The first week of Advent is about hope. But hope in what? Too often Christmas season is saturated with messages of “hope” and “peace” and “good tidings.” Clark W. Griswold sums up this Christmas relativism when he says the Christmas Star means something different to everyone. People put their hope in family, jobs, wealth, church. Then the season goes by, the emotion wears off and they go back to living like people without hope. They live distracted lives, waiting for the next time their team plays or for the next round of beers or the next episode of Desperate Housewives. Hope means nothing to them but some emotional high they feel at Christmas time. Their hope is shallow.
What is Christmas hope all about? If people slow down and take the time to meditate on Christmas they will come to realize that Jesus is the hope that Christmas is about. What has Jesus to do with Christmas? And why is he the “hope of nations?” You see, if Jesus is a myth like some ill-informed atheist would have you believe there is no reason to hope. If Jesus is not the reason for Christmas then the grave is the end. There would be no reason to treat each other nicely, no reason to refrain from punching atheists in the face, no reason to do anything good but for yourself.
Jesus is the only hope for Christmas. He is the ONLY reason to celebrate Christmas. The world was put under a curse from the beginning when men chose sin and disobedience rather than fellowship with God. Mankind realized the evil it chose and found itself lost and separated from God. BUT God, who is rich in mercy and great in love provided a way to redeem mankind from death and eternal separation. He didn’t abandon us. He sent his Son, Jesus, to be our hope. Until we realize that we need a savior we really have nothing to celebrate this Christmas.
The gift of Jesus is the only thing Christmas is about. Christmas is not about family, presents, turning over a new leaf, renewing lost relationships, or the absence of conflict. Without Jesus at the center those things are simply idols in people’s lives. The hope Jesus brings is all that matters. The most wonderful thing about Christmas is that the salvation Jesus brings is a gift.
The hopeless condition we are in is that we cannot earn our salvation. The hopeful reality is that Jesus offers us salvation freely. For by grace we are saved, through faith. Salvation is not by anything we have done. Grace is a gift. Grace is not a contract. A contract requires adequate consideration on both sides: the payment of money for the performance of a service. Our “good” works are insufficient consideration for salvation. We cannot be good enough to earn it. It would be futile to try. In fact it is haughty to come to Jesus and expect to earn your salvation.
You see, grace is the grounds for salvation, faith is the means and good works are the goal. We are rescued from the consequences of our sin, not because of our good work, but in order to do good works; not because we obey the law, but in order to obey the law. Grace changes us to fulfill the good works we were meant to do.
This gift is given freely to anyone, no matter what circumstances you find yourself in. Salvation is offered without regard to your past or your future prospects. All that matters is now, the present. All that matters is coming to Jesus, humbly with empty hands, surrendering. It is in that act of surrender where you find all that you need. In this act of giving it all that you get everything. That is the hope of Christmas! You trade your ashes for His glory. You exchange your sadness for His joy!