PART 1: “MAY THE GOD OF HOPE”
One definition of the word “wonder” is:
rapt attention or astonishment at something awesomely mysterious or new to one’s experience
This Christmas let us stop and listen and consider, during this time of frightful pandemic, the wonder of what God did for us 2000 years ago – a wonder that has changed the world forever…
Our Christmas card, sent out to 1500 houses in our community, declares the following from 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”
This is our Christmas hope for you – and over the next 3 services we are going to break this down to see the awesome wonder of the coming of Jesus Christ. And in the Bible story of the birth of Jesus we have one account that conveys this sense of wonder more than any other – the story of the shepherds (Luke 2: 1-20):
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Don’t you get a real sense of awesome wonder here from the shepherds?!
They were certainly overwhelmed with the wonder of all that was happening to them – totally focused on the appearance of the angels – so much so that they were terrified at first. They had never seen this before! Their mouths must have dropped open as they saw and heard the host of angels singing. How silent they must have been – totally dumbstruck – as they then visited the place of Jesus’ birth and with what wonder must they have pondered on what they had seen – the Saviour of the World had come – and they had been privileged to witness the start of this greatest of stories ever told.
With wonder, let us now give rapt attention anew to the words of Paul to the Christians in Rome.
WONDER 1: “MAY THE GOD OF HOPE”
There’s that little 3-letter word again: “May”.
And again we have to understand that it is NOT IN THE ORIGINAL GREEK which actually says “Now the God of Hope” (“de ho theos ho elpis”).
Does this make a difference? Well, yes it does if we again take the word “may” to mean “He may not but I do so hope that He does”. It enters a note of uncertainty. It suggests that although God might WANT to fill us with joy and peace, He might not be able to or He might choose not to.
When we remove that little word “may” and replace it with “now” we get a sense of certainty – a sure and certain hope that He WILL fill us with joy and peace as we trust in Him. The only limiting factor then becomes US – if WE choose not to fully trust in Him then we are at risk of not entering into His full promise of joy and peace which is offered to us right NOW.
- “THE GOD”
In the ancient world there were a plethora of gods – all with their different names – to the Romans and Greeks there were Jupiter and Zeus, Juno and Hera, Apollo and Hermes and Mars and more and more and more.
Here Paul cuts through it all and declares “ho theos” – THE God. There is no other. He doesn’t have to have a specific name to differentiate Him from other gods – for none of them are real
And at this time let us remember this. There is only one God of Hope; only one God who can bring Joy and Peace. The gods of materialism and pleasure that are the gods of the moment are no gods at all! They are false hopes – they are no hope at all – and any joy and peace that they might possibly bring are fleeting, transitory, and blow away soon like the dust.
- “OF HOPE”
This is not a hope of desperation, this is not a vain hope, this is not a wish.
This is a “sure and certain” hope.
This is a promise.
This is the “Good News” that the angels proclaimed to the shepherds.
This is the certain hope of “Immanuel – God with us” right now!
This is the certain hope of forgiveness and atonement right now!
This is the certain hope of “The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Love of God and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit” right now!
This is the hope of eternal life in Paradise in the future!
Remembering and celebrating and proclaiming Christmas is our demonstration of the truth that Hope became flesh 2000 years ago. A little baby was born who was to grow to become the Saviour of the world.
This is our sure and certain hope because of the wonder of the incarnation:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3: 16)
Let us therefore stand in awe and be full of wonder of the God who loves us so much that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ at this time.