Of Shepherds and Hope (Advent)

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[Artwork: www.nomorestoneheart.com Used with permission]

Read: Luke 2:8-20

[This short sermon is the first in our Advent series. May God in his goodness bless you richly as you worship Jesus the King this Christmas]

Hope: to cherish a desire with anticipation. That is, to nurse a longing for things to be different, very different, and have some sense that this will one day happen.

We speak of hope like we speak of a wish, a strong desire for something that cannot or probably will not happen. The hope of the Scriptures is quite different. It is a strong and robust thing. Meaty. Grounded. And full of substance.

These shepherds out in the field were not so much men of hope. They were men’s men. Gutsy. They slept rough. There was life and death under their fingernails. They had been born to shepherds. They lived as shepherds. They would die as shepherds. They were regarded as despised, dirty and deceitful. That’s just how it was, and how it would ever would be.

Children today are taught they can make something of themselves. Not these shepherds. Caught between the rock of  religious legalism and the hard place of social prejudice, they would never change.

In our generation hope is more common. Parents hope their children will learn well, work hard, and get on in life.

But do you sometimes hope for more? Not more possessions or more money,  but deeper. Do we still nurse that deeper hope? That life can change? That we can change, or be changed?

Do you ever think that our hope is too limited? That our gaze is set too low? That our hope, far from being courageous, is often limp and insipid.

What we need is conversion. A new mind. A new heart. A new hope.

The good news is that the Christmas Gospel is given by God to convert us to hope. Christmas points us to the better life we all desire, and also sense that it will come to pass. It’s what we sing: a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

That’s what we hope for. Because of Jesus we are hoping for a new world, a new city, for new people, for a new church, for new relationships.

This is the Gospel: that through Jesus God is bringing the world we anticipate to reality. And God says ‘In and through Jesus I will do this in you. I will make you into a new person!”

In Jesus God is is bringing a world where heaven and nature sing! How many times do we sing these words at Christmas without so much as a thought to the hope they profess?

Heaven is rejoicing, and nature – our world – is rejoicing. It’s like they’ve been brought back together. It’s like a new beginning, a new world. God is directing us to that world and saying ‘My Son has come to open up that reality for you.”

Luke 2:11 Jesus Christ, the Saviour, has been born to you. He is the Messiah. The Lord.

Sometimes we wonder what difference the birth of Jesus actually makes. We sing about the birth of Jesus – if we’re lucky – for five weeks of the year, and then often we go on living the pother 47 weeks as if nothing has happened. How does that work?

How can our hope in him stand in the face of all the world’s threats? Hope, when there’s atrocity in Paris one week, another in the Sinai Peninsula, then San Bernadino. Next week, will we still have hope? How can we hope in a world like this? How can the hope of Jesus really resonate in our hearts?

It is probably too easy to think that our age is the only age where atrocities are commonplace. History shows such things in every age. At every time. In every place.

History also shows how the victory of the Gospel of Christ transformed men and women, cities, nations and empires.

The hope that one day creation’s heavy groans will be replaced with a rejoicing universe is grounded in the reality that, because of the death, rising, reign and rule of Jesus.

Think about that manger. It’s a picture of poverty and weakness. A skerrick of life on the margins of humanity. But to that manger, God sent his son. And through his son, God transforms our weakness, drawing us out of the cold of sin’s winter into the glorious warmth of the Kingdom of God. Draws us out of spiritual hunger into Father’s glorious banquet.

The little child, surrounded by lambs and cattle, would one day be our sacrifice. His life for ours. As people of hope in Christ this the message we bear: this is what we get to carry, to live in our world: Hope in Christ does not disappoint.

God, through his grace in Christ, is giving new birth to a different people. As Christ rules people, the hope of all the earth is seen.

Let us embrace that hope, and carry it, gracious and unashamed, into our world. Let us sing about the King who has come to give us new life.

 

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