eventually we’ll receive what we want.

Unfortunately, I’ve heard that very theology preached: if you have enough faith, God will give you whatever you ask for. Whether you want to be healed, or be wealthy, or anything at all, just ask in enough faith and it’s yours.

That is absolutely not the point here. Jesus is using a very common rabbinic teaching technique known in the Hebrew as the qal wahomer. Literally, “from the lesser to the greater.” Applied here, the point is this: if a neighbor at midnight would give you what you ask if you ask him, how much more will God answer our requests when we bring them to him.

They must be in his will, for his purposes and glory. This is no guarantee that enough faith will ever obligate God. It is a promise that if this man would hear his neighbor, how much more does God wish to do the same.

You see the qal wahomer again in verse 13: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Why persistent prayer is so powerful

How does Jesus’ story relate to our need for persistent prayer on this Father’s Day?

Let’s admit that persistence in prayer is difficult for our fallen culture. Many in our secularized society are convinced that the spiritual is superstitious fiction. To them, praying to God is like praying to Zeus. If it makes you feel better, go ahead. But don’t persist in your prayers as though they make any real difference.

Our materialistic culture is also convinced that the material is what matters. Seeing is believing. You cannot see beyond the immediate, so why would you persist in doing something that doesn’t bring immediate results? If God doesn’t answer your prayer now, why keep praying it?

In the face of such skepticism, why do what Jesus teaches us to do? Because persistent prayer positions us to experience God’s best.

Praying to God does not inform him of our need or change his character. Rather, it positions us to receive what his grace intends to give.

Persistent prayer does something else as well: it keeps us connected to God so his Spirit can mold us into the image of Christ. When we pray, the Holy Spirit is able to work in our lives in ways he cannot otherwise. The more we pray, continuing to trust our problems and needs to the Lord, the more he makes us the people he intends us to be and empowers us for the challenges we face.

This power is especially relevant for fathers in our culture. A ministry focused on encouraging fathers ran a survey asking them to identify their greatest challenges. On the list were these issues:

  • Work and home life balance
  • Creating time to love my wife and kids as they need to be loved
  • Spending biblical time with my kids when I’m exhausted
  • Connecting with my teenagers
  • Staying motivated when I’m tired
  • Being a godly example to my wife and kids
  • Being a consistent example and not losing my temper
  • Being the leader my family desires, needs, and deserves

Jesus would tell fathers to take their challenges to their Father. He knows our wives and children better than we ever will. His Spirit stands ready to equip us, empower us, and encourage us.

So, pick your greatest challenge as a father. Name it before your Father. Continue to pray about it, knowing that persistent prayer connects you with his power and wisdom. Know that as you knock, the door will be opened, by the grace of God.

If you’re not a father, you can do the same today. Your Father is waiting to hear from you with all his omnipotent strength and omniscient wisdom. Unlike the man in Jesus’ parable, he is awake and waiting on you.


I walk in our Dallas neighborhood early each morning. This week, I came across a yard sign that impressed me greatly. It proclaimed: “Hope is alive. Jesus is alive!” The first is true because the second is true.

There is hope for our past because Jesus died for us (Romans 5:8) and then rose from our grave. There is hope for our present because the living Christ is praying for us right now (Romans 8:34). There is hope for our future because Jesus will come for us one day and is building our home in paradise right now (John 14:1–3).

Hope is alive because Jesus is alive. Why do you need to practice persistent prayer to him today?

It is always too soon to give up on God.