So like I said last week, for last week and this week I'm kinda 'riffing' off of some of my favorite Christmas songs.
There really is some profound concepts and truths in these old Christmas carols. And this week, I've asked the worship team to play a song that is definitely in my top 3 Christmas Carols of all time, which is 'Oh come oh come Immanuel'.
I've sung this song since I was a little kid, and I bet you have too. I can tell you across the board, as kids across the globe sing this song, almost all of them have absolutely no idea what they're singing. And that may be true for you as well.
Just a smidge of background: The text of this song was originally written in Latin and it would be chanted in Christian monasteries dating back to the 8th century.
It was translated into the English song you know today in the 1860's but it has also been translated into a huge amount of other languages and is still heavily song not just in the US but across the world, in different languages.
And so what is the theme of the song? Well it's not Santa coming to town. It's all about the Israelite people in the Old Testament, in Exile, without hope, anticipating their savior. And we're gonna talk all about that in the second half of this sermon. But for now, just enjoy the song, but really focus on the words and see what you understand and what you don't.
Outrageous applause for Pastor Dahv and Ari.
Ok, lock that away cuz we're coming back to it.
So I'm gonna let you in on a dirty little secret about being a preacher and how we land on the subjects that we talk about.
You're probably assuming that we sit at our desks, open our bibles, and the Holy Spirit appears as a dove and flips to the page that we're supposed to preach from.
I'll say that that doesn't ALWAYS happen.
Sometimes, we don't know what to talk about. And so we ask our wives, and they tell us what to talk about.
But seriously, I was talking to Jordan just about what we could share with people in this really unique season. We're in the blend of Covid and Christmas and I think people aren't sure what they're supposed to be feeling right now.
And Jordan told me, I was driving, she was in the passenger seat and she said "Honestly, what people need right now is hope."
And I said "You're so obviously right."
And so that's what I want to talk about. I want to talk about hope.
My title if you're taking notes: Seeds of Hope
And believe it or not, I think Hope is perhaps a neglected preaching topic. It certainly is for me.
Remember what Paul says in 1 Corinthians, that 3 things remain: Faith, Hope, Love. Well Faith gets talked about plenty, and Love of course is a pretty well covered topic. But I was actually surprised when I was doing my research for this sermon how comparatively few resources there were for the topic of Hope.
I think the reason is that people might underestimate just how important hope really is.
But you know what? You can't live without hope.
Something that grieves me deeply is the teenage suicide epidemic. Young people taking their own lives at an absolutely alarming rate. If your teenager goes to a public school, or for that matter, private school, they have experienced the pain of someone's suicide. It's a near certainty. And look, Covid certainly hasn't helped. But you have to admit, that this is not just a 2020 problem. The problem of hopelessness seems like it's everywhere you look. The feeling that nothing will get better, there's no reason to get your hopes up. Hopelessness.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (1 Peter 1:3)
So Peter here is explaining our new life in Christ and he says that Jesus has given us "New birth into a living hope"
Clearly, for Peter, Hope is a foundational piece of our new life in Christ.
If you have put your faith in Christ, there is positively no reason for you to ever be without hope. Ever.
I don't want to give away my whole sermon, but when you find yourself at the end of yourself. When you are up a creek without a paddle, when it appears like there is nothing but dead ends in front of you, that is when God does his best work. Maybe you feel like you have messed up your life beyond repair. I'm telling you, that's when God does his best work.
And so what I want to do this morning, is I want to talk for a few minutes about the biblical concept of hope, and then I want to take you to a beautiful portion of scripture in the book of Isaiah that I believe is the single best image of hope in the entire bible.
This is one of Paul's 'Epistles' which is to say letters, that he's writing to a church in a city called Ephesus.
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened (Ok so the eyes of your heart may be enlightened. There are things that you know with your head, that haven't penetrated deep into your heart yet. Here Paul is saying "I want you to know this deep in your heart) in order that you may know (and look at this phrase:) the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, (Ephesians 1:18)
and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 1:19a)
Isn't that an interesting phrase: "The hope to which he has called you." The hope. So there's a hope that God has called us to. Did you know that part of your calling is to live with hope?
First off let me say that the biblical concept of 'Hope' is much different than the very weak English meaning for the word hope. For us today, 'hope' basically means 'wish'.
"I hope it doesn't rain" - You have absolutely no certainty about whether or not it will rain, you just have a desire. "I hope someone pays my mortgage off after church today." - I'm not saying I believe that's GOING to happen, I'm just wishing that it would happen.
Hope implies uncertainty. The English word hope. You wouldn't say "I hope it's true" about something you felt confident about. "I hope God loves me" - You see how that implies uncertainty.
But the Bible word for hope, and you can see this in particular in Hebrews 11, is not about uncertainty, it's about certainty. It's about something that hasn't happened yet, but you believe it will. You might define biblical hope like this: "Your believed-in future."
It's not about you 'hoping' something will happen, it's about you believing something will happen. And that belief in the future strengthens you in the now.
Here's an example: There's an old hymn called “For All the Saints …” (Dahv, do you know that one? Come up here and play it for us will you? Just kidding.) And one of the lines is this:
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
Then hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Here's what's happening there. Imagine yourself fighting in a battle, and you're fighting for your life, but your side is losing. Your numbers are dwindling and you're about to give up. But then you hear something far off. It's the music of a marching army. So this music lets your know that reinforcements are coming. And now what you thought was a certain defeat is now a certain victory.
And once you hear the song, even though you can't see the army reinforcements yet, (let's say they're still over a hill) already your heart is brave again and your arm is strong again.
That's a great picture of biblical hope. That even though the answer isn't here yet, it's almost like you can hear the music of the answer, and it gives you strength.
And having hope makes all the difference in the world.
So let's say you have 2 guys who are both working the same job. Now let's say this job is bad. No vacation, horrible hours, terrible working conditions.
Not only that, the job is boring. Menial. Unfulfilling, horrible.
Now let's say you have 2 guys working that exact same job. But let's say that the first guy, you say "At the end of the year you'll be paid $15,000 for this year of work." And the other guy is told "At the end of the year, you'll be paid $15,000,000 for your year of work.
Do you think that would have an impact on how they would experience their year of work? You better believe it!!!
The guy who thinks he's getting $15,000 will come into work and complain, and whine, he'll be unhappy and he might even quit half-way through.
But the guys who thinks he's getting 15 million at the end of the year whistles while he works. He goes to work, he's there on time, he's got a great attitude, and he even enjoys his time there.
What's the difference?
The difference is their 'believed-in future'.
What you believe about your future has everything to do with how you experience the present.
Viktor Frankl, who was a jewish doctor who was put in the death camps in Germany during WW2 and he survived, and wrote about his experience. And it has a lot to do with hope.
He noticed that there was a huge correlation between hope and survival. As a doctor, he noticed that some prisoners withered up and died while others stayed strong. He basically came to the conclusion that if a prisoner lost hope in his future, he was doomed.
He has this example that one of his friends in the camp had a dream that the war would end on March 30th. He was convinced this dream was a revelation. So what do you think happened to him? He became filled with courage and strength. But as the date drew closer, it became apparent that he war was not ending on March 30th. Frankl says that on March 29th, the friend began running a temperature, March 30, he lost consciousness, and on March 31, he was dead.
Frankl says that his loss of hope had lowered his body's resistance to all the disease in the camp.
For the Christian, Hope is not wishful thinking. Rather, Hope is a 'Believed-In Future', and you can't live without it. Without hope, our strength wastes away, but with hope, our hearts are brave and our arms are strong.
Turn: Isaiah 2
The book of Isaiah really is a mammoth of a book. 66 chapters, 1292 verses. Cover a huge amount of time.
So birds eye view of the Old Testament: The whole story of the OT is about the covenant that God made with Abraham - I will make you into a great nation. - Your people would be a light to all the nations. - All the nations of the earth would be blessed through you.
From that point on, we see God being incredibly faithful to his people, despite our unbelievable unfaithfulness. He rescues his people from Egypt through Moses.
High Point: David Really, the high point for Israel is during the reign of King David. This is the time when everything is going good. And it seems like all their hopes and dreams have finally come true. They're no longer under oppression, they have their own king, and he's a good King. Poetry. Some of the most beautiful poetry that we have in the entire bible are celebrating God's goodness during the reign of David.
If you're familiar with the story of the Old Testament, you know if doesn't work out that way. Following David's reign, a lot of weird things happen. A lot of Kings that don't serve the Lord, and Israel ends up in this period of Exile.
Which brings us to Isaiah. - In the beginning of the book, you can really see where Israel was right before everything began to crumble. - And you can see things progress in this downward spiral.
Their land is full of silver and gold; there is no end to their treasures. Their land is full of horses; there is no end to their chariots. (Isaiah 2:7)
Their land is full of idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their fingers have made. (Isaiah 2:8)
So basically - Israel when they get into power and wealth, they begin to act like everybody else. They become lazy, they forget the poor.
They put their trust in their horses and their chariots - that's an old testament way of saying their put their trust in military power.
Worship idols. A pastor that I like talks about how the idol worship of the Old Testament speaks to our trust in technology.
They worship idols that were crafted with their own hands. They made these things and then they worshipped them.
People will oppress each other— man against man, neighbor against neighbor. The young will rise up against the old, the nobody against the honored. (Isaiah 3:5)
No one could challenge the elite.
You can see this slow decent in the book of Isaiah - where once they were on top of the world, because of their own selfishness, by the time you get to Isaiah 11, all of that has been chopped down. All of the hope and promise seems completely dead.
This great covenant seems to be going nowhere.
This promise that Israel is going to be a great nation just seems a million miles away.
(Which is how we arrive at 'Oh Come, Oh Come, Immanuel' - This is where the nation of Israel has got themself in the mother of all messes. They have no hope, no chance, no opportunity for redemption, unless God miraculously intervenes. And that's what the song is talking about 'Oh come Immanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile'.)
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; (Isaiah 11:1)
This amazing towering tree that was the people of God - that was supposed to bring fruit and blessing to the entire world has been cut down and all that's left is a stump.
And I don't know how much 'stump watching' you do, but traditionally, nothing comes from a stump. - Nothing of life, nothing of beauty comes out of a stump.
Years ago, me and Jordan had a tree that died. - Old age I'm assuming. So we had to have this company come out and do the whole thing, and by the time they were done, all we had was a stump.
By the time you cut a tree down to a stump, that's pretty much the end of that trees story.
The best thing you can do is get somebody to remove the stump.
A stump isn't like a seed. It's not like you just cut it down to the stump and then let it grow back up.
When a great tree has been reduced to a stump, it's past the point of having anything to look forward to.
I want you to appreciate how complete this image is. This tree that was once so full of life, and beauty, and hope, and promise.
These were God's people. And they've been reduced to a stump. How can you ever expect something good to come out of a stump.
This is the picture that Isaiah sees - that out of a stump comes a little shoot.
Which is just a tiny little branch.
It doesn't mean everything goes back to how it was before.
It's small, and unglamorous, and unimpressive.
It's not a vibrant, huge tree, just a tiny little sprout.
The powerful thing in Isaiah 11 is this image of how God takes things and takes people who have been sawed down to a stump, and then all of a sudden, one day, there's a tiny bit of green.
Not enough to get really excited about. Just a tiny bit.
Where you barely notice, but you walk by and say 'Hmm.. Where did that come from?'
This prophesy is about Jesus. The coming deliverer who will come and restore that which has been lost. So 100%. This is about Jesus.
But it's also about you. Learning how God works.
It's always the case - when we have reason to think that hope is gone, there's nothing positive to look at, there's no reason to be encouraged, there's no good report from the doctor, there's nothing good happening in my relationship, everything seems to be going bad, and there's no reason to hope whatsoever except for the fact that the Spirit of God can come and bring new growth from a stump.
This has been my experience: When you feel like your life has been reduced to a stump, that's when God comes and does his best work.
When we get to the place where we say "Unless the Spirit of God comes and blows, there will be no life." God specializes in bringing something green and hopeful, when there seems to be no hope whatsoever.
Lady in main. Years ago I preached a sermon and a lady came up to me after I preached to be prayed for. Her story was that she had just found out her husband had cheated on her and was leaving her and she had 2 kids and they had no idea about any of that. And she just had no idea how to even think about something like that.
Dark // STILL HERE.
I prayed with her and I was so amazed at how I was filled with compassion but also in an incredibly strange way I felt unbelievable hope. I didn't know what to say, I felt awkward, but I KNEW that this person was in a position to experiencing the Spirit of God moving in an incredible way. And I remember telling her "Yes the situation is dark. But you know what? You're still here! And as long as you've got breathe in your lungs, God is still at work.
There's never a reason for total despair, never a reason to give up hope, never a reason to quit believing that God is up to something beautiful.
God's not done. The story isn't over. YOUR story isn't over.
At the moments when you feel like you're at your worst, and completely cut down, God's able to come and do his best work.
We think our stupidity - One Exception So often we can think that our own stupidity is the one exception to this. "Not me. I did this to myself." Which just makes you EVEN MORE like the Israelites.
Keep in mind, that the Israelites were in this awful situation because of their own stupidity. There's was no one to blame but themselves, and EVEN then, God was still at work.
I would never want to embarrass anyone in the room, but I know the stories that are represented in these faces. And just the fact that you're still here in a community like this is a miracle.
No matter how far you get cut down. God is ready and willing to do his best work.
It's not over just because it looks like it's over.
I just want to say this simple thing:
If you feel like something in your life has been reduced to a stump. Look closer, because you just might see a little sprout of hope there.
I feel like for some people here, that this is a season of little seeds of hope.
We invite him in, and he’s the master of bringing good out of evil, success out of failure. Healing out of disaster.
And I just think, in a life like mine, or a life like yours, where there's challenges, and hardships, and setbacks, but also SO much that's good and beautiful, can we find a way to let hope rise in us and believe that there's still light to be seen.
For dreams that have died. God is wanting to grow something beautiful and green there.
Where things in your life feel like they have been reduced to a stump, take heart. God can turn a stump into a seed. Relationships, situations, or circumstances where you feel like you are past the point of no return, take heart. God can bring new life out of the old. God brings water out of the desert, hope out of despair, and green growth from a stump.
You wanna talk about a situation looking hopeless.
Jesus left his place in heaven, came to earth, died a traitors death, was buried. It looked hopeless. But it wasn't. His body was filled with resurrection power and on the third day, he rose from the dead.
And when you put your hope in him, resurrection life is not just a reality for Jesus, it's a reality for you too.
I know that I'm sitting in front of a group of people that have lots of things in their life that feel sawed down. No reason for hope.
EVERYTHING about their life seems to say things won't get better.
PEOPLE - I want you to hear this - After God made all these promises and they didn't come to pass, and there was a lot of detours. But even with all the detours, God was still up to something beautiful.
For somebody today that feels like their life has taken a lot of detours. I want you to know that God is still doing something beautiful.
I know some of you have taken some inconvenient routes.
Let's say many of us have taken the scenic route a time or two.
God didn't give up on you. He's not befuddled.
Take Heart. Just because it feels like you're in the wilderness does not mean that God isn't still working. Father would you allow YOUR spirit to blow in their hearts.