Waiting In Hope
There is a wonderful story that comes out of Swedish folklore about a country doctor who went out to a farmhouse one night where a woman was about to give birth. As the woman went into labor, the doctor asked her husband to assist him by holding a gas lantern high in the air in order to illuminate the makeshift delivery room. Before long the courageous mother delivered a wonderful, healthy baby boy. And then the doctor made a surprise announcement, “A second child is due to arrive,” whereupon the mother produced a wonderful, healthy baby girl. The husband was considerably shaken by the unexpected birth of twins. You can imagine his complete astonishment when he heard the doctor say: “Well, we’re not finished yet—looks like it’s going to be triplets,” to which the stunned father, still holding the lantern aloft replied: “It must be the light that’s attracting them!” Well, Jesus said: “I am the light of the world” and we are attracted to that light.
During these Sundays prior to Christmas, we’re going to be looking at how Jesus brings light to our lives through hope, through peace, through joy and through love. Today we begin with hope after we pray.
It was during a bad thunderstorm when Helen tucked her little boy into bed. Just as she was about to turn out the bedroom light, the little boy said fearfully, “Mommy, will you please stay with me tonight?” Smiling, Helen gave her son a big, reassuring hug and said: “Honey, I can’t stay. I have to stay in Daddy’s room.” There was a pause, broken by the shaky little voice saying, “The big sissy!”
The opening verses in today’s Scripture lesson from the Gospel according to Luke are frightening enough to reduce most of us to feeling like big “sissies.” Here again these awesome words from Jesus, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon and the stars and on the earth distress among nations, confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world. For the power of the heavens will be shaken.” Such foreboding words can put us in a state of fear about the future. To be sure, all you have to do is look around and you begin to sense that maybe Jesus is speaking about the times in which we live. How can we deny the reality of distress among nations when there are so many hot spots on the face of the globe today; all of them threatening to explode in all-out war? How can we deny the roaring of the sea and the waves when chaotic weather patterns seem to be plunging us into one natural disaster after another? How can we deny the reality of people fainting from fear in a world where innocent children are violently treated by adults, where persons are discriminated against because of their color or their creed and where on an average day in our country there are 1,300 unwanted babies born, 2,700 kids who run away, 2,000 marriages end in divorce, 69 people commit suicide, someone is raped every 8 minutes, murdered every 27 minutes, robbed every 76 seconds? No wonder Arlo Guthrie once said: “The world has shown me what it has to offer. It might be a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.” Yet, as bleak as the circumstances may seem in the world in which you and I are a part, it is imperative for us to go on and read the entire lesson from the Gospel of Luke, for not only does Jesus give us a grim picture of events already in progress or to come, but he goes on to deliver to us great reassuring words from a gracious God. We hear Jesus saying the most hopeful words we could ever hope to hear. Listen again to what He says: “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads because your redemption is drawing near.” Jesus uses this powerful image of the end time not to frighten us but to reassure us, not to cause us to despair but to give us hope. For with His powerful imagery, Jesus is reminding us that God quite literally has the entire universe in His hands. God is in charge. God is still at the helm of the created order. Therefore, stand up, raise your head high for our salvation is near at hand. There is no need to wring our hands in anguish and despair. The coming of Jesus Christ is our sign that God is still in command. We do not need to cower in the corner and live a life of fear. We can stand tall and hold our heads up high because we know that Jesus Christ, who came on the first Christmas will come once again.
That’s why the central theme of this text and this season of the year is hope. The people of God are called to live in hope, regardless of the things which might strike fear in the hearts of other people. The people of God who can see beyond the chaos are empowered to live in the confidence of God’s victory through Jesus Christ.
You see, the message of Advent is not that everything is falling to pieces, rather that everything is falling into place. The hopeful message of Advent is that when heaven itself seems to be spinning into oblivion, when every fixed star on the moral compass is wavering, when all hell is breaking loose on earth, nevertheless, our redemption is drawing near. Luke says: “Now when these things begin to take place, look up, raise your heads because your redemption is drawing near.”
Some years ago, a military airplane crashed at Soderstrom Air Force Base in Greenland. Twenty-two people were killed. The runway and the nearby fields were strewn with bodies. It was a tragic and horrible scene. There was only one chaplain on the base at the time and the entire burden was laid on him to bring comfort and the word of Christ to a shocked community, staggered by this horrendous accident. But there was little time to mourn that day, for the grisly task of gathering up and identifying the bodies needed to be done. So the chaplain, along with a young lieutenant who had been assigned the duties of mortuary officer, and a group of volunteers went about the awful business of picking up the mutilated bodies and trying to identify the dead so that their families and loved ones back home could be notified. It was heartbreaking, exhausting work but it had to be done. The people worked in shocked silence, well into the night until they almost dropped from fatigue. When every last remnant of death had been picked up, they each went silently to their individual rooms. That night, some time after midnight, there was a knock on the chaplain’s door. Outside stood a young lieutenant, the mortuary officer. He said nothing, just stood there crying his eyes out. After some moments, the lieutenant spoke through his tears. He said: “As we were picking up the bodies today, Chaplain, I realized something. I realized that the only people out there helping us were the people who go to church here.” He then went on to say, “All my life I’ve been a non-believer and I’ve laughed at it and ridiculed the people who were out there helping us today and yet, they are the only persons who would or could do what we had to do today. It must have been their Christian spirit that helped them see beyond the horror to the hope.” That tragic day turned around the life of that young lieutenant, as he admitted he had never been faithful or religious, had seldom gone to church, except for weddings or funerals. But from that time on he was a new man. Jesus Christ was born in his heart. From that time forward he took an active part in the Christian ministry on that base and then he did an unheard of thing. He wound up extending his tour of duty in Greenland for an extra year. He was the first person in the history of that base to ever do that. Why? Well, he did it because he wanted to be able to tell others the story of how the power of the Savior Christ and the power of Christian hope had turned his life around.
If you want to give your loved ones a great Christmas present this year, give them Christian hope. On page after page of the New Testament, we find that the Good News is that God will win, that nothing can defeat Him, that ultimately God and His goodness will have the victory and that when we have faith in him nothing, not even death can separate us from His watchcare, His love and His triumph. So once each year Christmas comes along to renew our hope and to remind us that the darkness of this world cannot overcome the light of our Lord Jesus Christ.