Christmas is coming. There was a song on the radio a while ago that went…
“All I want for Christmas is the rain.
You can keep my two front teeth
– I won’t need them again.”
At the moment, that song expresses the sentiment in the hearts of many people in Australia. We have huge areas that are in drought and have been for years. Our cattle and sheep are at record low levels because there is no grass to keep them alive. Rivers have run dry. Many towns are almost out of water with some having to truck in water every day. And all we have to hang onto is the hope that rain will come soon.
Yet, Christmas is usually all about dreaming & hoping. It is a season for wishes to come true. More than any other time of year, Christmas in Australia is when hopes run high. But this year, it’s also a time when grown-up fears often abound. Sometimes we are so afraid, we dare not hope or dream because we may be disappointed and hurt.
Well, let’s just for a moment, do some wishing and dreaming. If you could get all you want for Christmas, what would you get? Some of us want things this Christmas. Our list is filled with toys and clothes, cars and boats, trips and jewelry. I’d like a new Mazda MX5 and a new boat and a cruise to some place I’ve never visited before. And as long as we are wishing, how about a new iPhone and clothes & fun too? Of course our farmers want rain.
But some of us want health. More than anything else we want a cure for our problems or the problems of someone near to us. Remission for the bloke with the tumor. Comfort for the wife suffering chronic pain. Some people say health is most important – “If you have your health you have everything.” So health is at the top of the Christmas list.
Others just want strength. Strength to do what we used to do. Some want beauty. Some of us want relationships. Reconciliation of a once wonderful marriage that turned into separation and floods of angry words. Or reconnection between those who have broken apart—parents / children; once best-of-friends; brothers / sisters; neighbors and co-workers.
We all need dreams! There are those who’ve quit dreaming they had too many disappointments and too many dreams unfulfilled. Others still have dreams but can’t get to them. Something or someone repeatedly blocks our path. What we want for Christmas is for dreams to come true. We just want life to be the best that it can be.
Proverbs 13:12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick. It’s literally speaking about unrelenting disappointment & it makes your heart sick. Then it says: But when the desire comes it is a tree of life. But when dreams come true there is life and joy. NLT
Now hope is a combination of desire and anticipation. We don’t hope for bad things So we desire good things & hope for them. And the bible says God is a God of hope so He is also a God of desire & anticipation. Yet when we are waiting for rain, we are waiting for God to supply. When we want our country to move forward, its out of our hands. When we want an end to wars world wide (like John Lennon) it is unfortunately out of our hands. So do we simply give up? Do we give into the sick feeling in our heart? The problem is…
Hebrews 6:19 Hope is the anchor of your soul. So its obvious that if you loose hope your soul becomes unanchored. If the engine of your soul is sick then every part of your life is effected. So is it possible than in the midst of unrelenting disappointment you can still find hope? I think that’s what the Christmas message is all about at its core.
The progression normally is:- Hope is deferred which leads to disappointment which leads to despondency about the thing you hoped for you. So you feel defeated which leads to despair that arises from the conviction its not worth the effort. And you then become desperate. When a person is facing unrelenting disappointment they get desperate and often do stupid things. Because all they can see in front of them is hopelessness.
I wonder what thing in your life fits the verse about deferred hope? Maybe you started out with such hope but you began to see disappointment & over time that turned into more & more disappointment & disappointment became unrelenting. And so you moved from hope to disappointment then you moved to despondency then despair then to desperation and ended up feeling hopeless. So today you may feel there is no hope.
Well that’s the bad news!!
But in Luke 1:37 it says “to God nothing is impossible.” So God can meet you at the place of disappointment and bring new life and meaning to that which was lost. God can give you new hope and a chance of a better future. Because nothing is impossible with God! Curiously Life takes people in one direction but the God of the bible takes us in the opposite direction. Life moves from disappointment to despair but God promises us the opposite. He takes us from despair to joy if we hope in Him and the bible tells us hope (in God) does not disappoint.
Abraham was at that point in his life. When it seemed his life was just about over, and the chances of him having a son was long since gone, he made his will out to his servant. But God came and made promises about the future & the son & nations that would follow him. Abraham discovered he served the God of the possible. So at the point, where the world would say, “accept your lot, give up on those dreams,” Abraham believed God. Romans 4:18 Against all hope in hope he believed. So when your trust is in God then the bible says hope will not disappoint.
About 2,020 Christmas ago a man and a woman both held onto hope through difficult times and long life. Simeon was a righteous & devout man who lived by faith. It wasn’t easy to live by faith when his country was occupied by an enemy army. It wasn’t easy to believe in a coming Messiah when there were doubts & differences even among his fellow Jews. But he held onto hope.
Anna was old as well. She was at least 96 since she had been a widow for 84 years which meant she must have been close to 100. Either way, her husband died, & her life was spent mostly alone. It is never easy to be old or alone, but particularly hard in a primitive & poor place like 1st century Israel. But Anna held onto hope. The story of Simeon & Anna is part of the Christmas story although it is seldom read or remembered…
Luke 2:25-38 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
These two people had all the ingredients of despair but held onto hope. Simeon saw the pain in his nation. He grieved with the troubles of his people. For years, he yearned for relief. The bible says he was waiting for “the consolation”. That means comfort or relief. So Simon was waiting for his nation to turn the corner. There was no apparent way to escape the cruel Roman rule – many had tried with disastrous results. It must have seemed like an endless trap. But Simeon saw a path to tomorrow, through a Messiah from God. His dream was to live long enough to see this Messiah come to Israel. He held onto hope & that is how he survived. And Hope did not disappoint Simeon.
Anna was probably the older of the two. She was a widow more than 10 times longer than she was a wife. She had no prospects of marriage or future children. Her fate was set. In her society, she was a prime candidate for hopelessness. She had no family, no one to care for her and lived in a time when social security did not exist. But she was full of hope – and not just hope, but hope with action because she daily worshipped, prayed and fasted. She was convinced God would send a saviour & saw that child as the hope for the future.
If life is easy & all our dreams have come true, we don’t need hope. But most of us struggle with pains, problems and uncertainty. We wonder how to survive today & thrive tomorrow. We need a way beyond hopeless. We all need hope that anticipates a good thing to come. But wishful thinking will never cut it. Hope must come from God! Because hope without God is merely wishful thinking. Dreaming up fantasies is not hope. Such wishful thinking is often little more than self-delusion. Just because we’re “dreaming of a white Christmas” or “wish for peace” or “want money” doesn’t mean any of it will happen. Christian hope comes from God, not fantasy. Simeon’s hope came from the Holy Spirit. Anna’s hope came from prophecies of the Bible. Their hope was based on the person, power & promises of God himself.
And sometimes hope surprises us. Joseph and Mary were surprised when they met these two people. “The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.” (Luke 2:33). After a virgin birth, shepherds, angels & everything else they’d been through, you would think that Joseph and Mary would be surprise-proof. But, they weren’t! They were amazed at the words of Simeon & the predictions of what was to come. That’s the way hope in God works. Just when we think all is lost, God sneaks up with a surprise. Just when we think we have it all figured out God takes us in exciting & unexpected new directions.
But hope’s outcomes are seldom quick. God took a lifetime, for the hopes of Simeon & Anna, to come true. Sometimes the fulfilment of hope, takes more than a lifetime. Usually hope is slower than we would choose and often, hopes fulfilment comes in pieces – fulfilment is incremental. Simeon & Anna did not live long enough to see the baby Jesus grow up. They did not witness his miracles or hear his great words. They weren’t around for his crucifixion or resurrection. They waited in hope & lived long enough to see chapter 1 of God’s fulfilment of hope. In other words, God gave them even more to hope for in the future.
So the practical question is how do we hope? Or how do we find hope again? Probably the greatest thief of hope is ourselves. Not that we choose to be hopeless but that we put hope in the wrong place, wrong possession or wrong person.
1 Timothy 6:17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
When we are rich we are likely to assume money is our path out of every problem. When we are in love, we trust a lover. When we are in positions of power, we are likely to hope in who we know and the influence we have. But the bible tells us our hope should be in God – money, people and positions are not dependable. They come and go but God doesn’t! So be on guard against the robbers of hope and the substitutes for hope in God himself.
The word “hope” appears 159 in the bible. So a good place to start, is to read every reference to discover all the bible says about hope. It will be a huge hope-builder all by itself. It will give you encouragement and hope that grows your soul. Then choose 1 or 2 Bible promises. Write them down. Stick them on your refrigerator, in your car or as your computer screensaver. Memorize the promises of God and recite them regularly.
Like this one Isaiah 40:31 Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Or Jeremiah 29:11-13 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
or Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
or 1 Peter 1:21 Through Jesus you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.
The catacombs go for miles under the city of Rome. Christians buried their dead there & wrote words & symbols on the walls of the caves. The most common symbols were the cross, the fish and the anchor. In the midst of poverty, persecution & death they held onto their Christian hope in God’s grace demonstrated through the cross. Hope was, and is, the anchor of faith. And God is still true to His word. Simeon and Anna hoped for a lifetime before their hopes came true. Their hope was always in what God would do.
So don’t give up easily. Don’t surrender too soon. Don’t think that God has forgotten. Hold onto hope with the conviction that God will do good, no matter how long it takes. And expect surprises when God turns hope into reality. The promise of God is that he will give us all the strength we need, through whatever situation we face, and that he will always provide a path to a better tomorrow. We just may be totally surprised by the path he gives. Soon Christmas will be all over. But for those who hope in the Lord it will not be over. Because Christmas is the symbol of the greatest hope of mankind. Christmas is about hope for a better future and a great God who has placed in your heart dreams and goals and a future in which you will find His blessing.