Unexpected Hope

  • Unexpected Hope
  • Isaiah 40:28-31
  • Lyndol Loyd
  • December 2, 2018
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12-2-18 sermon from LakeRidge UMC on Vimeo.

When I think back over my life some of my favorite celebrations of Christmas were when unexpected things took place, things that I could not have anticipated or when I was able to surprise someone I love in a way they couldn’t have expected.

 

I suppose one unexpected Christmas memory that sticks out in my mind is the year Sophie the cat came to live with us. Joni and I knew that Madeline, who was eleven years old, would love to have a kitten, so we went to the Orange County animal shelter where we discovered a two-week-old kitten who had been separated from her mother and was nothing more than a ball of fluff.

 

We took her home and kept her in the shower in our master bathroom for thirteen days without either one of our girls discovering her, which was a minor miracle in itself. Each day we would take turns going back to the bathroom to feed and play with the kitten and try to nurse her to health.

 

On Christmas morning we opened all of the gifts under the tree, and then I looked at Joni and said, “Wait a minute. We forgot one of Madeline’s gifts.” I apologized profusely and told Madeline how sorry we were. Joni said I think it must be in the bedroom. We got up quickly and went to place the kitten in a small gift-wrapped box with a lid that had a big bow on top.

 

I told Madeline to be very careful because the package was fragile and then placed it on the floor in front of her. Madeline lifted the lid off the package and right on cue the kitten plopped out of the box and into her lap. I’ll never forget the look of shock and surprise on her face as the tears began to flow down her cheeks. If I’m completely honest, my eyes might have leaked a little bit as well. It made for a wonderful, unexpected Christmas.

 

As Madeline’s father it was my delight to do something unexpected for her that Christmas. Reflecting on that got me thinking, what if God, our Heavenly Father, had something unexpected He wanted to do for each of us this Christmas? Somehow I doubt it would be a kitten, but what if He wanted to give you unexpected hope or joy or peace this Christmas?

 

I think that would be just like God to do something like that. During this season of Advent, I want to ask you to open yourself up to God doing things you could never have anticipated as His gift to you this Christmas. Today we start with the gift of Unexpected Hope.

 

Hope is that quality that allows us to project out into the future. Hope is what allows us to dream. Hope is what makes the future exciting. Hope is necessary if we are to live with any quality of life at all. Hope is what keeps us going. As long as we have hope we can carry on with life.

 

With that in mind, I want to ask you to consider our American cultural ideas of Christmas for a few moments. People sing songs like “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” or “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”  The notion is that the entire month of December is supposed to be a happy, wonderful, celebratory time for each of us and for many folks it is. But not always and certainly not for everyone.

 

What do you do when you find yourself without hope?  What do you do when your dreams seem to be fading, and the future looks anything but exciting?

 

How are you supposed to celebrate Christmas when you just aren’t feeling it? Maybe your situation seems at odds with the festive feelings the season dictates? Are you supposed to slap on a smiley face mask and wear it? Or are you supposed to do like the old song says and “simply find a way to muddle through somehow?”

 

I think we have to acknowledge the very real possibility that feelings of hopelessness can happen to any one of us.

 

As little children, we pin our hopes on what lies underneath the tree on Christmas morning. If you think about it, once we grow up, the world is still full of hopes and expectations that motivate us. There are all kinds of things that we pin our hopes upon.

-There is the hope of the career we want to have.

-There is the hope of what marriage will hold.

-There is the hope of what children will bring to a family.

-There is the hope that we will have a better life than our parents.

 

The only problem is that some of our hopes prove to be elusive and empty after time has passed.  Sometimes we even end up putting our hopes in fading realities. Sometimes we find ourselves living in hopelessness.

 

Maybe you’ve known more than one day where you wondered if God had forgotten your address or lost your phone number? Perhaps you’ve shed your share of tears? Maybe you’ve experienced numerous sleepless nights?

 

If life has been tough for you lately, if you find yourself looking for some hope this morning, then I believe you are in the right place.

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor in Germany during the time of World War II. He was a strong voice against the Nazi regime, and as a result, he found himself in prison and was eventually sent to a concentration camp where he was hung to death just three weeks before American forces arrived to free the camp. I think it is more than fair to say that Bonhoeffer knew what it was to face adversity.

 

In some of Bonhoeffer’s writings he reflected upon Advent, and in doing so, he went to an unlikely place in Scripture to do so. He looked not to the New Testament, but to the Old Testament. He examined the words of the prophet Isaiah.

 

The Israelites have been living in exile, and it would be fair to say most if not all of their hope was gone at this point when Isaiah pens these words to them from Isaiah 9:6-7, “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!”

 

In the midst of the deepest guilt and distress of the people, a voice speaks that is soft and mysterious but full of the blessed certainty of salvation through the birth of a divine child.

 

Remember it is still 700 years until the time of fulfillment, but the prophet is so deeply immersed in God’s thought and counsel that he speaks of the future as if he saw it already, and he speaks of the salvation as if he already stood in adoration before the manger of Jesus. Did you hear it? “For a child has been born for us.”

 

What will happen one day is already real and certain in God’s eyes, and it will be not only for the salvation of future generations, but it is here already, the prophet saw it coming and for his generation – for all generations on earth. Isaiah is saying, “Hope is here.”

 

“For a child has been born for us.” Reflecting upon this Bonhoeffer writes, “No human spirit can talk like this on its own. How are we who do not know what will happen next year supposed to understand that someone can look forward many centuries? And the times then were no more transparent than they are today. Only the Spirit of God, who encompasses the beginning and end of the world, can in such a way reveal to a chosen person the mystery of the future, so that he must prophesy for strengthening believers and warning unbelievers. This individual voice ultimately enters into the nocturnal adoration of the shepherds and into the full jubilation of the Christ-believing community: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us.”

 

While we are already in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, perhaps this is a good opportunity to hear more from the prophet from Isaiah 40:28-31.  “Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”

 

When our hope is anywhere but in God, we are sure to face disappointment. Plans change, people fail us and circumstances vary from what we had thought they would be.

 

But none of those things change who God is because God is unchanging.  He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.  For this reason, in Him, we can place all of our hope, all of our dreams. He isn’t bound by the same frailty and weaknesses that are ours as human beings.

 

When we do place our hope in God, Isaiah reminds us that He will renew our strength. Anybody here in need of some renewed strength this Christmas?

 

Isaiah tells us that with God’s strength we will not grow tired or weary. God’s strength will not fail us. When we are out of strength, When we no longer have the power to carry on, God is waiting right there to give us his strength, to meet us at the point of our every need.

 

God’s strength is perfect when our strength is gone.  God wants to be the one that will pick us up and carry us when it seems like we can no longer keep going.

 

Let’s face it, we all get weary from time to time.  Isaiah knew this when he stated that even the young run and grow weary. But with the power of God at work in our lives, we don’t have to stay that way. It does not have to become our existence.

 

God’s power is all that we need to conquer our problems and renew our hope. The problem is that all too often we try to take on life with our own power.

 

What happens when you are trying to live life on your own strength?  You end up tired and weary all of the time. You end up feeling sick and tired or being sick and tired.

 

We get this way when we try to live on our own terms, by our own strength. What God really wants us to do is to stop trying so hard and to start trusting in Him more.

 

If we put our lives in God’s hands and rely on His power, nothing can devastate us.  Nothing can swallow us up or destroy us. It simply cannot, because we are not alone.

 

This isn’t just my theory. This isn’t just something preachers are supposed to say. Unexpected hope is a gift that many of you know about. I’d like for you to hear this morning from Amanda Eldridge and her story of how God gave her the gift of hope

 

God would never send us ahead alone. He blazes the way ahead for us and calls out for us to follow Him. He has been everywhere that we are called to go.

 

He’s already had to face hard paths of disappointment. He’s already faced the steep road of temptation. He’s already experienced the way of pain. He’s already dealt with difficult people.

 

Each one of those paths that could so easily entangle us or cause us to stumble and fall, Christ is willing to walk with us once again so that we do not end up stuck at the destination of hopelessness.

 

There is only one safe way for us to travel in this life we live and that is with Christ at our side and in control.

 

That is God’s gift of hope available to us this Christmas.  No matter how dark a situation can be, God can turn it around.  No matter how hopeless life seems, God can bring hope.

 

The same power that enabled Jesus Christ to conquer death allows you and me to hope today and tomorrow.

 

What an amazing thing it is that you and I can know that the God who calls each of the stars by name knows and calls us by name.  The God who brought order to creation brings order to our lives as well.

 

The God who designed the planets and keeps them on their paths has designed a destiny for us and keeps us on our path as well.

 

Whenever we are too burdened by life to soar, too weary to feel like running and too weary to be able to stand, we can look to that very same God to carry us from strength to strength and faith to faith. Because of this, each of us, no matter what our situation, can experience the gift of hope.