THE HIGH EXPECTATION OF HOPE
Adults and parents could easily tell the children what the theme for today means…the
high expectation of hope.
Children might not know what “the high expectation of hope” means in word but they
know what it means in practice. In fact, we really need to go to our children today
and experience the hope that they are more likely to know that we older ones. We,
after all, have had things happen that have hurt our hope. We have seen how it is.
We have experienced plans dashed and destroyed. We have seen things get sullied
and fuzzy. We have seen what commercialism and materialism and the worship of self
have done to Christmases in general and our Christmases in particular. We have trained
ourselves (if we are older) to be reserved and to not be too optimistic lest our
hopes are dashed. Children are more “into” hoping than we adults.
Hope has to do with believing. Jesus says, “Unless you believe like a little child
you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” He singled out the little boy from the
crowd that day as an example of what he was talking about…and about what we hope
to talk today. So an unspoken wish of our theme this morning is that we might all
be more child-like at Christmas and hope more and hope better.
1. The high expectation of a hope that works.
Listen to the word before us that inspires our hope and causes us to rejoice at the
high expectation of hope. Being confident of this, that he who began a good work
in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
We hope something about our work, that it will be completed. We are told that a
man’s work is from sun to sun but a woman’s work is never done. If that is so, the
man has the better work because it has an end. When the sun sets, it’s over…at least
for another day. But if it is true that a woman’s work is never done, that is not
good. That is discouraging. We could even say that it is hopeless. The Bible today
tells us that as Christians there is an end and completion of the work we are about.
Finally all of us are works in progress but the work is going to be done and finished
one day. Can you hear our hope in the words Being confident of this, that he who
began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus?
Let’s talk then about the work we represent and the work we do…that work that will
be brought to completion and we are “confident of this.” Let’s talk about that work
at Christmas and ask, “What is the greatest work you will be doing this Christmas?”
People came to Jesus one day and said, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
To which Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has
sent.” So the answer to the question of what the greatest work for you at Christmas
is is simply, “Believe!” Believe the story once more. Believe that there really
are angels and they are concerned about you and yours. Believe that there really
is a God who really cares for his people and loves them so much that he sent his
one and only Son. Believe that. Believe that you too have nothing better or more
noble to do than to heed the words of the shepherds when they said, “Let’s go and
see this thing that has come to pass which the Lord has told us about.” The greatest
work now or ever is simply to believe what God says to you. And by the way! We
as well as you will be able to tell if you believe what God says at Christmas. It
will be evident. We’ll be able to know if (and when) this work is brought to completion
and you believe. It is our high expectation and hope today that it will.
Believers understand hope in a different way than most people do. The Bible understands
this difference too. In fact, it always speaks this way. So what was just said
is not just some kind of “pie in the sky” hope that we might have…some “iffy” hope
that might happen or might not happen. We are confident! It’s going to happen this
way. God’s people are going to believe him when he tells them what Jesus has done
for them and when he tells them what Jesus will do for them. God has spoken. When
God speaks, it happens this way. It is our hope. It is our confidence. It is a
2. The high expectation of a hope that prays.
There is a second thing the words before us this morning encourage us to hope today.
It has to do with prayer and prayers and praying. Paul had hope in his prayers.
He thought they would do something. Listen to this high expectation of his hope:
“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I
always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day
until now.” There were high expectations about this fellowship and work and partnership.
There were high expectations about what would turn out. It wasn’t a given that
these things would happen. As a matter of fact, things didn’t look good. They didn’t
look good at all. In the face of it, there was Tiberius Caesar, Herod, Philip, tetrarchs
and tyrants, Annas and Caiaphas. We heard about them in our Gospel message today
from Luke 3:1-6. But there was John the Baptist too. There was that one lone man
to prepare for Christ and Christmas’ message. There was the “hopes and fears of
all the years!” There was the confidence that this one forerunner of Jesus would
wake up an entire world that God was coming as a baby to live and learn and save
them all. That was the high expectation of hope in those days with regard to Paul’s
prayer and John’s work.
What about the Christian Church is hopeful? It’s small. It struggles. It has large
and powerful enemies. It is composed of people who are…people. And yet it works
and does things and succeeds in its message and has reason for constant and ongoing
joy and gets over its inability to work together and makes the word “fellowship”
a real thing among its people.
3. The high expectation of a hope that loves.
And hope has this high expectation too: that your love may abound more and more in
knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and
may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness
that comes through Jesus Christ---to the glory and praise of God.
Look around you this morning and see the people. God wants you to have a high expectation
as you look at them this morning…to be hoping something good. The Apostle did. He
had the hope as he looked around him on Sunday morning (or as he sat in his jail
cell and thought of the people he was writing to), that their love would “about more
and more.” He and we have this high expectation of hope today. We hope that the
people of our congregation will have love for each other that will abound more and
more and that it will abound more and more in their insight into God’s Mind and Word
and into their knowledge.
Christmas is about that too…the acquiring of knowledge. The wise men went back home
wiser and more knowledgeable. They asked the question, “Where is this one who has
been born King of the Jews?” And they went back home knowing. The shepherds came
wondering what it was the angels had really told them about the one born in Bethlehem.
They went back to their folds knowing what it was. They had the insight of Christmas.
They were able to see that there was something and someone more important than their
livelihoods and their financial likelihoods. That is our ongoing high expectation
as we approach another Christmas. That we would see! That we would know!
And we with the apostle have another high expectation. Listen to the words again.
“…so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless
until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through
Jesus Christ---to the glory and praise of God.” We hope and trust that our people---that
we!---will be able to discern what is best. Think of the high expectation that statement
has for people on the day of their congregational meeting and as they consider what
it is they are going to be doing as a congregation in the new year. We will be able
to discern what is best and we will be able by God’s strength to do it! That is
our high expectation today.
Paul had this hope even though he was in chains. As you heard before, Paul was in
jail and in chains when he wrote the words you hear this morning from this book of
Philippians. Not a very hopeful situation, you might think. But hope can’t be chained.
Hope in Jesus and what he can do gets through the bars and chinks. Hope in Christmas’s
little boy child gets out of the cage of this world’s depressing hopelessness. Hope
flies. Hope soars. Hope in Jesus even saves.
It is our hope today. That is what the hope that works and prays and loves does.
It hangs on to Jesus who will not fail. It sees him. It believes him. It hopes
It is our high expectation today and always. Amen.