Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The Gift of Hope - December 25, 2011

I hope you do not have the experience of one man I read about. In the rush of the season he went to the store, grabbed a big box of Christmas cards, went home, signed them, and mailed them, without reading the message inside the card. On Christmas morning, as he was enjoying a few moments of peace and quiet, he saw one remaining card on the table. He picked it up, opened it, and with alarm read this message – this card is just to say, a gift will soon be on the way.

The more things change, it is often said, the more things stay the same.

The Christmas story, as told by Luke, is remarkable as it relates the issues and struggles facing people when Jesus was born. It is remarkable because those issues and struggles still confront people today. As much as the world has changed, much remains the same. But the message brought on that first Christmas was one of hope, and it remains a message of hope. God knows our struggles, and he walks with us through our struggles.

Mary and Joseph were traveling to Bethlehem because of a census taken for tax purposes. I’m sure there was a great deal of discussion about taxes on the journey, among their fellow travelers and in every town and village they visited on their journey. Taxes were the topic of many conversations, and here we are, two thousand years later, and taxes still dominate many of our conversations!

The cost of the journey, added to the crushing tax burden of the Romans, brought a great deal of anxiety to daily life. While Joseph and Mary traveled, there would be no income earned and the journey would have some expense to it. Christmas began expensive, and it’s still expensive.

The joy of the day, and the joy of the season, is dampened for many because of economic uncertainty. Job losses continue to mount and among those who are employed there is anxiety about what their future holds. But the message of Christmas remains a message of hope. We worship a God who cares that we have what we need, and he has provided resources among his people to care for one another.

Political uncertainty was the order of the day when Jesus was born, and that certainly hasn’t changed for much of our world. The brutal reign of the Romans is now reflected in many parts of our world, where the news brings us images of people who want nothing more than their freedom, but they receive violence and oppression. But the hope of Christmas is that God will break the yoke of the oppressor, and will answer the cry of the human heart for freedom.

There was great loss, as Herod’s murderous reign took the lives of innocent children, and today we see that the youngest among humanity continue to be among the victims of tyrants. They suffer under terrible conditions, but the hope of Christmas is that God hears their cries, and God will deliver them.

And there are those who suffer from the loss of loved ones. Christmas is forever changed when we lose someone we love, but Christmas brings the hope of resurrection. For three or four years in a row I spent Christmas Eve or Christmas day in the hospital with families. Some of those who were hospitalized recovered; others did not. One year I stood with a family in a funeral home on Christmas Day, thinking what a terrible time to be in a funeral home, but Christmas brought them hope.

Because of such difficult circumstances in the time of Jesus, many were without hope, and many are without hope today. Years ago I received a call about a family needing assistance. It was just a few days before Christmas, and I drove to their home with some groceries and other items. It was a dreary day, cold and rainy. Their home was back a long, muddy driveway, and the yard was more mud than grass. The home was in very poor repair, and it was obvious the family had great financial needs.

As I got out of the car a young boy about six or seven years old came running out to greet me. My first thought was to feel bad for him, living in such difficult circumstances. I thought about Christmas and wondered if there would be much for him and his family. I asked him how he was doing and he was so excited. He talked about Christmas being just a few days away and his excitement level rose the longer he spoke. I wanted to say don’t get your hopes up. It’s okay if you don’t get much. In my mind, I could just sense the disappointment he would face on Christmas morning. But I realized later how wrong it was of me to try to qualify his hope, because hope is one of the greatest gifts of Christmas. The message of Christmas is especially designed for those who need hope.

In one way or another, we all need hope, and as we gather here today, on Christmas morning, may we give thanks to God for the hope that Christmas brings to us.

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