Good News. The Newborn King (Hope)

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The Newborn King

Welcome to the first Sunday of Advent.
What an amazing season it is as we journey together toward Christmas.
The word advent is a version of a Latin term which means “coming.”
So we use these weeks leading up to Christmas as a chance to look forward to our celebration of the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, the light of the world, our Savior.
Advent is a season of great expectation, and I’m glad you’re here with us today as we embark on a journey—actually join in an epic journey that began more than two thousand years ago
It’s a journey of the heart and soul, but it’s also a journey that will realign our expectations and experience of the Christmas season.
And it’s a journey towards the Newborn King and the hope, love, joy, and peace that the Christchild came to give us.
We all need hope in the storms of life and love that never gives up. We need fresh joy on our journey and peace no matter what we’re facing or dealing with.
As we embark on this journey this Advent season, I want to encourage all of us to look tonwards the manger and the King that was maid in swaddling clothes.
Look towards, gaze at, and journey to this Newborn King.
The Advent season is about the journey as much as the destination.
As we’ll explore, it is a time to prepare, maybe to pause and to ponder, to breathe deeply and turn our eyes to the true meaning of this time of year—a season that can seem so hectic and stressful in our culture.
No matter where you find yourself today, you are invited into this journey.
Think about the people who were part of the journey toward the first Christmas—Mary, Joseph, an innkeeper, a jealous king, some wise men, common shepherds, angels, and so many more.
They didn’t have all the answers.
They hadn’t spent hours getting ready and making sure they were prepared for the supernatural events awaiting them.
They didn’t even understand what was happening all the time—even when angels appeared or a star guided their path.
But all of the Christmas story cast answered God’s invitation to come and see the arrival of His Son, the light of the world and the Savior of all.
Will you say yes to the journey?
Will you peer through the darkness of your life, no matter what that may be, and look for the glimmer of hope?
Will you step toward the light of the star even if your vision seems cloudy or muddled?
Will you journey toward Bethlehem, drawn by hope for the love, joy, and peace that await?
Is that a difficult vision for you?
Does your night seem cloudy?
Is your Christmas season overwhelmed already by any number of struggles: financial stresses, relational dysfunctions, memories of loss, commercialized expectations?
We’ve all been there at some time or another.
We may be there now in some form or another.
But let me encourage you—that’s exactly where hope shines brightest.

A Promised Hope

Today we began the Advent season by lighting the first Advent candle, the candle of hope.
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:
Luke 1:31–33 CSB
Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end.”
This promise to Mary echoed the prophecy of Isaiah, given seven centuries earlier:
Isaiah 9:6–7 CSB
For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. The dominion will be vast, and its prosperity will never end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from now on and forever. The zeal of the Lord of Armies will accomplish this.
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.

A Practical Hope

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.
The Christian faith is intensely present.
But it means that the here and now is not our only focus, or even our primary focus.
It's present in light of the past and the future.
All of time meets in Christian faith.
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)
Our focus is on the world to come, but paradoxically, it’s our future focus allows us to live this life to the fullest.
Now that would be the end of the sermon if it weren’t for one thing.
Hope is not automatic.
In fact, sometimes hope is very difficult.
Sometimes our circumstances seem anything but hopeful; on the contrary, sometimes they can seem all but hopeless.

A Persevering Hope

So how do we sustain hope in the midst of disappointment and difficulty?”
How do we keep from being completely overwhelmed by trials and pain?
How do we maintain an attitude of hope when everything in us wants to yield to despair?
When we can’t see a way out?
When we want to give up?
We’ve all faced situations where there seems to be little objective reason for hope – in our jobs, in our marriages, in relationships with family members.
Some of us have faced seemingly hopeless medical or financial problems.
Some of you, right now, may be in situations that seem hopeless, so that you are tempted to give up hope.
How do we hold on to hope during those times when our circumstances seem hopeless?

A Placed Hope

First, put your hope in God. Trust in Him for help.
That may seem obvious, but too often we are willing to seek help from anyone and anything before we turn to God.
He becomes the appeal of last resort.
After we’ve exhausted every other option, we go to God.
So if the problem is financial, we don’t look to God first; we look to a banker, or maybe a rich uncle. We rack our brains trying to think of any way we can put our hands on more cash.
If the problem is relational, a conflict with a spouse or a family member, we’ll buy books on marriage, scour articles in magazines, listen to Oprah or Dr. Phil, and then finally, maybe turn to God for help.
We will try everything we can think of, and then if nothing else works, we will think of praying.
But that’s backwards!
We should go to God first, not last.
Listen to what the Psalmist wrote:
Psalm 33:16–22 CSB
A king is not saved by a large army; a warrior will not be rescued by great strength. The horse is a false hope for safety; it provides no escape by its great power. But look, the Lord keeps his eye on those who fear him— those who depend on his faithful love to rescue them from death and to keep them alive in famine. We wait for the Lord; he is our help and shield. For our hearts rejoice in him because we trust in his holy name. May your faithful love rest on us, Lord, for we put our hope in you.
Now, what is the Psalmist saying?
That kings shouldn’t have large armies, that their warriors shouldn’t ride on horses?
He’s saying that even if a king has a large, well-equipped army, it can’t guarantee success.
If he’s relying on that for victory, if his hope is in those things, he’ll be defeated.
Our hope should be in God.
And when we place our hope in God, it pleases Him.
He delights in rescuing those who place their hope in Him, the Psalm says His eyes “are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them.”
He becomes their “help” and their “shield”; He is more valuable to them than ten armies.
I’m not saying you don’t go to the doctor when you’re sick,
or that you don’t go to the bank when you need money,
or that you don’t see a counselor to help you work out conflicts in your marriage.
I’m saying that you don’t put your hope in these things.
You put your hope in God.
He may use a doctor, or a banker, or a counselor, but your hope is in Him, not them.
You don’t trust the doctor to take care of you, you trust in God to care for you through the doctor.
Remember: it’s not the size of the king’s army that matters.
It’s not the size of your wallet, or the skill of your doctor, or the insight of your counselor that matters.
What matters is whether you are placing your trust and hope in God.
Here’s the question: When you’re in a situation where your hope is running low, what do you do first?
Do you rack your brain to think of all the ways you can solve the problem?
Do you try to think of people, and resources, and organizations, and plans, and strategies?
And then, if nothing else works, do you finally turn to the Lord?
Where in the process does prayer enter the picture? First? Last? Never?
Here’s what to do.
When your situation starts to seem hopeless, just stop.
Say, “Lord, I don’t know what to do. I’m not sure how to handle this. But my trust and my hope are in you. I’m relying on You to resolve this situation. Please show me what you would have me do. Amen.”
What will happen if you do that?
Can I guarantee that nothing bad, nothing unpleasant, nothing painful will happen? No.
Can I guarantee you the outcome you desire? No.
Our hope is not in what we want God to do.
Our hope is not in one specific result.
Our hope is in God Himself.
We trust Him to do what is best, and that may not be what we expect or desire.
But what I can guarantee is that God will prove Himself faithful to you, and that He will not disappoint you.
You won’t regret putting your trust and hope in Him.
“Then you will know that I am the LORD; those who hope in me will not be disappointed.” – Isaiah 49:23 (NIV)
“The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him” – Lamentations 3:25 (NIV)
“The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” – Psalm 147:11 (NIV)
One caution: this doesn’t mean that God’s goodness and wisdom are always immediately evident.
Sometimes it’s only looking back, in retrospect, that we can see how God has been caring for us, providing for us, protecting us.
Sometimes when we’re right in the thick of things, we can’t see any evidence of God working at all.
But if we continue to trust Him, to place our hope in Him alone, we will not be disappointed.
So where does this kind of hope come from?
Let’s be real. It’s one thing to say, “put your hope in God.” It’s another to actually do it, especially when the pressure is high and your circumstances look hopeless.
Where do we get the faith we need to do this?
Well, from God. We have to go to Him to get the faith we need to place our hope in Him. One-stop shopping!
“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.” – Romans 15:13 (NIV)
How do we walk toward the hope?
How can we purposefully live this season of anticipation in light of hope?
I’d like to suggest it starts with acknowledging the darkness around us, embracing the wait, and committing to the journey.

1. Acknowledge the Darkness

I have here with me a flashlight. [Turn on a flashlight and shine it around.]
Right now it doesn’t seem too exciting. It’s actually kind of hard to even see the light it puts out. However, if we found ourselves in complete darkness, we might feel very differently about this little gadget.
[Have all the lights turned off so the room is completely dark. Give everyone a minute for the darkness to sink in.]
Wow! It’s dark in here. If we all had to find our way to the front or to an exit, it would be tough!
[Turn on the flashlight.]
Now, surrounded by darkness, see how much light this flashlight gives?
It suddenly looks much brighter when it shines in the darkness.
It could actually make the difference in being able to find our way or not.
[Turn the lights back on.]
It’s kind of amazing that God chose a star to guide the wise men to Bethlehem.
Throughout the Bible, we see how God uses His own creation to reveal Himself to us.
God’s glory is seen in the stars.
A light in the darkness
But the thing about stars is they can’t be seen in the light.
It’s the same as that flashlight—on a much more celestial scale. They are there, but we can’t see them.
In fact, they are seen best on the darkest of nights, when there is no moonlight, away from the lights of the city.
The darker the setting, the brighter the starlight.
This time of year, holiday glitz can artificially light our lives.
Or we may seek out our own flashing distractions to try to distract us from the gnawing darkness within.
But facing the darkness and calling it what it is allows us to see true light.
It’s when we acknowledge the darkness that we can see the star that leads us on the journey.
As we journey together toward Christmas this Advent season, let’s be honest about the darkness we find ourselves in—both darkness in the world around us and darkness within our own hearts.
We live in a world full of darkness and fear, but it is into that great darkness that an even greater star appears to light the way.
The Bible tells us that it was also a pretty dark time for the people of Israel when Jesus showed up.
The Old Testament prophets had prophesied of a Messiah, but it had been a long wait—hundreds of years of waiting.
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
Isaiah talked about the coming light and the present darkness, and that darkness continued to grow through the centuries.
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2).
Both of these verses were spoken long before Jesus was born.
The people of Israel lived in that space between promise and fulfillment.
Looking back, it’s easy for us to see how the first Passover, when God spared the firstborns of the Israelites in Egypt and set them free from slavery, foreshadowed the coming of Jesus, the Passover lamb.
But the people of Israel didn’t have the benefit of hindsight.
They were desperate for a deliverer.
Honestly, many of them thought God had forgotten them, especially as they lived under Roman oppression in the time of Herod.
Today we share that common experience of darkness and desperation.
Nothing can rescue us except God.
And the beauty of the journey of hope is that we see, in what seems to be the darkest hour, God shows up.
We can find and continue to draw hope, knowing that Jesus entered our darkness that first Christmas.
His Spirit will fan even the smallest spark of hope within us and draw us onward toward vibrant daily hope rooted in the work of Christ to overwhelm the darkness of sin and death.
It’s not an instant process, but it’s a real process that gives us what we need through the journey.

2. Embrace the Wait

Who likes waiting?
Does anyone like waiting?
We live in a culture that does everything possible to reduce the amount of time we spend waiting!
I don’t think most of us would do very well living in the days of the Israelites.
The people of Israel in the Bible knew all about the long wait.
Since Genesis, in the very first book of the Bible, when sin entered the world, we see that God offered the promise of hope.
In Genesis 3:14–15, God cursed the serpent that tempted Eve and said that through her offspring will come one who will crush the serpent.
This was Jesus, the source of hope from the very beginning.
God had a plan of hope from the start.
But constrained by the time of our world, the waiting seemed like forever.
Imagine a farmer standing on the dry dust of a parched field and looking up to the sky.
Years of drought have taken everything from him, and he has lost hope.
But then, in the distance, he hears the rumble of thunder—the promise of rain.
That is the image John the Baptist gave of himself when people asked if he was the Messiah. No, he was not, but he was announcing the arrival of the long-awaited one.
He was the herald of hope. “I’m thunder in the desert: ‘Make the road straight for God!’” he cried (John 1:23, msg).
Advent is a time of waiting.
While it feels unnatural, there is great benefit in embracing this season as we anticipate the coming of Jesus.
The waiting reminds us of where our hope is set.
It allows us the time and focus to hear the distant rumble of thunder, the promise that our hope will be fulfilled.
And while we wait to celebrate Jesus’s birth, we also wait for our true hope to be fulfilled when Jesus comes again.
This will be the ultimate fulfillment of our deepest hopes.
The apostle John described it this way: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. . . . They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:9, 16–17, esv).
We still live in the space between the already and the not yet.
And so our challenge is to embrace the waiting with hope—and to allow that hope to carry us through the wait.
You could say that hope fuels our very faith.
It draws us onward, giving us expectation that our belief and longing will be fulfilled as God has promised.
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
Will you allow this Advent season to serve as a reminder of the confidence we have as we wait in hope for what we do not yet see?
Will you seek the light of the star, no matter how faintly it might first appear to you, and draw hope from its growing light?

3. Commit to the Journey

I don’t know about you, but my natural images of waiting and journeying are different.
One involves sitting around; one involves moving.
But the concept of waiting throughout the Bible is one of active waiting.
We wait with expectant hearts, but we are constantly moving forward on our journey.
Priest, professor, writer, and theologian, Henri J. M. Nouwen described the waiting we see in Scripture as very active.
In Waiting for God, he wrote, “Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it.”
What an excellent description of Advent!
Waiting means being active, present in the moment while still anticipating where we are going.
That’s not easy! It takes strength and courage, but those we can draw from the very source of our hope.
As the psalmist encouraged: “Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord” (Psalm 31:24).
So what does that look like in real life?
Peter gave us a glimpse when he said,
“Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming” (1 Peter 1:13).
Hope is about waiting, but that waiting involves a commitment to being present in our journey of obedience.
Alert, sober—these are words of expectation and active anticipation.
The good news in all this is that wherever you are on your journey, it’s okay—keep following God’s light.
Sure, we have four weeks of Advent that lead to Christmas, but that is human-created calendar timing, not God’s timing.
Advent is about a deadline to have to get prepared by.
It’s not about finding all the answers or checking all the boxes.
It is about preparing.
You just have to show up and be willing to follow God’s lead.
Wherever you are, you are not too late.
God’s timing is perfect.
And He wants to fill your heart with hope for the ultimate healing and life in His Son.
That is a reason for hope that will fuel your journey through Advent and far beyond.
Because as we journey to the Newborn King we are reminded of Jesus promise that His Kingdom is not of this world.
In this world you will have trouble, Jesus said, but be of good cheer, be encouraged, have hope… I have overcome the world.
Lamentations 3:21–26 CSB
Yet I call this to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for his mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness! I say, “The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the person who seeks him. It is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord.
You may have to wait, but you don’t have to wait without hope!
Prayer: God, thank You that You enter into the darkness of our world and of our hearts with light. Help us during this season of Advent to live with expectant hope as we wait for the birth of Christ at Christmas and for the complete fulfillment of hope when Christ comes again. Amen.
Advent Devotion : Emmanuel God With Us, an Advent Devotional:
Take time this year to actively look toward the Newborn King this Christmas.
Benediction: “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!” (Romans 15:13)
Matthew 4:12–16
Jesus Begins His Ministry
[12] Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. [13] And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, [14] so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
[15] “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
[16] the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.” (ESV)
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