Advent Week One
Immanuel, God with Us: Hope
In November of 1927 a US submarine, called the S-4, was conducting
maneuvers off the coast of Massachusetts (Mass-a-chu-setts.)
And at the same time, there was this Coast Guard Destroyer— the Paulding—that was actively chasing rumrunners into the very same waters where
the sub was practicing.
Both the S-4 and the Paulding were unaware of each other’s location.
And at some point, the S-4 began to surface directly in front of the Destroyer!
The Paulding saw the sub rising up out of the water,
and attempted to avoid the collision, but it was too late,
she ended up ramming the sub, ripping a hole into its side.
The S-4 sank 110 feet to the bottom, and there she sat on the ocean floor
with her 40-man crew trapped inside.
A rescue attempt was launched, and within 24 hours,
divers were down at the sub surveying the damage.
The sub was intact… the men were still alive, but time was running out.
It’s hard to imagine what took place in that sunken submarine,
but we can be sure of one thing, the men clung life as the oxygen began
to slowly give-out.
In fact, one of the divers placed his helmeted ear to the side of the sub
and listened, and he heard a tapping noise.
Someone was tapping out a question in the dots and dashes of the Morse Code.
The question came slowly, yet loud and clear: “Is … there … any … hope?”
“Is there any hope?” It’s the cry of humanity.
Hope is an indispensable quality of life—without it, life loses all of its meaning.
Throughout November we talked about resiliency and the
4 pillars of human thriving: physical, spiritual, mental, and relational.
Well, hope is at the very foundation of those pillars! Hope is essential.
Today starts what is known as the Advent Season.
It’s the four weeks before Christmas.
If you weren’t raised Catholic like I was,
you might not be familiar with it, and you may be wondering,
“What is advent?” That’s a great question!
The word advent means “arrival or coming into place.”
The advent season is traditionally a time when Christians remember and celebrate
Christ’s first coming, and at the same time,
look forward with anticipation to His second coming.
Advent is a season of joy and hope for the believer!
Yet sometimes it doesn’t really feel like a joyous time?
In fact, many times, people dread this time of year.
That’s because there’s this tension inside us with all kinds of things
fighting for our attention.
It starts right around Thanksgiving, and it builds this momentum of craziness that sucks us into its vortex… there’s Christmas shopping, family photos, work parties, and down the list we go—we get into task mode—and its check, check, check
until we’re done! It’s completely exhausting.
And sadly, if we’re not careful, the advent season becomes just
another thing to check off—something to get done.
Rather than being grateful during this season, we become gripers and complainers, and we miss what God is doing in and around us.
Listen, I don’t want that to happen this year—I want this year to be different.
Advent is much more than something we just do at Christmas—it’s not just candy calendars or lighting candles—advent is about a living hope that looks back to Jesus and forward to His return.
Now I know I’m not telling you anything new.
You know our faith is not about doing things or symbolic acts. You got it.
The real question for us today is this:
How do we do it, how do we live as people of advent,
people grounded and rooted in Biblical hope?
Answer this question, and chances are we’ll have a richer understanding
of what the advent season is and the implications it has for our lives.
So, to answer the question, the first thing we have to do is define hope correctly.
Biblical hope is very different from how the word “hope” is typically used today.
When people say, “hope” they really mean “wishful thinking.”
Something like, “I hope the Cowboys win!”
We cross our fingers, and we just hope… because it’s uncertain,
we’ll never know for sure until the end of the game.
This isn’t what the Bible means by hope. Biblical hope is not wishful thinking…
it’s a settled expectation that God will come through on His promises.
It’s trusting in God’s Wisdom and Character.
People with biblical hope have always looked to God from the very beginning.
They understood that humanity left to itself is not good—there is no hope in that.
That’s because they saw how humanity turned inward, became selfish, and tried to determine what is good and right on their own.
The results of not trusting God were tragic—it only left people broken
and separated from their Creator.
Trusting in ourselves, in our own wisdom, never works because it’s
not living life the way it was intended to be lived—in a loving and intimate relationship with our Creator.
So we need someone to make things right—that’s our only hope!
Right after the fall, when things went awry… We see God speaking with Eve;
He promises to send One who would come and crush the serpent’s head and destroy evil at its source. He would send this One to rescue humanity.
And ever since then, people have been hoping—and waiting—for this One to come and make things right.
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David, generation after generation,
the promise is made.
David is even told that this Savior—the One to come—would come from his line. He’d be a King!
But David’s descendants—his sons—only end up making things worse.
Their sins and rebellion divide the Kingdom and drive it into the ground,
and eventually, its people are taken into exile by the Babylonians.
And they’re left waiting.
During this time of waiting, things had gotten terrible.
And yet, the people are not left without hope…
You see, during those dark days, there was a group of prophets who kept talking about this coming King who would come and defeat evil and make things right!
Isaiah was one of those prophets, and one of his first predictions is found in chapter 7, where he says…
14 Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign:
See, the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.
Keep reading, and you come to Isaiah 9, where he gives a description of this child.
6 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. 7 …He will reign on David’s throne, …with justice and righteousness from now on and forever.
How encouraging that message must have been
for troubled people—a people waiting for a deliverer.
Look at the names Isaiah gives to this child: Immanuel—it means “God with us.”
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace!
And it gets even better because this child would come and reign in a time of great darkness, He would come and deliver His people, and His reign would never end!
All throughout the Old Testament, we hear this same promise…
that the Redeemer is coming; the promised One is coming…
So, the people of God waited with hopeful anticipation—He’s coming!
And then nothing—God goes silent!
For 400 years, not a word is spoken.
It’s hard to imagine what that must have felt like,
but for the people who had seen God’s miracles first-hand,
400 years must have felt like an eternity.
And the longer God was silent, the worse things got.
God’s chosen people would be under the foot of the Persians, the Greeks,
and then the Romans.
They had to be wondering, “What is going on?”
Was what the prophets said true?
Had God forgotten both His people and His promises?
Where is this Child—the King—the One who was to make things right?
Is there any hope!!!
The answer to that cry was a resounding YES!
For at just the right time, the silence is broken!
“When the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman,
born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” Galatians 4:4-5
God would send His Son Jesus into the world,
bring hope and freedom to mankind!
No longer would we be shackled to sin and death.
Matthew’s Gospel tells us that the birth of Jesus fulfilled
what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,
and they will name him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.”
Now, wait a minute… we’ve seen this before… this is what Isaiah said!
…Some 700 years earlier.
YES, hope would come just as Isaiah had said…
A hope fulfilled in the birth of Jesus!
See, God hadn’t forgotten His promise!
Jesus was God in the flesh; God was literally among us, “with us.”
Jesus, the infinite, unlimited God took on the limitations of humanity
so He could live and die for the salvation of all who would believe in Him.
He came to earth to save us from the power and penalty of sin.
And now, through the Holy Spirit, Christ is present in the life of every believer.
His death, burial, resurrection, and glorious return—this is our hope!
This is what advent is about. This is Biblical hope.
So, what do we do with it? What are the implications for us?
I want to take some time now to talk about some practical applications…
When I started, I said, “The real question for us was,
how do we do it, how do we live as people of advent,
people grounded and rooted in biblical hope?”
Before I answer that question, I want you to know,
I understand that sometimes,
it’s not only the craziness of the season we’re in,
but it’s the uncertainties of life, like:
illnesses, pain and suffering, loss, unfulfilled dreams, hurts,
and a host of other confusing and complicated things.
These are the real issues we face daily…
and sometimes there’s no human answer that’s sufficient enough for these types of struggles. Except one—Jesus! He is our only hope. He’s the God of Hope!
And I know there are some here today that may feel like
those men trapped in the sub…
and you’re tapping on the side of the sub—Is there any hope!
Truth is, in a world without God—there isn’t any,
but that’s not the world we live in.
We live in a world where hope is alive!
Where we can have full assurance of hope,
because it’s rooted in the faithfulness of God.
There may even be some here who feel like your hope is waning right now,
and you wondering, “Is it normal that it’s this hard to maintain hope?”
The answer is, yes—it’s normal—It’s normal because we leak hope!
I think one of the reasons we leak hope is because we live in the tension of the
already / not yet Kingdom—the rule and reign of Christ, as being already here,
but not yet come in its fullness.
Troubles—difficulties—can cause us to lose sight of the fact
that Christ’s rule has already begun!
See, the battle has already been won!
Christ was victorious. He has already defeated evil.
He’s already granted believers an incorruptible, imperishable, and eternal body!
Yet even though we’ve been granted this body,
We still live in a world where pain and suffering
are part of the human experience.
But one day, all things will be made right…
every tear will be wiped away, and the world will be as it should be.
Jesus is the one who makes this possible—he is our hope.
Maybe an even simpler reason for leaking hope is,
“Hoping in God doesn’t naturally come to broken people like us.”
Hope is something we have to work at!
It’s part of living in the already not yet Kingdom.
Until Christ returns, brokenness and sin will be a part of this world.
So, when troubles and hardships come our way, when they weigh heavy on souls,
We have to speak truth to ourselves.
like the Psalmist does in Psalm 42 when he tells himself:
Why are you down… why are you discouraged… Put your hope in God!
We all become discouraged from time to time, our hope can waver,
and yet we know that this is not a state God wants us to remain in.
Sometimes we’ve just got to preach truth to ourselves.
We need to shake ourselves—even if we don’t feel like it.
You need to know that it is okay to tell yourself, “What’s the matter with you?
Have you forgotten God—forgotten His promises,
His faithfulness, His love, and mercy?”
Tell yourself to put your hope in God
and praise Him despite what is going on.
You know, I’m convinced this is how the apostle Paul lived.
Read his letters… you’ll find him spontaneously
braking out in praise as he reflects on the Gospel.
Paul was a man who knew what it was to put his hope in God.
He was also a man who suffered—he was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked,
robbed, hated, falsely accused, and faced dangers of many kinds…
and yet, his hope in Christ never wavered.
In fact, when he was writing about the resurrection, He wrote:
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where’s your sting?”
…Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul’s hope was a living hope—a confident expectation!
He believed: what God had said—God would do…
And if he were here today, and we told him our bucket of hope was low,
I think he’d tell us, “Go to the spigot and fill it up!”
He’d tell us to “Stand firm in hope!”
He’d say get around other believers and pour courage into each other.
He’d tell us to get into the Word and let it minister to our souls.
He’d tell us to pray and take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ.
And then He’d tell us to love God and others by pouring our life into those He has placed around us.
That’s how we live with biblical hope—hope amid troubles!
Our faith in Christ connects us to the ultimate source of hope—
Christ Himself, the living hope!
Know that He is always with us—moment by moment,
working to conform us to His image.
As a follower of Christ, we have hope—a Living Hope—a hope that is
the bedrock to thriving in Christ.
Oh that we would trust in His Wisdom and Character!
As we close, I want you to know this:
Maintaining biblical hope is hard… it’s always been hard.
But keep on, keeping on—in HOPE!
And when you’ve done all you can to stand firm… Stand firm.
Hope in God! Know that he is with you.
May we be known as a people of hope who look back to Jesus
and forward to His return. Jesus—HE is the ultimate hope.
If you’re struggling to hold on to hope, let God know, be honest with Him,
then ask Him to strengthen and pour courage into you.
Just talk with Him… let him know what is on your heart.