Can we enter the new year as people of hope? It might be important to distinguish between hope and optimism. Optimism is based on our assessment of things as they are. Hope is based on the promises of God and the coming of Christ. Hope arises out of the realities we celebrate at Christmas – God has come to be with us and to work out a great purpose of salvation. God’s Spirit is working today to effect the peace, the joy, the courage that our world so desperately needs. When we become part of that movement we have a hope that nothing can extinguish.
Who would think that what was needed
to transform and save the earth
might not be a plan or army,
proud in purpose, proved in worth?
Who would think, despite derision,
that a child should lead the way?
God surprises earth with heaven,
coming here on Christmas Day.
John L. Bell and Graham Maule
Church Hymnary No. 295
What a great message has resounded down through the ages from the prophet Isaiah: “Comfort my people,” says our God. “Comfort them!” Words that irresistibly bring to mind the strains of Handel’s Messiah. Words that echo through the ages, touching the soul in a remarkable way. The human reality is that we are always in need of comfort. Even when things are outwardly going very well, deep down there are raw places and sore places where comfort is greatly needed. And often enough things are not going particularly well and then the announcement of comfort is needed all the more. Don’t miss out on the comfort that comes with Christmas!
Advent is a time of waiting – waiting for the coming of the Lord. Time to pause, time to reflect, time to stop and gaze in wonder at the gift of God in Jesus Christ. But this kind of waiting is not just a matter of being a spectator. It means living out the meaning of Christ’s coming in our own context. It is a time for action.
“In the seed, an apple tree” is a line in a modern hymn, reminding us that something very small might hold great potential. An apple seed might not look like much but it can produce hundreds of beautiful apples. Sometimes a human being can look very hopeless. But with God there is always hope. And God can take our lives and make them fruitful beyond anything we have imagined.
As we mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation at first sight the religious crisis that gripped Europe in the 16th century seems far removed from our crisis today. Yet, what if, deep down, our crisis is actually a crisis of the human person? What if the convulsions we see at the social and political levels are just the symptoms and that the heart of the matter is a crisis of the human person? What if the real underlying struggle is about what it means to be human, about what corrodes and subverts our humanity and about what might possibly rescue it at a moment when it is under threat? Then the Reformation’s message of God’s wonderful gift in Jesus Christ, freely given and received by faith, might be just what we most need to hear.
Peace must be dared, it is the great venture,
Peace must set out with hope as the crew.
Peace must take hold and sight a new landscape;
Peace must take risks when chances are few.
People of God, whatever your label,
Look to the Way, the Truth and the Light,
See in the life and challenge of Jesus
All that makes peace, all that makes right.
Shirley Erena Murray
C.S. Lewis once remarked, “Nothing that has not died will be resurrected.” There is no escaping the death language in the New Testament. Jesus used it – “if anyone would come after me he must take up his cross and follow me”. Paul used it – “you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” The Christian life is not a matter of making small improvements or minor adjustments. It is a matter of life from the dead.
A familiar picture on the west coast is a boat coming into harbour, sometimes from stormy seas. The apostle Paul used this as a picture of his experience of coming to faith. He had spent a long time trying to find salvation through his own efforts – those he recalled as dangerous stormy seas. Finally he discovered that salvation is God’s free gift in Jesus Christ that we can receive simply by faith – that was arriving in the safety of the harbour.
Making models can be great fun. Models can also serve a useful purpose – letting us see in small scale what a building or a bridge or a ship will be like. The Bible offers us models of faith – people who show us what it means to trust in God. Abraham is singled out as a prototype believer – God’s promise to him was impossible in human terms but he had the vision of faith to see that God could be trusted to do the impossible. With Abraham as our model we can trust in the God who raised Jesus from the dead.