The Promise of Hope
Good morning, today we begin a brand-new sermon series for this Advent season called, “The Promise.” As the church celebrates the four themes of Advent over the coming weeks, which culminate on Christmas Day, we will discover a God who keeps His promises. His promises give us hope, peace, joy, and love. 
We are literally weeks away from the most wonderful time of the year. Christmas is coming, how many of you began the countdown to Christmas as soon as last year’s Christmas was over? You know the kind of people I am talking about. They keep their lights on their house year-round and pretend it’s because it’s too much work to take them down and then put them up each year. The kind who play Christmas music all summer long, oops, that’s me. Maybe you aren’t that extreme, but most everyone can relate to the feeling of the anticipation of Christmas. I remember as a child making those paper ring chains. It was exciting, as each day leading up to Christmas you would break one of the rings until Christmas Eve finally arrived. 
It seemed as if those chains were a mile long, and each time you would break a link, two would grow in its place. Oh, and the presents that would sit under the tree just begging for me to shake them and precisely weigh them to determine what on earth awaited me on Christmas Day. Trying to sleep on Christmas Eve? Simply difficult! But that is part of the magic of Christmas, isn’t it? The anticipation of the holiday is as enjoyable as the day itself. 
The truth is, waiting isn’t easy. But waiting is at the very heart of the Advent season. In fact, the word advent—which comes from the Latin word adventus actually means, “the coming” or “the arrival.” Technically there are four weeks leading up to Christmas Day, we begin five weeks ahead because one of the Sundays we plan for our Children’s Christmas pageant. For hundreds of years people have celebrated both the birth of Jesus Christ in His first coming, and also the promise of His future arrival or second coming. At the center of our faith is the belief that when Jesus Christ was born in a manger, He started something beautiful and new right in the middle of our mess. 
Through His life, death, and resurrection, He would restore the world to the way God first intended. With His arrival came the four themes of Advent: hope, peace, joy, and love. And, as we make our way toward Christmas Day together, we will be celebrating these powerful themes. 
Today, we want to visit the theme of hope. Hope is a word we use often during the Christmas season. I hope this tree fits, I hope I get what I want for Christmas, or I hope it snows this year. We have lost the depth of the theme of hope when our hopes are really just wishful thinking about trivial things. 
This, however, is not Scripture’s understanding of the word hope. In 1 Peter, the writer uses the word hope over and over. In chapter 1, verse 13, we are given a bit of a summary of this word.
Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.
Most of the time, when we talk about hope, it is in terms of the future, but it also has a lot to do with the present. Peter uses the phrase “with minds that are fully sober”—some translations say “prepare your minds for action” and this is translated literally “gird up the loins of your mind.” This phrase comes from an ancient form of dress for men in the Middle East. Men would wear a long outer shirt that would stretch all the way down to their ankles. This made it pretty hard to move quickly or to respond to a treacherous situation. So, to “gird up your loins” meant you would literally grab up your long outer shirt and tuck it into your belt and be ready for action. So, our hope is not just meant to be something that only impacts our future, but it should impact our present as well. As we recognize that our future is shaped by the present, we should be fully aware of both. Hope means that we are fully prepared for what is to come, both in the present and the future. 
Our hope is not set in some ambiguous optimism for no reason. Our hope is set in specific moments in history. For example, the arrival of Jesus Christ as a baby and His life, death, and resurrection were moments in history. Hope is about living right now in the light of a future promise. This hope is about restructuring the way we look at the world, not as it is right now, but as it will be when Christ comes to set all things right.
I have a dryer that makes a metal against metal screech every time you push the on button. It’s the kind of screech many of you bristle at when someone slides their nails down the chalkboard. The heating element still works so we keep using it. However, after Pastor Appreciation Month, I have hope that after this weekend, I will no longer have to cringe when I turn the dryer on, thanks to this congregation. For the past couple of weeks I have in my possession the receipt for a new dryer from Louis Doe’s. It has been purchased and is waiting for me to pick it up. Somehow the screech hasn’t bothered me as much these past weeks because of that receipt. 
Everytime I hear the screech I am reminded of how much my congregation cares for me and as soon as time allows, a new dryer will be in my mudroom. I am finding joy, rather than grief, as I recognize that my situation is going to change. Thank you for your gift of hope.
A mark of almost every person within the Christmas story is that they were full of hope about the fulfillment of a historic promise. 
We read in Isaiah 9:2, 
The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
The Old Testament holds many promises, or prophecies, about the coming of Jesus. Each one helped sustain the Jewish people. Because they believed rescue was coming, it helped them live day-to-day. In a world that was full of deep darkness, there was a light coming. 
There is an old man named Simeon within the pages of Scripture. Simeon is a wonderful Advent character as he is a perfect example of someone who has oriented his entire life around a future promise given to him by God. Isaiah 9:2 would have been a centering prayer for Simeon. After Jesus’s birth, Mary and Joseph, Jesus’s parents, took their newborn son to the temple to participate in some of the traditional Jewish customs of the day. One of the main reasons to travel to the temple was to dedicate and consecrate baby Jesus to the Lord. When they arrived at the temple, Simeon was there as well.
Some traditions believe that Simeon may have been around 112 years old. According to Luke 2, Simeon was promised that he would not die until he saw the Messiah in the flesh. His life would be spared until he set eyes on the Anointed One. By the prompting of the Spirit, Simeon is at the temple at the time Jesus and His family arrive. When Simeon sees Jesus, he knows immediately who he is. He is overcome by joy and hope as he realizes that this is the One he has been waiting for, the one the world has been waiting for. Simeon takes the baby Jesus into his arms and recites this beautiful prayer. 
Can you even imagine what Simeon would have felt? To know that the thing he had hoped for so long had finally come to pass. Simeon, in his many years, had seen many painful times in Israel’s history. He saw the Romans conquer and occupy his people and his land. He saw a bloody civil war. He saw multiple revolutions by the Israelite people be crushed. Yet in the midst of these and other difficult moments in history, Simeon held out hope. He still believed that God was not done and had not quit on them. He believed the Messiah, the deliverer, was still on His way. And in Luke 2, Simeon stands at the temple holding the promised Messiah: the One through whom the world would be rescued. 
Simeon shows us that hope is birthed out of a deep longing and a desperate need for God’s presence and God’s comfort. Luke tells us that Simeon was waiting at the temple for something very specific. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel. This word consolation means “encouragement” or “comfort.” 
This didn’t mean he was waiting for God’s pat on the back or a few nice words. This phrase was in reference to chapters in the book of Isaiah. For hundreds of years Israel had been defeated and destroyed by many different nations—the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and then currently the Romans. These chapters in Isaiah were written right in the middle of those difficult times. When these chapters in Isaiah were written and they pointed to a coming comfort through the Messiah that God would send, many would look around and be discouraged because that was not the situation at the time. But these were promises that one day things would change. They could have hope, comfort, and encouragement that God would come through. 
The word that Luke uses for waiting in this passage is the Greek word prosdechomai. It literally means to give access to one’s self—it’s the kind of waiting you do from the deepest parts of yourself—it’s a waiting that involves a sort of pain—an awareness of our deep need for something. It’s a sort of waiting that hurts. Simeon’s hope—his expectancy—was birthed out of his awareness of his deep need for God’s comfort and healing. 
During these weeks leading up to Christmas, I would encourage you to allow yourself to feel the deep need you have for God. Many of us, when we get a sense of our need, just fill it with shopping, accomplishments, parties, denial, or substance abuse. Instead of leaning into our deepest need for God’s comfort and healing in our lives, we simply try to distract ourselves, and in the end, we miss the hope that is offered in Jesus Christ. When we do this, we are living but we are not really alive. Look around you, engage with the Advent season, and allow yourself to hope that your current circumstance that brings pain can be changed and restored by the arrival, or the coming, of Christ into our lives. 
The ancient prayer of Advent is “Come, Lord Jesus, come.” In fact, some of the final words of the Bible in the book of Revelation are “Come, Lord Jesus, come.” How badly do you want that? How aware are you of your need for God’s comfort and God’s healing in your life? 
May this Advent season be different than ever before. Don’t allow yourself to distract or self-soothe. 
Wrestle with your pain and come face-to-face with the brokenness of the world. It is only then that we see fully the emptiness of our normal Christmas hustle and bustle. We have been settling for less than is available to us. Out of a deep longing can come the comfort and hope of Jesus. 
Hope is found in our deepest longing, but our hope also comes from a person. 
In 1 Peter we are told that our hope is not set in some kind of empty wishful thinking. This is amazing news, because if it was, then our hope ends in despair or disappointment. But our hope is set in Jesus Christ. Not our 401(k), not some relationship, not a job, not some president, not a good medical report. Our hope is in Jesus and His promised arrival in the future to restore all that is broken. 
As you read through the New Testament, many people who come in contact with Jesus miss the significance of who He really was. Even though the writings in the Old Testament pointed to Him, the Jewish people still missed the Messiah when He arrived. But not Simeon. Simeon knew when he saw Jesus, even at just a month old, that he was the Anointed One who was promised to come and bring hope, peace, joy, and love. 
So why did Simeon get it right when so many got it wrong?
In short . . . because people were looking for something Jesus wasn’t. Jesus wasn’t what most people were looking for in a Messiah. They wanted a political warrior King who would overthrow the oppressors of the Jews and put them on top. They didn’t expect the Messiah to be a tiny baby who would come and, instead of exerting His power, would give Himself up on a cross. For the people who missed Jesus, it was because their hope was in THEIR specific expectations. Their expectations were all about what they wanted God to do, how they wanted Him to look, and for things to change in their favor. 
When Jesus failed to meet these expectations, they missed Him altogether. You see, Simeon had a different hope. 
When our hope is placed in anything other than the promises of God and the fulfillment of these promises in Jesus, we tend to settle for hope in lesser things. These things always fail and always lead to frustration. 
This morning, in the midst of whatever you are going through . . . where do you find your hope? How you answer this question makes all the difference. Is your hope based on something you want God to do or is it based in God Himself? 
Here are the beauty and the dark side of the holidays. It is during this time of year the good of life and the bad of life are both exaggerated. At no other time of the year are we more aware of the problems we can’t solve, the people we can’t control, and the expectations we can’t meet. There are problems that are decades in the making that you won’t be able to fix overnight. 
There are people in your life whom you won’t be able to save during the holidays, and there are expectations that you will try so hard to meet for someone else in your family and you will never be able to do it. 
That’s not where your hope is. 
There is a difference in being hopeful FOR something and being hopeful IN something. Choose this year to face your deep longing and come to believe that there is one specific source from whom you can derive hope—and that is Jesus Christ.
During this Advent season, we don’t just idly wait and hope. In fact, when we sense our deep longing and know our source of hope, then we can live every moment believing the best is before us. When we begin to embrace the anticipation and the expectation, we free ourselves up from the urgency of having to fix things now, and know that our God is at work. The question is, how do we join Him in that work? It is an active anticipation. 
It’s like a couple who finds out they are pregnant. They have nine months to wait. It seems like it takes forever. All they can do is wait for the arrival of the child, but then again, they have plenty to do to be prepared when the baby finally comes. They need to paint the room, buy the clothes, get some sleep, and baby proof the house. When we have hope that Jesus is going to show up in our life, we find we have plenty to do to join Him in His work.
While we wait on the Lord, what would set us up perfectly for when He arrives in our lives? For some of us, this means this season of Advent is perfect for forgiving someone, for seeking forgiveness, for pressing into God, for repenting of sin, for serving people, for loving others. We wait . . . but we wait actively.
I want to close today by inviting all of you to join me in engaging in this season of Advent. Would you join me in the responsive prayer printed in your bulletin.
Thou Son of the Most High, Prince of Peace, be born again into our world. Wherever there is war in this world, wherever there is pain, wherever there is loneliness, wherever there is no hope, come, thou long-expected one, with healing in your wings.  
Come, Lord Jesus, Come
Holy Child, whom the shepherds and the kings and the beasts adored, be born again. Wherever there is boredom, wherever there is fear of failure, wherever there is temptation too strong to resist, wherever there is bitterness of heart, come, though, blessed one, with healing in Thy wings.
Come, Lord Jesus, Come
Savior, be born in each of us who raises their face to your face, not knowing fully who we are or who you are, knowing only your love is beyond knowing and that no one else has the power to make us whole. 
Come, Lord Jesus, to each who longs for you even though they have forgotten your name. Come quickly.
Come, Lord Jesus, Come
(This prayer is from Secrets in the Dark by Frederick Buechner.)