Today begins the season of Advent - the time on the church calendar when we anticipate and hope for the coming of God's Messiah, Jesus. The anticipation and hope of Advent are double things. We capture the longing of the centuries before the birth of Jesus for God to fulfill His promise to send the Messiah to bring redemption. And we hope for the return of the Messiah in glory to right every wrong and consummate His glorious Kingdom, which has already begun in the hearts of all whose faith is in Jesus Christ!

Life is full of hopes. I hope my children and grandchildren live long, healthy, productive lives. I hope love and respect prevail over the anger and division we see in our nation. I hope more and more people find the forgiveness and peace and joy of knowing Jesus Christ and trusting Him for redemption. I hope the Cubs win another World Series in my lifetime. (What can I say, I'm an optimist!)

Without hope, we fall into despair. The world may be crashing and burning around us, and we can still hope in Jesus Christ that God will move to make a way where we see no way. Israel had no hope when they were trapped between the Red Sea and Pharaoh's army, but God opened a way in the sea and they were delivered. The disciples fell into despair when they saw Jesus crucified and buried, but God raised Him from the dead and made Him the hope of resurrection and eternal life.

When God promises and we believe His promise, hope is born in our hearts. One day, God will keep His promise and all evil will be purged from a new heaven and new earth. One day, Christ will return and take me home to live with Him forever. One day, God will move and the impossible will become reality. One day, He will answer the faithful prayers of a tenacious grandmother and make Himself real to her lost, broken grandchild.

I love the line in the first verse of O Little Town of Bethlehem, speaking of the birth of Jesus Christ:

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee, tonight!

Hope that God will act in history to redeem His creation meets the fears that God is not even real, or that He doesn't care, in the birth of His incarnate One. And hope prevails! The living God takes on flesh to prove His reality and love for us, and to sacrifice His own life on our behalf to pay the price we cannot pay for our sins. Hope prevails! There is a God. He loves His created ones - you and me. "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8 NIV)

In the darkest, loneliest hours of my life, I cling to this hope. Jesus loves me. He is my deliverer. Nothing can separate me from His love. And nothing can destroy me because Jesus holds me in His strong hands.

And that, dear friends, is hope!

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