What are your hopes tonight? What are those things you most want? Who are the people you miss, those you desire to see, to be in the presence of or perhaps the one you desire to love?
What are your fears tonight? What were they as a child, as a young adult, or what do you think your fears will be in the future?
We all have hopes and fears. I know, you might think this is an odd question on Christmas Eve, but wouldn’t it make sense to face the negative in the midst of an even greater “positive?” This is the most “positive” time of the year! If ever there was a time appropriate to face our fears and to gain more hope, this is it!
The Christmas hymn, O Little Town of Bethlehemwas written by Phillip Brooks in 1867, two years after he had visited the Holy Land and had ridden from Jerusalem to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve 1865 to participate in a five hour service at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem!
The hymn has not merely endured through the years, but it has come to be one of the most favorite of all of the hymns of this season. The words Brooks wrote so vividly describe the city of the Saviors birth.
“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.” We can even imagine the six-foot-six-inch Brooks descending from the hillsides on horseback into the town with only candles and fires for illumination. The stars slid across the night sky in the matching silence that was evident in the town.
Yet the imagination of Phillip Brooks is all too evident in the first stanza of this beloved song: “Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
There it is again, “the hopes and fears.” It isn’t merely the hopes and fears we each have with us tonight, it is the “hopes and fears of all the years.” Brooks understood the majesty of the gift given at the point in time which literally split time in half: the birth of the Savior Jesus Christ.
Jesus, the Living water, the Bread of life and the Light of the world—it is this Jesus, our Messiah who provided the everlasting light within the dark streets of Bethlehem over 2000 years ago.
The Creator of all which exists, the Lord of this Universe came as a baby, was placed in a feeding trough in the midst of livestock. He will never come to this world again in such a helpless and vulnerable state. The angels told the disciples, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into Heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into Heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into Heaven.”
His mother was carried to Bethlehem on a donkey, but when Jesus the Messiah returns it will be on a white horse and He will destroy those who oppose Him through His Word—have you ever wondered why the Bible refers to itself as the sword of Truth!
Think now of all of our hopes and fears—indeed, think of all of the hopes and fears of all time, from people everywhere! Every single hope is made real in the person of Jesus Christ! Hope isn’t a mere idea, it is a person. We hope, we trust, we know what will happen, not just because this is what we want, but because it is promised in the person of our Lord!
In the face, in the midst of such incredible hope, how can any fear yet remain? What fear can stand in the brightness of an “everlasting Light?” You’re afraid of darkness? He is the Light of this world! You fear fire? He is living water, quenching heat, thirst and dryness of the body and the soul.
Are you afraid of hungering for something you cannot have? He is the bread of life which satisfies every spiritual hunger which often motivates our physical ones. Fear lack and financial ruin? He tells us of mansions He is building in Heaven, how our treasure is there, and no moth or rust can ever destroy it!
We celebrate the greatest valentine ever given on Christmas Day! Because God so loved the world, He sent His one and only Son to give us the ability to live eternally with Him!
Just as the gifts under the tree are no good until they are taken and opened, until they are used, until the change how we live, and then those gifts which make the most difference, we never cease to give thanks to the one who gave them!
Tonight, we come to prepare our hearts for the greatest gift ever given. Unlike the gifts under the tree, this gift will remake all who accept it. It will never grow old, never wear out, and it will always amaze those who have it. Its power split time in half, it changes us from orphans to adopted sons and daughters. And there is nothing we as humans can ever get another which will give us life everlasting like the gift the Father has given to this world.
There are those who find this thought silly, even unsophisticated. Yet in this is a sad truth: Those who have this gift, know; those who do not have it, do not know.
All of us make a number of assumptions every moment of our lives.
We tend to assume what we order at McDonalds will be what we get. We assume the person coming from the opposite direction on a highway or motorway will stay on their side of the road. We assume the lights will come on when we flip the wall switch.
Aside from the adage claiming “When we assume, you dare make an ‘ass out of u and me,’ our assumptions far too often prove to be wrong! The chances your McDonalds order is correct is proportionate to how far away from the restaurant you are when you check it; the person driving toward you often crosses the dividing line while answer their phone and we are always surprised when the lights do not come on as we “flip the switch.” It’s always risky making assumptions!
One of the tacit assumptions made in history for over two-hundred years is the continued existence of America and its influence—this is especially true of its citizenry.
Please keep in mind the underlying assumption I am making here (one I make by faith—and one in which there has never been a disappointment) is the validity and truth of Scripture (remember, I am a pastor-dude). Regardless of the pundits and the critics, Scripture and biblical prophecy has never been proved as wrong.
I remember being interviewed by a German independent documentarian when I was living in Illinois. The question came up regarding the history of the world and Scripture; basically, what the Bible says about the future. As I explained the Bible’s declaration of the future coming anti-Christ and the re-subjection of Europe, the Middle East and much of Asia by his government, she stated many people in Europe would be highly offended by this interpretation.
I asked her if she understood the prophecy as a statement of further American hegemony; in other words, was she assuming Christianity and its belief system were synonymous with America and its culture? Being from Germany and being thoroughly secular in her ideology, she saw no difference between “America” and “Christianity.”
What I then told her almost left her speechless. I informed her there are no symbols nor is there any mention of “America” in any biblical prophecies; for whatever reason, the sovereign entity of the United States plays no role in the affairs of the world in the prophecies contained in the Bible regarding humanity’s future.
Does this mean America is no more? Has it been marginalized politically by world events or the rise of new and more powerful world powers? God in His wisdom does not inform us. All we can know with surety is there is no mention of the United States in end-times descriptions. While there are many who will try to insert an American presence into the events of the last days, it simply is not there if one follows the normal rules of interpretation.
I believe what we see playing out in the newspapers, RSS feeds and televisions news coverage certainly grants us insight into the beginning of the demise of America. America has lost much of its influence internationally. Because we have failed to discipline ourselves financially (especially personally), our government sees no reason to do so and our private, personal actions has granted them the permission to do likewise.
We have lost all semblance of a “moral high ground” due to our own hypocritical stances domestically—it is difficult to chide other countries for their mistreatment and slaughter of their own peoples when we have systematically killed over 50 million babies through legalized abortion. When other countries choose to kill a group of people like this, we refer to it as genocide!
The Bible states “Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a disgrace to any people.” It isn’t a particular sin—it’s not homosexuality or divorce or overeating or overspending—it’s sin! There is a reason why so many in other parts of the world assume there is a direct link between Christianity and America; for many decades this was a legitimate fact. Yet when those who have identified themselves with Christ so blatantly ignore the very commands of God, God judges those who know Him more harshly! The Apostle Peter reminded his readers judgment begins first with “God’s household.”
Here is something to keep in mind as those of us who seek comfort from God’s Word study it: the prophecies of Scripture never demand a particular method or means, they merely tell us what “will be” and sometimes they give us insight into the results which follow. God has given us prophecy for the same reason He gives us all things: to increase our faith in Him.
Trusting in God’s control of our future and eternity is not an assumption—it’s a surety!