Sunday Gathering – Hope: The Promise of Christmas – Jonny Greaves
This week we continue our Christmas / Advent celebrations with Jonny Greaves
Good morning everybody. Good morning.
I've been given a brilliant topic to speak on this morning.
I've been asked to speak about hope.
The title that I was given and told to go crazy with and used my imagination was
hope, the promise of Christmas. Hopefully I'll have some slides up.
Be great. Hope the promise of Christmas was the title that I was given
and I immediately wanted to change it. So if you speak immediately to the next
slide, I changed it to Christmas, the promise of hope.
Because I thought that works even better. I'm going to be talking a lot about hope.
So hopefully we'll clarify what that means a bit as we speak.
But also we'll clarify why Christmas is the promise of hope.
What's so special about Christmas? Why is it important?
Why is it significant? Why is it not the end of the story?
Why is it actually the beginning of our story as well?
But why does it bring hope not just for us but to the whole world?
That's what we're going to be talking about this morning.
I hope it's a funny word. It's one of those ones that you read at a lot in the Bible
and we use it a lot in English and they often don't mean the same kind of thing.
I hope most commonly in everyday usage is a fingers crossed kind of
I hope Shuffle United don't let us down again.
Which they didn't, they were, they were.
It's that kind of feeling of I hope circumstances improve a bit.
And that's part of the meaning of the word in the Bible, the way the Bible uses it.
For full disclosure a lot of what I'm going to say is based on a really good Bible project video
I'm flushing it out a bit because they do it all in six minutes, way more six think than me.
I highly recommend it. They do a brilliant video on some of the important words in the Bible
and one of them is all about hope.
And the way that they describe it at the beginning to try to get to terms with
the way that the word is used especially in the Old Testament to start with
is that it's about waiting.
Hope is a word is about waiting for something.
In particular waiting for something that's going to be a bit better,
something, sorry, for situation to improve.
So it's waiting for an improving in our circumstances in our situation.
And we found the first slide up.
It's a word that describes the feeling that you get.
It's waiting for something better.
I don't know how well you can read that. Yes, hopefully.
I can see that.
And so hope is waiting for something that's better.
And the best way that I could describe it was I had experience where I met a young man from Germany.
Guys, when we used to work at the Oaks Holiday Center, people would come over and do a gap year.
I met a young man who just moved to the UK.
We're getting to know each other.
I've been asked to mentor him. Come alongside him and encourage him.
And things like that.
And I said, we should go get some pizza or we can order it in.
I bring along a dominoes pizza menu.
If they have a drop through your door, it seems they're going for ever these days, don't they?
There's like a million pages and thousands and thousands of options.
I said, we should get pizza.
Let me show you some of our options.
There's so many. There's pepperoni.
And my friend, this is how I got to know him very quickly.
I said, there's pepperoni. He said, yes.
I said, I haven't read the other 55 options. He said, nope.
You said pepperoni. I like pepperoni.
That is what I'm going to have.
I can believe it.
And so some of us, I don't know how many people will feel attention.
When you read a menu and immediately stop at the very first one,
there could be a million great things on there.
They might put, I don't know, multises on it or something.
I don't know.
There could be loads of different options.
And he didn't want to hear it. He said, that one, I don't absolutely hate.
And so that's the one I'll go with. That was his option.
But however, how many people, when you're reading a menu, for example,
or you're ordering pizza or something that you like, can't do that?
Feel the tension.
Isn't there tension when you say, what if there's something better?
What about all the other millions of options?
What about the anchovies and the people of chicken pineapple in it?
All that kind of thing. What about all those?
There's a tension.
And that is part of what the word hope is about.
There's a tension between your circumstances and in what you feel
and what you're anticipating.
That's just a part of it.
But less so much, a fingers crossed kind of feeling that as we look down
are menu that you're hoping that the best, the last option is going to be, I don't know,
something tailor-made for you. They let you do that, don't they?
They'll let you pick whatever you want. Pick your meatballs and lots of olives
or whatever people of my kids love all this.
There's a tension in hope as we are awaiting, anticipating something better.
I was anticipating something better than just pepperoni.
Personally, it's fine.
But anyway, there is a tension to it.
And in the Bible, when they talk about hope, hope is a tension because hope is not just about circumstances.
When we talk about getting your fingers crossed and hoping that she'll feel united or win
or choose insert team here, the tension that you feel is not just about circumstances
because hope in the Bible is not the same thing as optimism.
Optimism is that feeling.
It's, I really hope, things will get better than here.
But you're basing it on circumstances.
Circumstances now may not be great.
They could be terrible.
You could be bottom of the table if you're Shepard United.
But we're hoping for something better.
That's often how we get used in English.
And the Bible saying it's not the same thing as optimism
because it's not about the circumstances.
There's a tension between the circumstances that we're in
and the circumstances that we're hoping for but hope isn't found in circumstances.
So that's the first thing that's really important to understand.
We're not talking about optimism here.
We're talking about something different.
We're talking about the strain and the tension that is felt between what is our current circumstances
and something better.
And isn't that just what the story of the beginning of the Bible is all about?
In particular, we're going to look at a particular bit that I love,
which actually comes after Jesus is born.
It's called a alert in case you didn't know.
But anyway, we're going to talk a lot about that tension that was felt.
Israel were at a tense point in their history at the time when Jesus arrived.
If you think it's co-incidence when Jesus showed up,
I don't think that's what the Bible says.
The Bible says there's been a tension for a long time
that Israel had been waiting for something
and they've been waiting and waiting and they've been putting their hope
not in the situation, not in their circumstances, but in someone.
And not just anyone.
They've been put in their trust in God.
Almost every circumstance, if you read through the Old Testament
and you see the word hope, it'll be talking about hope in God.
Talking about hope in someone.
Can we have the next slide up?
It talks about hope as something that God is going to be the one who's going to do it.
This is from Psalm 130.
It says, Israel, put your hope in Yahweh for with Yahweh is unfailing love
and with Him is full redemption.
He Himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.
The Old Testament is full of hope and the one true hope is in God Himself.
Israel found themselves in terrible circumstances at the point when Jesus was born.
The national identity, the national independence were all completely obliterated and destroyed.
They were oppressed, they were persecuted, they had been invaded and occupied by enemy forces.
And the all they had to hold on to was the hope and the promise.
But the writers of the Old Testament looking back to everything that God had done
and looking forward and trusting not in circumstances, but in God's character
said the one thing that we can hope in is God Himself.
That He's going to be the one who's going to come.
Because He's the only one who can turn around the nation of Israel's situation.
It's not us, we can't do it.
It's only Him.
And that's why you read amazing verses like this, like in Psalm 130.
He's talking about God is the one that we put our hope in because He is the one who can turn around our circumstances.
So the next slide talks about, we've talked about this tension that hope is all about
hoping and waiting for something better.
The thing that we're waiting for and the thing that we're hoping in is we are trusting in God's character.
It's who He is that the writer of the Psalm puts His trust in.
It's who He is and what He has done and what He's going to do.
Isn't that always the story of the Bible?
This is what I love so much about the Old Testament.
It's full of stories that all the other people in the Bible point back to and say,
look at that. Look at what God did in the desert.
Look how God rescued His people from Egypt.
Look at Noah.
Boy did Noah have to do a lot of waiting.
We're talking about waiting for better.
The story of Noah is a man who sat on a boat for a long, long time while it rained.
And then it stopped raining and he sat on a boat a long, long time after.
And then it talks about the boat coming to rest on top of a mountain.
And guess what God said?
Not just yet.
He's still waiting and the waters are receiving and he's sending out birds and then they're doing whatever they're doing,
flying around or coming back or not coming back.
I lose track.
But anyway, he's waiting and he's waiting for something better but he's putting his trust in God.
And this is a story that proves to us and shows us what is hope like.
He's trusting in God's character because God is a God who cares about people and wants to rescue them.
The story of Noah is a brilliant example where it starts with all of the problems of the world.
And then it finishes when Noah comes out the boat and he praises God.
God says to him, the human heart has not changed.
The problem is still there.
But what isn't going to change is who I am and what I'm going to do.
His rescue plan and God's intention to care for and rescue people.
But they're going to have to wait.
That's what we're going to have to do.
But the reason that we wait and the reason that we hope is because we trust in God's character.
Can we have the next slide up?
And this is a story about trust.
That hope and trust are completely interlinked and together.
So as I talked about when Jesus came along, it wasn't a coincidence when this period of history happened that things were really terrible and have been terrible for a really long time.
I want you to use your imagination a bit now.
Imagine you're really old.
It doesn't matter how old you are now.
Some of us it might not take too much imagination.
So for those of you who think I already am, take your current age and add at least five.
There you go.
At least that old.
If not older.
See how good your imagination is.
Imagine you're really, really old and that you've been waiting a very, very long time for God to keep His promises.
There's a story in Luke chapter two of a man who says was pretty old.
But he was a man who had come at a long line of his parents and his grandparents and all the generations before him who'd been waiting and waiting and waiting and every generation had not seen.
They felt that tension.
They felt the hope that they hadn't seen what it was leading to and the only thing they had to hold on to was God's character.
And that's what they've been doing.
And in Luke chapter two, when after Jesus is born, Mary and Joseph, after a period of waiting, take the baby to Jerusalem and to fulfill what the Lord required, which means they're dedicating their first born son to God, which is talked back back in Exodus.
And when they get there, they meet a man.
They meet a guy called Simeon.
And then we get a little brief history of who this man is.
And if we have the next slide up.
Simeon was a man, sorry, there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon.
And he was righteous and devout.
He was waiting for the consolation of Israel and the Holy Spirit was on him.
It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Messiah.
Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts.
When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God.
I'm going to look at what he says in a minute.
Can you imagine being really, really old and being at the end of a long line of people who've been waiting, waiting, waiting,
with nothing to hold on to apart from who God is, trust in his character and in his faithfulness.
But with nothing to see for it, their circumstances were dire.
The circumstances were awful.
The temple had been knocked down and ripped apart and torn to pieces and rebuilt so many times.
As we read later in the stories of Jesus' life, the temple is not what it used to be.
Even though it's all very fancy and shiny in Jesus' era.
When he goes into it, Jesus dispairs at the state of this temple.
And yet, all they've got to hold on to is God's character.
And this is exactly who Simeon is. It says he's a devout man.
He cares about who God is.
But most of all, he's trusting in God for the reconciliation, sorry what's the word, I used to consolation, that's the word.
The consolation of Israel, that's the one the NLV uses.
It talks about bringing back together something that's been broken.
He is the one, he's a kind of person just like so many people in that era of Israel who put their trusting God in who he is and what he was like.
And this is what they're waiting for, something to come and rescue their people.
Someone to come and do it and as we saw it in Psalm 130, the hope is in God.
The hope is in him to come.
And this old old man, here's God's voice, say, you're the end of the line.
Generations before you are waited but you're not going to have to wait.
The generation after you isn't going to have to wait.
You are going to see, you are going to see the Lord's Messiah.
And then this old old man comes into the temple and meets a very young and potentially quite poor couple holding a very small baby.
This baby is a month old.
And he sees the baby and this is what he says.
Can we have the next slide up?
This is in Luke chapter 2 verse 29 to 32.
Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations.
A light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of your people, Israel.
This, this is why Christmas is the promise of hope.
This is why when an old man sees a young baby, he can pray.
This is an amazing prayer where he says, I can see it, even though the circumstances do not show you it.
You know, all of Jesus' life is full of people looking at him going, this guy, this situation, even his disciples, the whole story of his life.
Remember when Peter acknowledges him as the Messiah, all through his life, his followers didn't understand what he was doing.
They looked at the circumstances and said, how can this be God's plan?
How can this be what God is doing?
And yet, this old man holding this young baby can see my eyes have seen your salvation.
He's seen the rescue plan, even though it's only a month old.
And he knows it.
And God, by his spirit as revealed to this man, he says, this is what God is like.
God is a God who rescues and a God is a God who's not abandoned you.
And this is God in the flesh right here in front of you.
This is the crazy part of this story. He's a baby and he grows up as a man.
And yet the story says, this is God himself. Come to rescue Israel.
Come to give himself for them. Come to be the servant, not under savior at the same time.
It's an amazing story. I love it so much that this man is the one who sees one.
No one else can see because he's not looking at the circumstances.
He's not looking at this baby and saying, this baby could be a strapping lad one day.
He's saying, God is the one who is faithful.
And he has told me this is his salvation.
This is what it looks like.
And so I'm going to put my trust in him.
And guess what? There was more waiting to be done.
Even though Simeon had been promised he'd see the Messiah,
he did not see the rescue plan fulfilled in his lifetime.
He still went on to glory saying, I can put my trust in God
because I still can't see it in the circumstances.
But I can trust in the one who did it.
Can we have the next slide up please?
So this is where hope really kicks into gear and this is why Christmas is the price of hope
because hope is found in Jesus.
Hope, the tension of a better set of circumstances,
of a better world, of a better life, of new life, and new hope.
This is how the gospel writers describe everything that came about.
It's all found in Jesus.
I think no one would doubt that this story of Simeon is an amazing one,
but it's also one full of unexpected and strange circumstances.
And as I just pointed out, Jesus' whole life was full of unusual and unexpected circumstances.
No one was expecting this guy to be the Messiah.
People who knew him and grew up with him said, this guy, the carpenter guy from Nazareth,
how can it be him?
And so many times when his disciples really struggled with a lot of things that he said,
when he talked about sacrifice, he talked about giving of yourself,
he talked about taking up your cross and following him,
all the challenges of what it means to follow Jesus, excuse me.
And they're all found in him, but it's an unusual set of circumstances.
And this is the amazing thing about hope, that the hope that we have in Jesus
reveals that his life and his death and his resurrection are the surprising answer
to the problem that we have in this world.
That God said, back in Psalm 130 and promised that Yahweh himself would be the one who came
to deliver Israel and he sent Jesus and Jesus willingly gave his life.
And he died.
And the story says, this is it, this is God coming to rescue his people.
And all the people that were there watching it didn't see it.
The story of the road to Emmaus happens after that.
Jesus has already died and his followers are saying, I don't understand.
I don't understand what just happened.
We thought he was going to do it.
We thought he was going to be the consolation of Israel, just like what Simon was waiting for.
But we don't see it.
And then he comes back to life.
He brings life in all of its fullness, in ways that people don't even understand,
can't get their head around, that Jesus is death, destroys death itself.
It brings life like no one had expected, like no one has ever seen before,
where the only people who could see it were the people who trusted and hoped in God alone
and in his character, because God is the one who can rescue and reconcile anything.
Just like in that story of Noah, the circumstances of humanity and all the problems look the same,
but in the cross something changed.
The Jesus is the one who rescued his people by dying.
He rescued them by sacrificing himself by putting his place, taking their place,
putting himself in the place of others.
So we talked about how there's a tension in hope.
We talked about hope is a trust not in circumstances, but in God's character.
And then we talked about how it's found in Jesus alone.
Can we have the next slide?
It's about truth.
Jesus is the truth.
And the truth is that hope, hope is this word that we've been talking about.
Hope continues after Jesus' life and his death and his resurrection.
The New Testament writers talk about living hope, that we have a living hope,
that the truth is that because of what Christ has done,
death itself no longer holds victory.
Death itself no longer holds control over us, that death is something that we can have victory over,
that amazing verse in Romans 8 that says, we are more than conquerors, even over death,
because of him who loved us.
And the truth is that the hope that we now have we hold onto Jesus,
because we still feel that tension, don't we?
We still feel the challenge, because circumstances are still hard.
Because circumstances are not any easier, are they?
It's really, really hard, especially at this time of year for some of us.
Two years ago, I had to say goodbye to a really good friend of ours.
Many of you all know Lou, who became a member of this church, who was a neighbor of ours.
And we got to become friends with her and see her journey and see how her life was transformed by Jesus.
It was an amazing story.
We saw her battle with cancer, and then I had to go and visit her in hospital
on what was the last time that I saw her.
And I had to find words to speak to my friend when I realized,
and I was so blessed to even be able to realize this, but I knew this was going to be the last time
that this side of heaven I was going to be speaking to her.
And I had to know what to say, which was hard.
And the last words that I said to Lou were, Jesus has gotten you.
And I didn't know what to say.
And to be honest, it was a weird feeling.
I didn't know if I felt like I meant it at the time.
But the feeling that I had in that moment of terrible sadness and loss was hope.
And it didn't feel nice.
It felt hard.
Because the circumstances were real.
The circumstances of loss and of suffering and of pain and of having to say goodbye to someone.
They were real.
I knew that we had this amazing journey together.
The God had brought her into our life.
She had become a really close friend of our whole family.
We loved her dearly, and we were going to have to say goodbye.
But I felt hope, and it didn't feel good.
But I felt hope, because I knew I could trust in God's character.
I knew who Jesus was.
And I knew the truth.
And the truth was that Jesus had got her.
And there was nothing that could change that.
That circumstances didn't take into account the love of Jesus.
And that was hard.
And it still is.
And it's still really, really hard.
Christmas is a really tough time of year for so many people.
It's a time of great celebration and joy.
It's a time of great anticipation.
We feel that tension and excitement.
I was going to say a really good story of that is Advent calendars are all about a countdown to an exciting time.
It's so exciting, in fact, that when Zach, my middleist son, got an Advent calendar,
he was so excited to open it and told that he had to wait five days.
He made an Advent calendar calendar.
A countdown to the start of his countdown calendar.
He was so excited.
He was going to bed every night saying, I can cross off another day until I get to open my Advent calendar.
He was very excited.
This is a time of year that's full of anticipation.
It's full of excitement.
It's also full of challenges.
Because our circumstances are still here.
We're talking about hope.
We're talking about God being faithful.
But we don't always see it.
We have really, really challenges.
And we've been praying for some this morning.
And we're going to continue to.
So, so what do we do with that?
But I want to really encourage us all is to say, God is faithful.
And God is the one we can put our trust in.
And we know that because of the life of Jesus.
And so I encourage you, no matter what your circumstances are,
you can have that hope.
You can put your hope in Jesus.
Can we have the next slide, please?
I forgot. I've got more stuff to read, am I?
Yeah, this is from Romans chapter 8.
I already talked about another part of this chapter.
Here's what the writer of Romans says, Paul.
He says, I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing
with the glory that will be revealed in us.
For the creation waits in eager expectation
for the children of God to be revealed.
Why is there still hope?
Why are we still waiting?
What are we still waiting for?
If we're waiting for Jesus, and he's already come,
why are we still waiting?
This is the exciting bit.
It's because if God, if Jesus is the one that we put our hope in,
the world puts its hope in you.
That's what this verse says.
That our hope is in Jesus.
But the world's hope is in us.
We are the hope of the world.
And there's a difference between the current circumstances in the world
and there's a yearning for something better.
And that's something better is us.
That God says that the whole world is waiting for the sons of God to be revealed.
Jesus came for you.
And the world is waiting.
And the thing is waiting for us.
And this is the amazing thing of what it means to follow Jesus.
Today, in spite of circumstances, we are that hope.
We are the hope of God.
And we are the hope for this world.
And that's challenging and it's scary, but it's so exciting too.
Because I love one of the things I love most about the Bible
and that God has revealed to me so much recently is that the bigger picture you have
of the amazing, incredible work that God is doing in the world,
that He is talking about rescuing all of creation through us.
That that means in your daily decisions and in minute to minute,
your life is hugely significant.
That because of everything that God is doing in all of creation,
it means that you are important.
And the decisions you make today are important.
And that means you can be hope today.
You can bring that hope into the life of others.
You can bring it into this world.
And this is exactly what he's talking about.
When God talks about the kingdom of God, when he talks about his family,
when he talks about the sons of God being revealed, that's us.
He's talking about a redeemed family of broken people.
We are not perfect.
Far from it, we are changed.
We are transformed by Jesus and by what he's done.
And he is the one who demonstrates what that means,
what it means to give of himself, what it means to spend himself fully for others.
But what it also means to be restored and renewed,
the resurrection hope that we see in Jesus' new life and new body as in us.
We have new life.
We have freedom.
Isn't that amazing?
The freedom in Christ's course has been so eye-opening for me.
And I think for many people who have been doing it,
because we've been spending so much time talking about all the ways
that the world tries to control us and the freedom that we have in Jesus.
You don't have to be controlled by anger.
You have hope.
The anger and pain and bitterness and loss.
All the hurt that's been done to you, all the hurt that you've done to others.
It can all be covered by the blood of Jesus.
And you've got new life, new life and a new hope, a living hope.
So as we're going to a time of reflection, I want us to pray together.
And then we're going to be thinking and spending some time waiting
as we're going to continue to do, because Jesus doesn't come back yet.
And that means he's got work for us to do.
That's what this time of waiting is.
That's why we talk about all the amazing truth of who Jesus is
and how he's changed the world and why we don't see it out the window all the time.
It's because we're waiting.
We're waiting for that glory to come and the hope is in us.
So as we reflect and we pray, I wanted to share,
it's actually two verses, smushed together.
And it is from Galatians chapter 2 and Colossians 1.
Graham Kendrick wrote this song and it was one of those things where
he says it's an amazing line and I try to look at the Bible and it's in two places.
So I'm going to smush them back together.
But he says this song lyric and it says,
the life that I now live no longer is my own.
It's Jesus lives in me, the hope of glory.
This is a great song.
And those are two verses together that talk about the hope that lives in us.
Jesus lives in us, the hope of glory.
Glory I could talk for another hour or so about what glory is.
That means it's about transformation, it's about the revealing of us to the world.
That's what glory is.
It's the fact that we are hoping in something better than our circumstances.
We still feel that tension and we still feel that hope because we trust in God's character.
And we know that when we look to Jesus, that is where true hope is.
Father, thank you God for the revelation of Jesus.
Thank you that we can be like Simeon and we can look at you and say our eyes have seen your salvation.
Father, we thank you that you are wanting to bring glory to your people and that you're wanting to reveal it to the whole world.
Hope for all the nations, hope for everyone and it's living in us.
Father, thank you for that privilege.
Thank you that we can know Jesus.
Thank you that you can change our lives and our circumstances in spite of what they might look like.
And because we know you, we know your character and we know that you are a God who is pulling us forward.
And that one day the glory of your children will be revealed.
Father, today we pray that you will give us courage to live with hope.
Father, over this Christmas period, I pray that you would give us courage, you would give us love.
You would make us be hope to those around us.
We be the evidence of hope.
Father, we thank you that there is no one in this room who is too old or too young to bear your witness.
We're all waiting for your glory to be revealed and that means you've got a job for us to do.
And thank you, Lord, that we are all significant to you, that there are none of us who are incapable of living for you.
Father, help us to see that today.
Help us to see it in our relationships.
Help us to see it in our workplaces.
Help us to see it in our families.
Help us to see the hope that we can bring and help us to be that light.
May we be the hope of God this Christmas.
And Jesus name. Amen.