Yesterday was filled with hopeful Christmas news. For example, Kanye West released his latest album, Jesus Is Born. Whether you like his music or not, it is encouraging to note the popularity of his gospel recordings.
Here’s another hopeful Christmas story: anyone who visited O’Brien’s Southern Diner in Ashland City, Tennessee, yesterday received a free meal. Owner Candice O’Brien Beasley has now given away free meals on Christmas for seven straight years. She is especially concerned about those who would otherwise be alone on Christmas.
And for those who ate too much at O’Brien’s Southern Diner or anywhere else: a new study reports that drinking four cups of coffee daily could reduce weight gain from a diet high in fat and sugar.
This Christmas week, we’ve been asking what Christmas can teach our post-Christian culture about Christ. On Monday, we focused on the power of Christmas. On Tuesday, we considered the humility of Christmas. Yesterday, we explored the grace of Christmas for our past. Today we’ll celebrate the hope of Christmas for our future.
What about tomorrow worries you today? Where do you most need the hope of Christmas?
The timing of hope
Why was Jesus born when he was born? Why not when the Jews were fighting to escape Egyptian slavery or the Babylonians were destroying the temple in Jerusalem? Why did he come when he did?
Jesus was born during one of the darkest periods in human history. The Roman Empire brought moral depravity on an unprecedented scale. All manner of sexual perversion was rampant; pagan gods were venerated and emperors were worshiped. Those perceived to be a threat to the Empire were eliminated. In fact, more than a million Christians were martyred by Rome in the first centuries of the faith.
Here’s the point: if Jesus would come where he did, when he did, he will come any time to anyone.
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 power of hope
Gabriel Marcel noted that “hope is for the soul what breathing is for the living organism.” G. K. Chesterton added: “There is one thing which gives radiance to everything. It is the idea of something around the corner.” Samuel Johnson observed: “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, Allied armies gathered up thousands of hungry, homeless children. They sheltered and fed them, but the children were afraid to go to sleep. Then a psychologist came up with the solution: the children 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 people 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?
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: “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 19:15–16).
When he returns, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10–11). And all it costs us to serve Jesus on earth will be more than repaid eternally in heaven.
In the meantime, the Christ of Christmas will find us anywhere, hear any prayer, meet any need, and lead any soul in whatever way is for God’s glory and our best.
My most meaningful Christmas present
What about the future is on your heart today? Because of Christmas, there is always hope.
But like all Christmas presents, hope must be opened.
The single most meaningful Christmas present I own is an old steering wheel and wheel cover. The wheel belonged to the 1966 Ford Mustang I drove in college; when it broke, I mounted it on my garage wall and have kept it ever since.
The reason is the leather 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. 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?