Summary: A sermon about putting your hope in Christ, despite the temptation to despair.
"The Gift of Hope"
As an adult, there are a lot of things I like about Christmas.
I like the lights on the houses and trees.
I like some of the Christmas music played on radio stations and in department stores--though, I must say I do get tired of it.
What I like most about Christmas is getting together with family.
I like watching kids open presents.
I like eating around the Christmas table.
I like spending time with my parents, my sisters, my wife, my children.
I like a warm fire in the fireplace.
I like it when it snows on Christmas.
But I think more than anything else, I like memories of Christmas' past.
Because let's face it.
Christmas is more exciting when you are a kid.
I remember marking the days off on a calendar long before Christmas arrived.
And it seemed like it took forever to get here.
Now it seems like it comes way too fast.
I remember looking through the Sears and J.C. Penney Christmas Catalogues and marking off all the things I wanted Santa to bring.
It was a thrill.
Mary Ellen still experiences that thrill.
Owen will experience that in a few years.
As I wrote in my Newsletter article for December:
When I was six years old, more than anything, I wanted an Evel Knieval Stunt Cycle Set.
It came with an Evel Knieval action figure, a motorcycle and a windup ramp to make the cycle fly across the floor.
Then, on Christmas morning, there it was under the tree.
I got other presents, but hardly noticed them.
All morning I played with it.
But then, shortly after dinner, my cousin came walking around a corner as Evel Knieval went zooming by.
Then there was a "crunch" as the "stunt man toy" took his last ride.
My Christmas present was broken already.
A few Christmas' ago Mary Ellen got a remote control jeep.
It was pretty cool, and we had some fun with it for a day or two.
Then we had some guests over for dinner.
They had a young boy, who, when he saw that remote control car--he grabbed it by its antennae and snapped it right off.
No more remote control car.
Most Christmas presents either eventually break or we get tired of them or grow out of them.
But this isn't always the case.
The presents that represent the Real Reason for the Season--The Presents that come through a faith in Jesus Christ--those Presents don't break or go away.
They last a lifetime...into eternity, even.
So, we are going to focus on those kinds of gifts this Advent Season.
And Jesus gives us many, many gifts.
As a matter of fact, everything is a gift from God.
But the gifts we will focus on for the next couple of weeks are hope, love, joy and peace.
When Jesus' mother was engaged to Joseph she became pregnant and not by Joseph.
Understandably, Joseph decided to call off the wedding.
There was no chance that he and Mary would marry.
There was no chance they would have a family together.
He must have experienced an unbelievable feeling of betrayal.
Can you imagine what he must have been thinking?
Can you imagine the depths of despair to which he must have fallen?
Sadly, some of us may very well be able to relate to Joseph's plight.
And even if we can not relate to Joseph's exact situation, I would imagine that we can all relate to times when things seemed hopeless.
Perhaps things seem hopeless to you this morning.
Maybe you are dealing with family problems which seem beyond repair.
Perhaps you have lost someone very close to you and have the feeling that you can never be happy or at peace without them.
Perhaps you have addiction problems that you can't seem to shake.
Maybe when you turn on the news, see the politicians bickering, watch scenes of violence and terror--you have a resignation, a feeling of despair.
Whatever it is, you may feel as if there is no hope.
And that must have been how Joseph felt when he found out that Mary was pregnant.
And we are told that Joseph was a really good guy.
He must have truly loved Mary.
He must have been a gentle, peace-loving, non-violent sort of man.
You know why?
He very easily could have told the townsfolk or religious authorities about Mary's predicament and they would have gladly had her put to death--right on the spot.
That was what the Law called for in those days.
But we are told instead that "Joseph...was a righteous man..." and he decided to "call off their engagement quietly."
How many folks would do that, even today?
We all know many horror stories about people who go after their former spouses--in divorce settlements--that leave the other practically, and in some cases absolutely destitute!!!