Summary: Christmas is hope personified. It highlights the fact that Christianity is essentially a religion of hope.
Today we began the Advent season by lighting the first Advent candle, the candle of hope. As we heard a few minutes ago, this candle reminds us of the hope God gave His people when He promised to send them a Messiah, a Savior, a Deliverer. The candle reminds us that this promise was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ. And it invites us to look forward in hope to the day of Christ’s second coming, His second Advent, when all the promises that were initially fulfilled at His birth will be completely fulfilled at His return.
If you think about it, it’s entirely appropriate for Jesus Christ, who is the hope of the world, to have come in the form of an infant, because babies are hope personified. They are pure potential. Their lives are all in the future. Is there a mother or father who hasn’t looked into the face of their newborn baby and wondered, “What will this little child accomplish, what will he become? A doctor saving lives, a lawyer pursuing justice, an engineer; painter, ballerina, astronaut, college professor, athlete, research scientist. . . anything is possible.
But Mary had even more than the usual maternal pride to justify having great hope for her son. The previous year, she had been visited by an angel, Gabriel, who gave her this promise:
“You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." – Luke 1:31-33 (NIV)
This promise to Mary echoed the prophecy of Isaiah, given seven centuries earlier:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.” – Isaiah 9:6-7 (NIV)
Not only that, but Joseph, Mary’s husband had also received a promise:
“… an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." – Matthew 1:20-21 (NIV)
In other words, when Jesus was born God made it clear that this baby was the one for whom the world had been waiting, and watching and hoping, ever since the first man and woman had been driven out of Eden. A Savior, a deliverer, a king. What joy must have filled Mary and Joseph’s hearts as they looked down at their tiny son, wrapped in blankets, lying in an ordinary manger filled with straw, surrounded by cows and sheep and donkeys. What hope in knowing that this child was the one in whom all of God’s promises would be fulfilled. Knowing that He was the one in whom God’s people would find forgiveness of sins, the one in whom they would find true and lasting peace, the one whose power would establish an eternal kingdom of justice and righteousness. It must have been almost overwhelming, as they considered the awesome responsibility God had given them.
I mention all this because it highlights the fact that Christianity is a religion of hope. It is a faith that looks forward to the future, to the time when God’s promises will be fulfilled. That was true for God’s people prior to Christ’s birth, as they looked forward to the birth of the promised Messiah; it was true for Mary and Joseph as they looked down at their newborn son, knowing that the time for the fulfillment of God’s promises had finally come, and it’s true of us today as we look forward to the return of Christ. Our faith is a future-focused faith, a religion of what is to come, a religion of hope.
That doesn’t mean Christianity has no relevance to our daily lives right now. Far from it. The Christian faith is intensely practical. But it means that the here and now is not our only focus, or even our primary focus. Our primary focus is on the world to come.
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” – Colossians 3:1-2 (NIV)