Summary: Part 3 in a 4 part Christmas series
In the past two weeks, as we’ve entered the Christmas season, we’ve talked about the announcement of the angels to the amazed shepherds near Bethlehem.
It was a message of good news, which was to be of a great joy for all people, and, according to the angels’ song, was to herald the coming of peace between God and man through this baby in the manger.
The events of this night marked the fulfilling of a long-awaited hope in Israel. This is something I touched on briefly in the sermon on Joy, when I talked about the promise of a Redeemer to the first couple (Not America’s President and his wife; but Adam and Eve), and the expectation of His coming, handed down from generation to generation after them.
Today I want to go much deeper into the meaning of their hope, and I trust you will see that to the studious and faithful Jew, the coming of their Messiah in just the fashion that He came, could and should have been as much an end or a fulfilling of their hope, as His final coming in glory will be the end and fulfilling of our hope.
So let’s talk first about WHAT HOPE IS (and the difference between a true hope and a false hope) then, WHAT EXAMPLES THE SHEPHERDS SET FOR US, and finally, WHAT THE FULFILLING OF OUR HOPE WILL BE.
What is hope?
First let’s clear the air about the word itself. Our common use of the word “hope” in the English speaking cultures at least, can tend to lead us astray from the full meaning of the word as it is used in scripture.
We glibly say, “hope it don’t rain”; or, “I hope I’ll get a raise next time the boss checks the books”, or, “I hope the Cowboys don’t win another Superbowl”.
This word is generally used in reference to some thing that we either want or do not want to happen...some thing that we want or do not want to get.
There are two words used in the New Testament that are translated as ‘hope’ in English. One has to do with trust; usually in a person. But the one most used in the New Testament has to do with an expectation, or an anticipation, and is usually associated with pleasure.
The most obvious illustration that comes to my mind during this season, is a child on Christmas Eve.
The child may ‘hope’ that his parents remembered that he wanted that certain toy for Christmas. He doesn’t know for a certainty that he will get it (unless he peeked while they were out for an evening), but he hopes so.
On the other hand, he has another hope that is more sure. It is the expectation of the morning. Christmas morning; when he will come stumbling from his room, rubbing sleep from his eyes, and see in the dim morning light, packages under the tree that he hasn’t seen there before; and knowing some of them are for him.
He is so excited about the coming of the next morning that he may have difficulty falling asleep. But it is not anxiety that keeps him awake; it is anticipation, because he knows the day and all that it represents, will be there soon.
This is the sort of hope that I’m talking about today. It is not a yearning for an uncertain thing, but a confident anticipation and expectation of something that will indeed, come. So certain is the believer that the thing will eventually come, that he can almost see it, though it may be far off.
Now we’re beginning to enter into a definition of Faith, which we’ll talk about next week; so I’ll leave you with that ‘teaser’ and back off a bit.
The next thing about hope that I want you to see, is that the kind of hope I’m talking about is always the looking forward to the answer to, or the cure for, that which is not desirable. The hope, or anticipation, longs for the light that will dispel the darkness, the healing that will eliminate the pain, the safety at the end of a perilous journey; that thing or that event or that person that will finally come and make sense of it all.
Therefore, the intensity of the undesirable thing, or consequences, directly affects the intensity of the hope. The darker the night, the more eagerly awaited the day. The greater the pain, the more intensely desired the relief. The more deeply felt the danger, the more earnestly sought the safe haven.
Now this can be dangerous, because there is true hope, and there is false hope. What I mean by that really, is the object of the hope itself is either true or false; trustworthy, or unworthy of trust.