Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 2:10–2:12
The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve
December 24, 2010
What are you hoping for this Christmas? That perfect gift for someone else, or maybe for yourself? Or maybe the perfect holiday with all the tasks completed so you can just sit back and enjoy a hassle-free Christmas? Perhaps what we’re hoping for is more challenging; maybe that this year there will indeed be “peace on earth, good will toward men,” beginning with those in our own family, and that the conflict between feuding family members will magically go away and instead of that conflict and fighting there will be reconciliation. What are you hoping for this Christmas? Maybe you’re hoping for the gift of healing for yourself or a loved one. Perhaps that hope seems so far away and out of reach that it’s impossible even to consider it, and so lest we get our hopes up only to see them dashed to pieces, we just suck it up and forge ahead.
In truth, a lot of hopes got dashed this year. The economy has a long way to go before things start to turn around for the average American. The price for a gallon of gas is now at $3.00 a gallon – the highest price ever seen at Christmas. People continue to lose their jobs and homes continue to be foreclosed on here, and just about anywhere you go in the nation. Pay increases are not only not happening, but people feel fortunate just to have a job. It’s tough times as we close out this first decade of the twenty-first century. So, what are you hoping for this Christmas? And will that hope be fulfilled?
On this Christmas Eve, I want to share with you a hope fulfilled, and that is the birth of Jesus. For countless generations, God’s people nurtured the hope that God would send them the Promised One: the One who would deliver them from their enemies; the One who would rescue them from all evil and oppression; the One who would make all things new. Even in the darkest of times – times much darker than our own current situation – they kept this hope alive, looking for that Promised One, the Anointed One. Tonight, we who lives this side of that birth in Bethlehem 2000 years ago see hope fulfilled with the coming of Jesus. It’s like we sang in that Christmas carol: “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by; Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light; The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
There is a fundamental difference between hope – the noun, and hoping – the verb. Hope is that to which we cling and hold fast, even in the darkest days when all hope seems lost. A well-known hymn puts it this way: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; no merit of my own I claim, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand” (Lutheran Book of Worship #293, stanza 1). Hoping, on the other hand, can often mean simply wishing. “I hope that I’ll get what I want for Christmas this year.” “I’m hoping that I’ll have my whole family with me for the holidays.” “I’m hoping the Redskins will have a winning season.” Wait! That last one really is hoping for too much! In and of themselves, there’s nothing wrong with these things, but hoping is not hope. Hope is what is given to us; it is what sustains us, keeps us going, enables us to persevere and not give up. My friends, Jesus is that hope, as God’s Word tells us: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11-13). My friends, let us put our hope in Christ Jesus who has come once as the Child of Mary born in Bethlehem, and who is coming again, not as a helpless infant, but as the King and Judge of all creation. The hope we now have in Jesus whom we cannot see will be fulfilled on that great and final day when not only we, but the whole world, will see him in his almighty glory and power. It is our hope in Christ that gives us hope for that final day.
If we’re going to put our hope in something or someone, we want to know that this thing or this person is trustworthy, dependable, and certain. There’s nothing worse than having our hope and trust betrayed. Talk to those who trusted in Bernie Madoff, and whose life savings are gone. On this Christmas Eve, amidst candlelight, beautiful decorations, and beloved carols, I invite you to put your hope in the One who entered our broken and sinful world in order to live, suffer, die, and rise again for us and for our salvation. I invite you to put your trust in Jesus, in whose birth we rejoice and celebrate. In him, our hope is fulfilled.
Many of us come here tonight bearing some kind of burden – personal or family problems, financial concerns, health issues, major decisions to be made. Jesus’ hands are open to receive us and all of our burdens. Those tiny infant hands reaching out for his mother in Bethlehem’s manger will one day be nailed to the rough wood of the cross. God’s loving purpose moves Jesus from Bethlehem’s manger to Calvary’s cross where he will offer his own flesh and blood – his very life – as the atoning sacrifice for all our sins. This is the kind of God that we have, and that God is the One in whom we place our hope, now and always.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those whom he favors” (Luke 2:14). Thanks be to God. Amen.