It’s Christmas time again. Many people spend Black Friday getting up at 3 am to go stand in line at the mall for “deals” (standing outside the mall at 3 am waiting to get in does not sound like a good deal to me- it sounds like Dante’s 9th level of Hell- most of the time if I’m in a mall, I’m trying to figure out my quickest exit strategy). On the day after Thanksgiving, I’m usually spending the day setting up Christmas decorations at home.
Part of our outdoor decorations are these three metal angels that have poles attached to anchor in the dirt, a foot or two above the surface, so they kind of look like they’re hovering over my yard (which is nowhere near as cheesy or creepy as it sounds as I write it). Each of the angels is carrying a little banner, with one word written on each: “Hope”, “Joy”, and “Peace”.
I was thinking about these three words. Almost every time you see or hear a Christmas advertisement, talk about Christmas, or even think about it, sometime in the conversation one of these three words will come up. Most of the time, all three of them will, altogether at once. These words are so commonly associated with Christmas that we often don’t stop to think what they really mean.
And, that’s a shame. Because as they pertain to the Christmas story, these words, to use a phrase from The Princess Bride’s Inigo Montoya, “do not mean what you think it means (insert Spanish accent).” They don’t carry the meaning we typically give them in every day language. They are, in fact, three of the most powerful words ever given mankind. They are earth-shattering, life-changing. They are three of the greatest gifts we have been given as our birthright, as children saved by the blood of Jesus. They are way, WAY better than gold, frankincense, myrrh, or the XBox One, and understanding what they are helps us appreciate all the more the precious gift of the coming of our Lord.
For example, when we think of “hope,” most of the time we think of wishful thinking, like, last week, when I said, “I hope the Baylor Bears will beat TCU.” I was expressing a wish, a vague desire that something would happen, but a fairly unsubstantiated one, given that the poor guy who was playing quarterback had been cleaning Coach Art Briles’ pool two weeks before. “I hope they have chocolate sprinkled donuts at the store today.” “I hope I get an ‘A’ on this test (when I didn’t study).” So, hope as we know it is either this fleeting wish with very little support, or some kind of power of positive thinking nonsense, that if I just believe something to be true, despite all evidence to the contrary, it will somehow work out for me.
None of these ideas are biblical hope. When we say “our hope is in Jesus,” we’re talking about something completely different. Hope, in the gospel sense, is a deep-seated conviction in the power, the character, in the sovereignty of God. As Larry Osborne has said, when Paul refers to the return of Jesus as our “blessed hope,” he means that we are so certain of Jesus’ return to come back and get us that we have organized our lives around that hope- it influences our priorities and standards. It even allows us to be persecuted in His Name.
Hope is what I feel deep in my bones when the world seems to be exploding around me. Most of my life I spend zoomed in, taking one day, one minute at a time. When I do that, life seems overwhelming. Everyone needs something from me; the press of phone, of email, of text messages wanting immediate responses clamor for my attention; people I love and care about seem to be getting sick, dying, and suffering in rapid succession. The world seems to be deteriorating, and although I know it has always seemed to be deteriorating, and it’s mostly just me that’s deteriorating, this moment seems to be the worst. Sin seems to be on the rise, although I know that Babylon was and, biblically, will always be the high water mark for great sin, I didn’t live there, so, for me, this seems to be it. It all seems crushing…
In those moments, hope is my zoom out lens. Hope is what allows me to step back, and to realize that the God of all Creation has got this. He has given me what He has for me today, and He has given me the resources to deal with it. He has given me mercy, and love, and grace, and all good things. He is at work constantly in the world, and evil’s rise is merely a momentary offensive surge in what will ultimately be its predetermined, crushing defeat. Hope reminds me that, when Jesus says “the gates of Hell will not prevail” against the Church, the visual image He’s painting for us is not us playing defense, but evil itself, huddled behind crumbling walls, unable to withstand the relentless onslaught of the gospel of Jesus Christ, wielded by the children of light. And, you and I are one of those kids. We’re not to be scared of Satan or worried about Him. Hope means he has no power over us that God doesn’t give him or we don’t give him, and when we fight him back, he will run in cowardice from us.
That’s the mighty gift of hope: not some Precious Moments, Cloud 9 bundle of cotton candy wishes, but unstoppable fire raining down from Heaven upon us and at our disposal from the Almighty, Everlasting God. That’s your power.
And, that’s just Christmas gift number one. Pretty good, huh?