Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A Journey of Hope This Christmas

Sunday we celebrated the first Sunday of Advent. The word advent is a version of a Latin term which means “coming.” We use these weeks leading up to Christmas as a chance to look forward to our celebration of the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, the light of the world, our Savior. Our first week focused specifically on the gift of hope that we find in Jesus, especially during dark seasons of life. 

Hebrews 6:19 says, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” I love the imagery of an anchor. An anchor does not remove us from the storm or moving water; it secures us in the midst of it.

Everyone relates to the need for hope. Sometimes life overwhelms us. Financial stresses, relational dysfunctions, memories of loss, broken hearts, sickness, etc. We’ve all been there at some time or another. If you find yourself in a season of hopelessness, let me encourage you with three thoughts: acknowledging the darkness around us, embracing the wait, and committing to the journey.

Acknowledge the Darkness

It does no good to say there is no darkness. We have to acknowledge where we are. 

Before Easter of this year, I knew something was wrong with my body, so I went to the doctor, who told me I was simply getting older and should expect some of the symptoms I was describing. Two weeks later I went back and insisted something was not right. After some persistence, he ordered an x-ray and an ultrasound, and found I had a tumor in my bladder and it needed to be removed. I could have said, “There’s nothing wrong…” “I am not sick…” “I am a child of God…” and denied the symptoms. I could have done that all the way up to stage four cancer.

We have to acknowledge we in a dark place before we can completely turn to God. Sick people seek out doctors because they admit they are sick. Weak people seek assistance because they recognize their weakness. Sinners repent because they come to the conclusion that they are sinners and are separated from God. Facing the darkness and calling it what it is allows us to see true light. It’s when we acknowledge the darkness that we can see the star that leads us on the journey.

Embrace the Wait

No one likes waiting. We live in a culture that does everything possible to reduce the amount of time we spend waiting! Waiting is uncomfortable. Waiting is lonely. Waiting takes longer than you think or desire, but waiting is also a time of self-discovery – your weaknesses and your strengths and your need for God. Waiting is also a time of God-discovery - we discover we can trust him, and we can hear his voice.

Furthermore, waiting shapes our character and teaches us more than we will every learn from getting what we want instantly. Do you know how you learn the meaning of endurance? You have to endure. Endurance changes you.

Advent is a time of waiting. While it feels unnatural, there is great benefit in embracing this season. The waiting reminds us of where our hope is set. It allows us the time and focus to hear the voice of God, the promise that our hope will be fulfilled. Waiting deepens our faith in God and creates a deeper hunger for Him.

Commit to the Journey

My natural images of waiting involves sitting around; one involves moving. But the concept of waiting throughout the Bible is one of active waiting. We wait with expectant hearts, but we are constantly moving forward on our journey.

Priest, professor, writer, and theologian, Henri J. M. Nouwen described the waiting we see in Scripture as very active. In Waiting for God, he wrote, “Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it.” As the psalmist encouraged: “Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord” (Psalm 31:24).

When I am waiting for light to shine through my darkness, I have a few key passages of scripture I run to.

Psalms 121:1–4, “I lift up my eyes to the hills— where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”

Lamentations 3:19–26, “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.”

Isaiah 40:28–31 "Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

These passages are filled with hope and life. They remind us that we are not alone in our darkness.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit!” (Romans 15:13)

To watch Sunday's message online, click: MESSAGE

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