If you like cricket, you’ll probably have been following the England men’s team attempting to regain the Ashes from Australia ‘down under’. Even if you don’t, you’ll probably know it hasn’t been going too well. Yet there have been moments of encouragement. The third day of the first match ended with two English players batting strongly and building big scores. The live text reporting on the BBC sport website was full of hope. The comments included: ‘There is hope’, ‘We can hope again’ and (less optimistically) ‘it’s the hope that kills you’. The final words for the day were these: ‘Hope: it’s good to see you again.’
There is a sequel to this story. Let’s just say that hope quickly evaporated on day four and it’s rarely been seen since in the series! But the reporting illustrates our need for it. We will cling on to hope when times are tough, however faint that hope may be. Sometimes it’s the only thing that keeps us going.
We live in days when hope is in short supply. It’s been a tough year for everyone to varying degrees. As I type there is a growing threat of increased Covid restrictions, not to mention the threat from Covid itself, especially the Omicron variant. What will Christmas look like? Will I be able to see my family? And what is ahead in the new year. It seems that hopes may be dashed. And, as the proverb says, ‘hope deferred makes the heart grow sick’.
The message of Christmas is full of wonderful, genuine hope. It is about light in the darkness. It is about God coming to us, not shouting at us through a loudhailer from a distance but sharing our humanity. As Eugene Peterson renders John 1.14, ‘God moved into the neighbourhood’. Your neighbourhood. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us Christmas is about God giving himself for us to save you. It is about love to the loveless. It is about hope for the hopeless.
What does this mean in practice? It means the single mother struggling on a run down estate can say, ‘there is hope’ because God is with me. The refugee and the asylum seeker, the broken hearted and those whose mental health have collapsed can each say the same. The woman whose business has just closed, the man who has been laid off, the church leader whose church has just split can similarly say, God is with me. Hope suddenly flares into life. And you can have this hope too. It is yours whatever your circumstances. The opening verses of John 1 make it clear this gift of God with us is for ‘everyone’, for ‘all’ who ‘believe’ and receive. It is wonderfully inclusive. There are no exceptions. Hope: it’s good to see you again.
What is the nature of this hope? Does it mean our circumstances immediately change? No. Although one day there will be full healing and justice for the people of God, this day has yet to arrive. God may deliver us here and now and radically change our circumstances but this may not happen. Yet he will do is journey with us through the storm by the power of the Holy Spirit sent into the world. And his presence is transformative. It changes our perspective, our attitudes and our actions. God with us forgives, refreshes, strengthens and gives us wisdom to live by. It in infuses our lives with hope and – gloriously – enables to bring hope and light to others. This Christmas we welcome him afresh. He moves into our neighbourhood and promises to remain with us. This is the hope which we are all invited to receive afresh. It is a hope which will certainly not disappoint.