Christmas Pilgrims- traveling with a Living Hope

What do you want for Christmas? What are you hoping for this Christmas?

We ask each other “what do you want for Christmas?” That cute Post Office commercial has stuck an earworm in my head. “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas. Only a hippopotamus will do. Don’t want a doll. No dinky tinker toy. I want a hippopotamus to play with and enjoy. I want a hippopotamus for Christmas. I don’t think Santa Claus will mind do you?”

Hope is made of stronger stuff than our wants and wishes! Hope comes from a deeper place. “Wanting” flags an empty space within us. Listen to synonyms for “want”: lack, hunger, need, absence, neediness, or poverty.   I lack a hippopotamus. I need a hippo for Christmas. Thanks be to God that I am holiday hippo poor.

First Peter tells us Jesus comes to save us from a wanting, empty, and impoverished life.

Hope comes from a deeper place than wishing and wanting. Hope connects us deeply with God. Hope rises from the Manger, the Sermon on the Mount, the Last Supper, the Garden, the Cross, and the Empty Tomb. Hope comes bundled with Jesus Christ. Our Hopes resides within our relationship with Jesus, not within wish fulfillment. Hope is eternal. Jesus reminds us clothes, cottages, and Christmas gifts corrode (Matthew 6). The Apostle Paul reminds us that Prophecy, Tongues and Knowledge will all cease. There are no theology books, bass boats, or sermons in Heaven, only “Faith, Hope and Love remain (forever), these three, but the greatest of these is Love” (1 Corinthians 13). Christian Hope connects us deeply with Jesus and roots our life within Eternal Life.   Our Hope possesses substance and strength richer than the temporary happiness a Christmas Hippo or Holiday Lexus might bring.

So when you hear “what do you want for Christmas”, ask your soul another question: “From where does my Hope come?”

Let us stand in honor of God’s Word, as we read from 1Peter 1. I simplified and paraphrased Peter’s first chapter. I encourage you to read the richness of the whole Text as you do your Advent devotions this week.

From Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. To you, who sojourn as aliens scattered about. …As you are being cleansed through Jesus’ cross, may grace and peace be yours in abundance! Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By God’s great mercy, the Lord has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, and kept in heaven for us. Rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith may bring praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen Jesus, you love him; believe in Christ and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for your faith is saving your soul. ….Get ready for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ brings. Do not be conformed to worldly desires. Instead, as God who called you is holy, be holy in everything you do! Live reverently before God during your sojourn as “resident aliens” because Jesus paid an unimaginable price to save you from an empty life. Being cleansed from your sins you must show sincere love. Love each other deeply with all your heart, for you have been born anew into Christ!

Peter writes to those “who sojourn as aliens scattered about.” Are you a Christmas Sojourner or Advent Pilgrim-traveling from the Manger through the Cross towards Heaven? Do we move about as strangers or “resident aliens” within the world? Do we hold a certain peace-giving discontent and hopeful restlessness as we navigate this world as spiritual immigrants? Hear our odd monikers: Resident Aliens, Born of the Spirit, Born Again, washed in the blood, crucified with Christ, New Creations, Light of the World, Jesus’ Family, Sojourners, Easter People, and Pentecost People. We are people defined by the Manger, the Cross, the Empty Tomb, Pentecost, and the Damascus Road. Jesus speaks of our new-birth into a different Kingdom, saying to Nicodemus, “You must be born again if you want to see the Kingdom of God” (John 3). We worship a different King. We belong to a different kingdom. We hear our Father’s foreign tongue echoing in our ears. We use foreign words no one else in the world uses: salvation, redemption, love, justice, transformation, mercy and grace. Our speech twangs with hints of our grace-filled, transformed and loving heritage. We live as pilgrims following Jesus from the Manger, through the Cross and towards our Heavenly home.

As spiritual immigrants our faith makes us not quite fit in. Our Hope challenges the notions and patterns of this world. How can we pray “Your Kingdom Come on earth as in heaven” and accept the notions, practices, and assumptions of this world? Will we live as a pilgrims, sojourners, resident aliens, immigrants from a different King?

Peter speaks of suffering and hope, proclaiming a “Living Hope” residing with those “who sojourn as aliens scattered about.” We are not sure the exact persecution that Peter references, perhaps it is simply the suffering that always comes to the righteous, but Peter’s readers have taken up their crosses and joined Jesus in suffering. Hope comes from a deeper place than good days and bad days. Hope arises among those who for “a little while suffer various trials.” Peter never mentions prosperity, health or wealth. Peter reminds us the greatest gift has already arrived; “Live reverently before God during your sojourn as “resident aliens” because Jesus paid an unimaginable price to save you from an empty life.” Our Hope does not reside in the material, economic or physical gifts that fade, break and collapse. Stuff cannot fill an empty life. Living Hope is born of Christmas, Calvary, Easter, Pentecost and our Salvation. Living Hope fills the empty spaces within us with Christ. Christ is our Christmas gift and Eternal joy, not the stuff under the tree. Our Hope does not depend on what gifts we get on Christmas but on our soul’s connection with God. We do not need a hippopotamus or a Lexus for Christmas. Indeed, our seasonal focus on our Christmas Wants may be a Grinch robbing us of Christmas goodwill, peace, comfort and joy. Our Hope springs up from a deeper place.

Indeed, suffering may allow the light to appear brighter amid the darkness.

God’s Christmas gift of salvation is not a one-time gifting event. Peter writes “your faith is saving your soul.” Salvation comes as a life-long unfolding and continuous unwrapping of grace. Our faith releases streams of Living Water that daily wash away the sinful gunk that clings to our heads, hearts and hands.

God’s Christmas gift mysteriously arrives: “Although you have not seen Jesus, you love him; believe in him, and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for your faith is saving your soul.” As Pilgrims journeying by faith towards an unseen Heaven, we trust that God will do more: that God will set things right, that love will win, that Heaven will come, that we will survive the trials, that we will endure tough seasons, and that we will overcome for the “Lord has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, and kept in heaven for us.”   Do you hear that Pilgrim refrain, born into Living Hope traveling towards an unfading inheritance?

Living Hope arises from an ongoing relationship with Jesus.   When my son Lewis was about five, he knelt one Sunday at the altar rail, ready to receive Holy Communion. What a gift-the Body of Christ and the Cup of Forgiveness. Lewis knelt next to his good friend, Dalton. Our church used those tiny less-than-a-swallow glasses but served delicious homemade bread made by Jennie Justice. I extended the loaf and Lewis grabbed a big handful of the Bread of Life. He knelt chewing. Lewis downed his teaspoon of grape juice and looking over at his best friend proclaimed, “My daddy would give me more if I wanted it.” That is pretty good theology. Five year-old Lewis had a love relationship with his dad. Lewis knew he could trust me to provide what he needed. He held a living hope, knowing that I was present with him and always working for his future good. “My daddy will give me more” speaks of faith, hope and love, not restrictions, rules, or regulations.

Hope arises from our soul’s connection to God. “Although you have not seen Jesus, you love him; believe in Christ and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for your faith is saving your soul.” The prophets, while rooted in the Eternal Hope, longed for more. Isaiah, trusting already in God, hoped for the day when God’s holy light might shine within the Son- when the Messiah would come- when a child would be born unto us, whose name shall be called: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Name above all Names, Hope of Heaven, Light of the World, Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, Savior, Crucified One, and Love. Today, we Hope with Jesus while Hoping for more- for God’s Kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth as in Heaven! As Pilgrims, we work to accent our speech with grace, love our neighbors as ourselves, help justice flow like the mighty waters, and build God’s Kingdom on earth as in heaven. As we live in faith, hope and love, our God scrubs away at our sins, purifying our souls, saving us right now, and fitting us for Heaven. Our faith, partnering with a Holy God, unfolds with our living the New Birth, Eternal Life, Living Hope and an indescribable joy.

So what do Christmas Pilgrims do? How do we stay connected to our Eternal Father’s Homeland? How do we retain our lovely graceful twang? “Get ready for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ brings. Do not be conformed to worldly desires. Instead, as God, who called you is holy, be holy in everything you do! Live reverently before God during your sojourn as “resident aliens” because Jesus paid an unimaginable price to save you from an empty life. Being cleansed from your sins you must show sincere love. Love each other deeply with all your heart, for you have been born anew into Christ!” We avoid an empty life by waging Eternal Life, living by Faith, Hope and Love and becoming resident aliens traveling from the Manger, through the Cross towards Heaven.

Where will our Hope arise this Christmas? Let us look beyond our wants and wishes, journeying to the Manger so that we might truly worship the Newborn King.   But then let us arise and set forth as Pilgrims filled with Living Hope and working to build God’s Kingdom on earth as in Heaven!

 

Let us pray!

Lord, forgive us when our Christmas is defined by our wishes and wants.

May this season be more than our striving after more stuff.

Connect us to the Living Hope- God’s Christmas gift to us.

Let us be born anew into Christ- who saves us from daily sin and fits us for Heaven.

Give us enough courage to set our hope fully on the grace Jesus Christ brings.

Help us to not conform to this world, but to live as resident aliens,

traveling from the Manger, through the Cross and towards Heaven.

May Your Holiness unfold each day in our lives,

as we speak with the twang of forgiveness, mercy, justice and grace.

Give us enough spiritual discipline to not quite fit in.

Help us trust amid various trials in Your peace that surpasses understanding

knowing Our Once Crucified Lord knows both our suffering and Eternal victory

Let love be our language as grace continuously unfolds into our living

May faith release new streams of Living Water to wash away the sinful gunk in our lives

For our hope is not in material gain, physical health, or even a stress free season

Our Hope is with Christ- an imperishable, undefiled, unfading inheritance, kept in heaven for us!

Amen.

 

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