One of the traditional themes for the Sundays of Advent is hope.
Webster defines hope as “to cherish a desire with anticipation.”
The New Testament Greek word for hope has a similar meaning. The definition is a "favorable and confident expectation, the happy anticipation of good.”
On Wednesday, November 28th, millions of Americans hoped and prayed. Now I know that we live in a post-Christian nation. Our President even noted that America is not a Christian nation any more. But, millions prayed on the 28th.
They prayed that the numbers on their Powerball ticket matched the Powerball numbers drawn. The numbers come from five numbered ping pong balls out of a drum of 59 white balls and one red ball from 35 numbered balls out of another drum. The winner would win $580 million, almost half a billion.
There were two winners - one in Missouri and another in Arizona who split the jackpot.
That left millions of losers whose hope in the numbers was dashed like waves against the rocks. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12).
Some spent a lot of money they didn’t have. Some were deeply in debt or unemployed.
Many tried bargaining with God. “O God, let me win, and I will give to my church. I will help my family. I will help the poor.”
I wonder how many were angry with God when their numbers didn’t match-up.
And even those who’ve won mega-millions in past lotteries sometimes have their lives ruined by sudden fortune. Dave Ramsey, a personal money management expert, an extremely popular national radio personality, and the best-selling author of The Total Money Makeover says, “Perhaps the quickest way to ruin your life is to win the lottery. Lots of people think that instantly coming millions of dollars means life on easy street, money that will be around forever, and no need for responsibility or work. The truth is very rarely does it work out like that for a lottery winner.
“And the poor are most vulnerable to get sucked in by the promise of quick riches. One recent report found that families who make under $12,400 spend about $645 a year on lottery tickets.”
I call it the curse of the lottery. It is a false hope. The Scripture says, “Some people, eager for money, have...pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10).
Now I have to confess that I thought about buying a couple of tickets for a chance at $580 million. “After all,” I rationalized, “it’s only Coke and cookie money!” I dreamed of what I would do with the winnings. Take a trip. Buy a new car. Maybe build my church a fantastic building. Help Pastor Stanley in Kenya and Pastors Lora and Val Pavlenko in Ukraine. Scholarship a couple of kids who can’t afford the private Christian school where I teach part-time. And of course, I would spread the wealth around my family too.
On Tuesday, before the Wednesday night drawing, students in my Georgia History class asked me if I had bought my lottery ticket yet. I had them write down a number between one and ten, and I wrote down a number. I put a dollar bill on the table and told them if any one of their numbers matched my number, the dollar was theirs. None matched. I kept the dollar. It was a good lesson for them.
Peace and contentment are not in money and wealth. It is in godliness. “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:6-10).
December 25th is right around the corner. Let us remember that our Savior was placed in the lowest poverty. His bed was a manger, a feeding trough, that is only found in a barn for animals. And, his life came to an end in an even more humiliating place when he was executed on the cross.
The Lord taught us, “Your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom...Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted” (Luke 12:32-33).
We must check our motives when we pray for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3).
So, let us hope only in the Lord and trust in Him to make us content.
That Hope came to us. It is God’s Christmas gift to us. It is the Word made flesh. That gift is for all of us - not just two people who won the lottery. And the gift of God at Christmas is Life in the Son. That is true Hope. For all who believe, the incredible riches of God in Christ are lavished upon us.
“In him was life. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:4, 14).
That hope is true Hope and is a "favorable and confident expectation which gives me the happy anticipation of good.”
Thus, Hope is not in things or money. It is not in what I have or want. My hope is not in this world.
The world does not give me hope.
People do not give me hope.
Putting my hope in acquiring things does not give true hope but despair when those things are out of my grasp.
Putting my hope in people to do right by me leads to depression and feelings of victimization when they do me wrong.
How can I say these things? I know from experience. I’ve put my hope in both.
True hope is given by the Lord. It is His Christmas gift to us. It is a gift from above that has the power to give me a favorable and confident expectation and to give me the happy anticipation of good because God is good. Hope tells me that even in adversity, God is working, working, working to turn adversity on its head and make good for me and glory to Him (Romans 8:28).
If nothing else good happens in adversity, at least my relationship with Christ deepens and grows stronger. I realize how powerless I am and how dependent on the Lord’s strength to help me through it. That is good!
Hope also has a purifying effect on our emotional, mental, and spiritual health.
“Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:3).
In October of this year, there was a deadly, mysterious outbreak of fungal meningitis. Government health authorities traced the cause of the outbreak back to the New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts.
Due to poor management and supervision, back mold got into their medicine. When injected into people to relieve their back and joint pain, the contaminated medicine caused sickness and the death of 30 people. Think of it. That which was supposed to help people hurt them.
Contaminated medicine can kill us.
I wear an insulin pump that acts like an IV. There is a constant drip of insulin into my body that the pump supplies so that my blood sugar stays as close to normal as possible. I am dependent on my insulin supply to be pure. For all of our medicines, we depend on our medicines to be pure - not contaminated.
In the same way, a contaminated soul can kill our emotions, mind, and spirit.
What are some of the contaminates that can kill us?
First, there is anger and rage that can destroy us and those around us including those we love.
Revenge can poison the soul. A desire to hurt someone who has hurt us can dominate our thinking. We take that person who has done us wrong to breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Jealousy is like the sickening venom of a viper that spreads fatally into our hearts. It is counting someone else’s blessings rather than our own.
Finally, despair can incapacitate us to the point that we don’t even want to get out of bed or go to work.
So, how do we keep these contaminates from being injected into us? How do we purify ourselves?
It is through Hope - true hope in Christ. The Hope that God gifted us through Christ purifies my soul.
When I place my hope in the Lord, the contaminates of anger, revenge, and despair are kept out. I am purified.
My anger comes from the contaminate of hope in things. When I do not get what I want, anger is injected into my soul. When I place my Hope in the Lord as Paul explained, “I am content with what I have and “the God of hope fills me with all joy and peace as I trust in him, so that I may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).
My revenge comes from the contaminate injected into me when people do me wrong. I want to get even. Hope purifies me because I can hope and trust the Lord to do right by me. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Romans 12:19).
Hope in the Lord purifies me from the venom of jealousy. I count my own blessings and quickly run out of fingers and toes to count them on! I can hope in the good Lord to give me the necessities of life. The Psalmist observed from the viewpoint of his old age, “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (Psalm 37:25). If the Lord provides our needs, let us be content. And if he chooses to give us some of our wants, let us be grateful. Hope in the Lord ends jealousy of what others have, and what we don’t have. Hope purifies us.
My despair issues from the contaminate injected into me from hopelessness about my situation. Feelings of all is lost, woe is me, and what’s the use infect my senses and mind. I become a victim with a victim mentality when actually, I am a victor! My hope in Christ purifies my soul and makes me more than a conqueror through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37-38).
Through hope in Christ, I have “a favorable and confident expectation, the happy anticipation of good.”
Hope is the Word made flesh. That gift is for all of us - not just two people who won the lottery. And the gift of God at Christmas is Life in the Son. For all who believe, the incredible riches of God in Christ are lavished upon us.
John Newton found that the Lord fulfilled all of his hopes and dreams. The third verse of his beloved hymn, “Amazing Grace,” affirms, “The Lord has promised good to me,
his word my hope secures; he will my shield and portion be as long as life endures.”
The fact that He is and will be “my shield and portion” are among the riches of Christ’s treasure chest that are ours! That’s why hope in Christ is a sure hope and not a pipe dream of unfulfilled hope like hope placed in the lottery’s ping pong balls or anything or anyone else for that matter.
Hope, true hope in the Christ born in Bethlehem renews our strength each day. “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
This hope prays, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” For Jesus, the will of the Father was dying on the cross for us. Sometimes, that is God’s will for us too. We are crucified with Christ,” the Apostle Paul said, “and I no longer live but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). And, my sinful nature with its passions and desires dies on the cross.
This allows the birth of life in the Spirit in me to grow the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-25).
God’s gift of hope, the Word made flesh and laid in Bethlehem’s manger, renews our strength knowing we can pray for and accept whatever God’s will and purpose for us might be. The passions and desires of the flesh give way to the blessings of a Spirit-filled, Spirit controlled life.
That is the Christmas gift of Hope.
So, when you pull out your boxes of Christmas decorations, trim the tree, see the lights, and hear the music of Christmas, think of the gift of Hope that purifies and renews us because the Word became flesh and dwells among us.†
You gave us hope when You sent Your Son
True hope, perfect hope, pure hope
Into the darkness, Jesus has come
True hope, perfect hope, pure hope
Let Your light shine through us to the nations;
Let Your light shine through us to the world, for
You gave us hope when You sent Your Son;
True hope, perfect hope, pure hope.
- Ralph Merrifield, 2003
Rev. Dan White is pastor and founder of North Columbia Church, Appling, GA and a free lance writer who has been published in both secular and Christian magazines. He writes an article of faith and inspiration of the Augusta Chonicle. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org