All I Want for Christmas Is Hope

The Presentation by John August Swanson

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.

When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

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 on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 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 may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
  which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother marveled 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 prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was incredibly 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.

When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him. (Luke 2:21-40, NIV)

George Mueller (1805-1898) was a man full of hope in God.  For sixty-six years he preached in a small chapel in Bristol, England, yet what he is best known for is his orphanage. 

After being in ministry for a few years, Mueller became deeply concerned for the street children of the city and decided to start an orphanage.  The problem was he had no money.  So, with nothing but his hope in Christ he prayed God would provide. For the next sixty-four years, that was how George Mueller operated.

In that course of time, he built an orphanage, where he cared for and educated over eighteen-thousand children; educated over one-hundred-thousand more children in other schools at the Orphanage’s expense; distributed hundreds of thousands of Bibles and tens of millions of religious tracts; supported one-hundred-fifty missionaries; travelled over two-hundred-thousand miles as a missionary himself; and proclaimed the Gospel to over three million people around the world.

In all that time, Mueller never asked for one penny from anyone, his children never missed a meal, and he never had a debt.

We are not all called to be like George Mueller, or even like Simeon and Anna in our Gospel story.  However, all of us are called to grab hold of God’s promises with such faith and hope that, even though we may not yet see it realized, we live as though it has already happened.  This is what it means to participate with God. 

When George Mueller had a need, he pleaded to God and banked on the promise of God. Mueller prayed for more than money; he prayed for individuals, as well. Sometimes he prayed for someone for as long as fifty years. He never stopped praying for anyone or anything until he got his request. That is how convinced George Mueller was that God would answer his prayers.

All the promises of Holy Scripture revolve around Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the fulfillment of hope for persons of every nation and ethnicity. Christ is our Redeemer, and his salvation is limitless and includes all kinds of people.  Simeon and Anna, despite their age, despite the fact they lived their entire lives without seeing the Deliverer, never lost hope in the promise of God and never gave up praying and looking for the Savior.

Hope in the Bible is not wishful thinking but confident expectation which is grounded in the promises of God. Since all those promises have not yet been fully realized, we must have a quiet confidence and a patient spirit to anticipate the light at the end of the tunnel. Listen to what the Roman church needed to hear about this: 

We groan inside as we wait to be adopted and for our bodies to be set free. We were saved in hope. If we see what we hope for, that is not hope. Who hopes for what they already see? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:23-25, CEB)

Simeon and Anna gave testimony about the hope of all the earth.  We have a moving scene of the old man, Simeon, being led by the Spirit of God to enter the temple and take hold of the baby Jesus and cradle him in his arms.  Simeon’s hope is being realized as he declared that this little baby will be the means of salvation for all people.

This salvation comes at a great cost – and all of history hinges on this little child in Simeon’s arms.  Will people move toward or away from God?  Anna came along and, as the George Mueller of the ancient world, devoted herself constantly to prayer and anticipated the coming of the Messiah.  Anna confirmed the testimony of Simeon that this baby is the hope of Israel, the Redeemer of both Jew and Gentile.

Presentation in the Temple by British artist Sylvia Lauder

Today you decided to be here and join me; yet it was more than your own consideration.  The Holy Spirit of God, like Simeon of old, led you and I to this place of virtual meeting, perhaps because we long to see our hope realized – to find in the Christ child all we have longed for and have been waiting to see happen in our lives. 

God wants us to see Jesus. So, close your eyes, because the hope of all life cannot be seen with human eyes…

See him as a little baby…

See him as he grows with wisdom and favor with both God and others…

See him as he teaches, ministers, and heals the outcast and loves the common person…

See him as he is arrested, beaten, and taken outside of the city…

See them take the hammer and nail his hands and feet to a cross…

See him as you kneel before a terrible cross and watch him die, not for himself, not because he deserved it, but because of the world’s great sin and because humanity has lost their way…

See him as he is placed in the grave…

See him rise from death…

See him ascend to heaven…

See the Lord Jesus Christ in all his glory…

See that he has done all of this for you!  Do not lose hope!  Do not give up!  Search the Scriptures for the promises of God. Grab hold of them and rely on them as if your life depended on it – and it does!

Why did Simeon and Anna not lose hope?  How could they remain so devout?  Why, over the years and the decades when all seemed dark and despondent, did they not give up searching for the Christ of God? 

Because we become just like who we worship. 

If we spend all our time, thoughts, and energy on money, we will live and die with whatever the markets are doing… 

If we spend all our time, thoughts, energy on our job and our work, we will live and die with our ability to produce and get things done… 

If we spend all our time, thoughts, and energy on watching out for ourselves because we believe no one cares, then we will live and die lonely and dejected… 

But if we spend our time, use our thoughts, and expend our energy in the hope of all the earth, Jesus, the Savior of the world, then we will experience the deepest needs of our lives being met – we will become like Jesus, showing love, giving grace, and enjoying unhindered relationship with God.

No tragedy can dim the hope that comes from knowing God will walk with you through the valley. Hope is neither cheap, nor easy. Genuine hope typically arises from the ash heap of unfulfilled dreams, messed-up plans, and broken hearts. We often need to experience hopelessness before we can realize hope itself. It is the absence of hope that holds the invitation to forsake old ways and strike out on a new path to find our heart’s truest desire. Author Joan Chittester has wisely said:

“The challenge of hopelessness is the challenge to re-enter humanity, to take our part in it knowing that the lack of hope has much within it to shape our life. Losing hope leads us to understand that misfortune is not failure. It is at most simply a digression through life intended to make us reassess our course, our goals, and our aspirations.”

Indeed, hopelessness need not lead to despair. The profound lack of hope is ironically what reawakens and rekindles hope within us. It is the process of reassessment that is the opportunity to hope again with a sharper and a greater assurance of hope – to create space in becoming fully alive to the hope that has always been there – maybe just underneath all of life’s accumulated stuff.

For me, hope rekindles when I withdraw to a quiet place, either sitting down in my favorite chair or walking along a secluded wooded path. I allow and encourage the sixth sense of faith and imagination to inform my other five senses. This helps my heart to enlarge, the empty places of my soul to be filled with the hope of Christ. It is in this inner place, where our hearts join the heart of God, that we find an alternative way to the true hope for which we have been striving for so long to realize.

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:11-14, NIV)

We have a sure and certain hope which presently now shapes our lives as we wait patiently. Just as we await a coming vaccine and deliverance from COVID-19 which presently now forms our living with masking, social distancing, and sheltering in place – so we look forward to the coming of our glorious Savior and the realization of our salvation in its fullness. Meanwhile, much like Simeon and Anna, we presently now devote our lives to prayer and wait….

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