Our sermons are available as audio files to listen at your convenience.
Our sermons are available as audio files to listen at your convenience.
“All I Want for Christmas: Hope”
Luke 1: 68-79
November 28, 2021
First Sunday of Advent
Do you remember the old Sears Wish Books? Every year, beginning in 1933, Sears produced its annual Christmas Wish Book, sent to homes all over America. That very first Sears Wish Book featured Mickey Mouse watches and fruitcakes and Lionel trains.1 Through the years, the items advertised changed, but the idea was the same: when the Wish Book arrived, children everywhere sat down with pencil and paper, to pour through the pages and make their wish lists for Santa of all they wanted for Christmas.
The old Christmas Wish Books evidently evoke such nostalgia that people want to purchase them as collector’s items! One enterprising soul is so devoted to the idea of Wish Books that he took the old catalogs and scanned them into a website he created called WishBookWeb.com. I looked through some of them and felt like I had stepped back in time! I remembered sitting at the kitchen table with those catalogs, writing my lists of all I wanted for Christmas. There was the View Master from 1970, and the Easy Bake Oven Santa brought me at the age of 8 (Santa got a good deal; it was only $10.88), the macramé kits and string art (do you remember string art?). There was my little sister’s Fisher Price Village, her Weebles (that wobble, but they don’t fall down).
During Advent several years ago, I shared with a former church that in 1976, when I was 10 years old, I was crushed that neither Santa nor my parents gave me the number 1 item on my wish list: an Evel Knievel action figure. After sharing about that disappointment, the very next week, a package arrived at the church office, special delivery from the North Pole! Inside the box was this: my long-awaited Evel Knievel doll. And there also was a note from Santa apologizing for the delay! I never discovered the identity of Santa’s helper who made sure I got this gift, but it still brings a smile to my face.
There’s nothing wrong with childhood wish lists, but as adults, we sometimes struggle with the idea of “All I want for Christmas.” For adults, the wish lists may be shorter but more expensive, with hints dropped of “all I want for Christmas is this one thing:” this new piece of jewelry or the latest electronic gadget. Or maybe what we really want for Christmas is that perfect, Instagram worthy Christmas tree, and a holiday table set like in Southern Living, and a dream home that is the ideal setting for all those things we want.
Or perhaps we long for something less tangible: for the end to this pandemic. For the whole family to be together again. For the whole family to be together without any arguments!
All we want for Christmas.
The good news is that the answer to all our wants, the fulfillment of all our desires, is found in the gifts of Advent: hope, peace, love and joy. Those gifts born into the world with Christ two thousand years ago remain the answer to our needs. The long-expected Jesus is the joy of every longing heart.
Our worship theme this Advent is “All I Want for Christmas: Hope, Peace, Love, Joy.” Each week, we will unwrap the meaning of one of those words, seeing how the gifts of Christ are the answer to all of our greatest longings. Today, we will unwrap the gift of HOPE.
Hope is a gift we need today. There is no denying the fact that we are living in challenging times. For another holiday season, we continue to grapple with Covid. There is much to be thankful for on that front, with children now able to be vaccinated, and boosters for all adults; yet just when we think that the end may be in sight, another new variant of concern has appeared. The economy is struggling, our nation is wrestling with racial tension, we do not know what the future holds. The world does not provide the hope we long for.
Here is the good news: The world has never been the source of hope, for the hope we need comes only from the Lord our God, Creator of heaven and earth, Savior of all people.
Our sermon text today is the prophecy of Zechariah, a passage of hope for longing hearts. The first chapter of Luke begins not with the birth of Jesus, but with the birth of John the Baptist! After his introductory greeting, Luke leaps into the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, a good and righteous couple who longed for a child, but now, in their older years, had given up hope. Zechariah was a priest, and when it was his turn to enter the sanctuary to offer incense, the angel Gabriel appeared to him. Yes, this is the same angel who later visited Mary to tell her about the child she would bear, but Gabriel’s first appearance in this gospel was to Zechariah. Gabriel said, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife will bear you a son...You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth...He will go before the Lord” to prepare people for the coming of the Lord, to turn people to the Lord their God.
This news was amazing! Wonderful! In fact, it was so good that it seemed TOO good to be true. How often, when visited with a word of hope, do we refuse to believe it? How often do we let our doubts and fears rule us, instead of trusting in God? Even though, as a priest of Israel, Zechariah knew the account of Abraham and Sarah and the child of their old age, should have known what God can do, Zechariah found the angel’s message unbelievable. He knew the cold, hard realities: he and Elizabeth were old. The time for children had passed, and he said as much to the angel. In response, Gabriel said, “I stand in the presence of God and have been sent to bring you this good news. But because you did not believe, you will become mute until these things occur.”
Instead of welcoming the promise of hope, Zechariah chose doubt, would have clung to despair. Now, he would wait in silence, a visual parable of the waiting of God’s people, as the scriptures proclaimed from of old, “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits; and in his word I hope. More than those who watch for the morning.” Zechariah waited and hoped, and after Elizabeth conceived, when at last the child was born, Zechariah’s silence was broken when he wrote out the name for the child that the angel had chosen: “His name is John.” When his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, immediately he began to praise God.
He knew that the gift of this child was the answer not only to his and Elizabeth’s longings, but the beginning of salvation for all people. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Zechariah spoke the prophecy that is our passage today: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for God has looked favorably on the people and redeemed them, raised up a mighty Savior for us...and you, child, will be the prophet of the Most High; you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.”
Throughout the history of Israel, the people longed for a Savior, as we heard in our Old Testament passage from Jeremiah. The promised Messiah was looked for and hoped for expectantly. Over the years, the people had learned that they could not perfectly keep the law, and the sacrificial system did not bridge the gap in their relationship with God. They needed a Messiah, one who would save them from their sins. God kept God’s promises in ways greater than they could have imagined, by sending not just another human leader, a prophet, priest, or king, but by coming himself to be all three, born as a vulnerable babe in Bethlehem, to be Emmanuel, God with us.
The God who kept promises of old still keeps faith with us today. God still is Emmanuel, God with us, and in that is our hope. The answer to the world’s problems will not be found in any human leader. The answer to our heart’s longings will not be found on any wish list: in any new technology or any Black Friday sale or by receiving the perfect store-bought gift. The hope we long for this Christmas is found in the love of God, who knows our needs and meets them with abundant grace, who knows our sins and forgives them with endless mercy, who is always, always working for the good of the world God loves.
Our role is to receive this gift of hope. Will we be like Zechariah, who when he heard the good news, thought it was too good to be true? Will we choose to live in doubt and fear? Or will we turn to God and accept this gift, will we open our hands and hearts to take it and unwrap it and live into the hope that we are given?
There was a woman who loved to cook, but as she grew older, arthritis affected her hands, and cooking became more difficult. She began talking about wishing she had a food processor, one she had seen advertised that would do all the chopping and slicing and dicing for her. So that Christmas, her adult son splurged on the food processor she wanted. But on Christmas morning, when she unwrapped the gift, instead of exclaiming in joy as he expected, his mother was dismayed! “Oh son, you shouldn’t have!” she said. “It’s too expensive, too extravagant for me.” Despite all of his reassurances, the woman refused to use his gift. If she used it, she might break it. It was too expensive, too valuable. It sat in its box on a shelf, and eventually she gave up cooking that she so loved, because she refused to use her son’s gift.
Hope is a gift meant to be used. Not stuck up on a shelf like an unwanted knick-knack, some bauble that we receive and don’t know what to do with. Hope is meant to be used. Greater than anything we could wish for is the hope that comes from God in Christ, the sure and certain knowledge that God keeps God’s promises, that God knows what is best, wants what is best, and has the power to make it happen. But that gift won’t do us any good if we don’t take it out of the box and use it. We have to choose hope, to choose to believe in the good news of the gospel rather than the bad news of the headlines
We must live as people of hope, not limited by current realities, but trusting that God is doing a new thing. Not stuck in the past, but looking toward God’s future. Not clinging to doubts, but embracing the empowering Spirit, allowing Christ to be born into our hearts once again, and bearing him into the world.
Eugene Peterson said, “Wishing is something all of us do.” But wishing is different than hope. Wishing “is oriented toward what we are doing....Hope is oriented toward what God is doing.” “Hope means being surprised,” he said, “because we don’t know what is best for us or how our lives are going to be completed. To cultivate hope is to suppress wishing -- to refuse to fantasize about what we want, but to live in anticipation of what God is going to do next.”3
My friends, in this Advent season, may we open our hearts to receive God’s gift of hope. May we open our minds and our eyes to be surprised at what God is going to do next. God loves us so much that God came to earth to save us. So unwrap this gift; accept it as God’s gift of love for you. Hope in the Lord, who is Emmanuel, God with us. Amen and amen.
Rev. Dawn Hendricks Mayes
Manassas Presbyterian Church