This is the first of three lessons my daughter, Rheannon, and I will be teaching at Freedom Fellowship this month. The song that accompanies this lesson is Born in Bethlehem by Third Day. A YouTube video of the song is included at the end of the post.
So the only thing I can think about is a Suite Life of Zach and Cody episode when there is a blizzard and all the hotel rooms are full. But there is a young couple expecting a child. The only place to stay is the lobby. So that is where they stayed. Hopeful. Hopeful that all would be okay. Hopeful that their child would be born.
Hope is a strong feeling. This song (Born in Bethlehem) by Third Day is a song full of hope. Hope that the Lord will come. Hope that the Lord will save.
There is a verse in Romans where Paul says, “You see, at just the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.” At just the right time. Have you thought about the power of that phrase? Not too soon. Not too late. Just the right time.
To illustrate how important the right time is, let me tell me you a story. When Shawna was pregnant with Rheannon, I was being treated for an undiagnosed condition that resulted in extreme pain in both legs. My doctor’s best guess was an undetected neuropathy. His course of treatment was a medication that did not correct the problem, but zapped me out so much that I felt nothing. I pleaded with Shawna to not go into labor late at night, because I did not think I would be able to stay awake all night. So guess what time she went in to labor?
And when Rheannon was born, there was a complication and she needed to be in the NICU for five days. I remember my parents coming right away—an eight hour trip. I remember all the visits, phone calls, and prayers offered for her. I remember the gifts that were given to us. Gifts “just because.” Ultimately, she was healthy and there were no long-lasting concerns. As I look back at that now, I know that she came at just the right time. In just the right place. With just the right medical team. With just the right support.
How often have we had to wait? Sometimes, it seems endless. Sometimes, we are able to look back at the course of our lives and see the way events unfolded in just the right way. But when we are in the midst of waiting…
The world was waiting. Mary and Joseph were waiting.
“Hallelujah, the King is here.”
Another story of hope is the story of Moses. His sister hoped that he would come. Miriam was devoted to her brother. She watched him float down the river. She waited years and years to see him. I am a sister myself, and I love my brothers a lot. She was still hopeful that she would see him even though years passed. She was a person full of hope. To be honest, I feel like I could not wait that long. Then God hoped (knew) that Moses would lead the Israelites. And Moses hoped that he could lead them. Finally the Israelites hoped to not get caught and make it to the Promised Land.
The Israelites were a people who knew about hope. They hoped for Yahweh to hear their cries. They hoped for deliverance out of slavery.
But I think that maybe they gave up on hope along the way. And who can blame them? 400 years of slavery? Trapped in against a sea with an army bearing down on them? Wandering through the desert with no food to eat? The reason I think they may have given up on hope is the way they longed to return to Egypt whenever something came up against them. “Remember how we had it in Egypt? Better to live there in bondage than die out here in the desert!”
They were ready to give up. They had lost their hope.
But the Israelites throughout their history, through the ups and downs, through the judges, monarchs, prophets, and exile, through the faithfulness and the rebellion, held on to at least a sliver of hope that a Messiah, a King, a Deliverer was coming.
So over Thanksgiving, someone had broken in. Though they took very little, I was still upset. I had hoped that we would get our stuff back, and that they wouldn’t come back. But I also hoped that the person who did it was okay. I hoped that the person wasn’t in a bad situation. I wanted to be able to forgive him/her. I hoped I could. So even in bad situations, hope is always there. It is an emotion that is ever-present.
There is, sometimes, a negative side to hope that we do not always talk about. Sometimes, hope is there because we are in the midst of some great struggle. The Psalms of lament illustrate this. They are Psalms that usually end with great praise: God is good, God loves, God is faithful. But before those Psalms get to the praise, we hear the hurt, we hear the doubt: Why have you abandoned me? Why are you not listening to me? So there is hope; but the hope is growing out of a place of pain.
The Christmas story is one of great hope. The King is here, given for all men! Today the holy Son of God is born in Bethlehem! Hallelujah!
But when Jesus was born, what was going on? The nation of Israel was reduced to no more than a province. With a King, Herod, who hardly matched up to the likes of David. In an atmosphere of all Jewish people needing to heed to the beck and call of the Romans. There was a reason Jesus used the illustration of “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two,” because a Roman soldier could force a Jew to carry his things for a mile. What kind of hope did Israel really have?
And then we look at Joseph and Mary. Their lives have already been turned upside down. The scandal of a young girl, pregnant before her wedding. The potential shame for Joseph—his bride to be, pregnant with a child that was not his. The situation of the night—no place to stay, except a stable in someone’s back yard.
Remember in the Magnificat, the song Mary sings when she finds out she is pregnant? “My soul magnifies the Lord!” How far from her mind was that sentiment when the first contraction hit and all Mary could see was Joseph and some barn animals?
Yet the Christmas story is a story of hope. No matter the circumstances, no matter the situation, there is hope. Regardless of what is going on, we have hope.
I hope for a day when everyone has a home. I hope for a day when people do not suffer with the chains of addiction. I hope for a day when spouses are true to their vows. I hope for a day when children do not have to attend funerals of their friends. I hope for a day when houses are not broken into, and when people do not feel so desperate that they think stealing is their only option.
I hope for that day.
But even before that day comes, the Christmas story reminds me that I can continue to hope. Because the Holy Son of God was born in Bethlehem.
In Luke 2:21-40, we read about Simeon and Anna. Simeon had hope. He had hoped that he would see the King. But like my dad said, hope can also blossom from despair, sadness, and anger. Sometimes, if I’m angry, I hope that the offender gets “what they deserve.” If I am sad, I ohpe to feel better. I hope for things on a daily basis. I hope that school would start later, that I wouldn’t fight with one person or another. I hope that my grades will be better. I that one day I can date. (I hope that I don’t get grounded for the things I say!) I hope that my anger and sadness will go away. I am overwhelmed by all my hope. Hope can be a good feeling, but I must not allow myself to hope for bad things to happen. We all need to work on hoping for the right things; to focus on the good.
The time leading up to Christmas is a time to remind us of the hope we have. Whatever position we are in right now, we have hope. Hope that “the holy Son of God is born in Bethlehem.”