Please find below my teaching notes to the series, “Believe, Pt. 2 The Hope of Christmas.” For personal use only. All other uses contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Grinch Who Stole Christmas! I love it!! What a classic Christmas movie! I’m sure this movie and story has been used a lot to illustrate the materialism and consumerism of Christmas. But I’m not going to use it that way. I want to talk to you about how this movie, and more importantly, the true “Christmas Story” is a story about Hope! Something we all desperately need more of!
Last week we shared on the Joy of Christmas and if we don’t want to be “cotton headed ninny muggins” we need to “spread Christmas cheer by singing loud for all to hear!” We’ve got to spread joy, cheer people up that is born out of an inner joy!
But now let’s talk about another powerful thing we need in our lives- hope! When I was a kid Christmas was defined by hopeful anticipation of “getting the gifts I’d asked for!” You know, “I hope I get this or that…” Of course, my hopes or despair would be realized, not on Christmas morning, but a few weeks before Christmas when I’d discover the gift stash…
As we growing older, our hopes often change. We hope for a good job. We hope for the right spouse or relationship. We hope to make money. We hope to have a nice house. We hope the Mayan calendar guy simply lost his chisel! (Don’t worry the world isn’t going to end on Dec. 21!!)
Hope is the “emotional state which promotes the belief in a positive outcome related to events and circumstances in one’s life”. Despair is the opposite of hope. Hope is the “feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best” or the act of “looking forward to something with desire and reasonable confidence” or “feeling that something desired may happen”.
Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson, Principal Investigator of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab and Professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, argues that hope “…comes into play when our circumstances are dire”, when “things are not going well or at least there’s considerable uncertainty about how things will turn out”. She further states that “hope literally opens us up… and removes the blinders of fear and despair and allows us to see the big picture, thus allowing us to become creative” and have “belief in a better future”. That’s why we need hope because that’s what hope does for us! The people of Newtown, CT and all of us NEED HOPE!
In the face of tragedy and a fallen, sin-filled world, Christmas and the Christmas story… offers us legitimate HOPE! The story of God’s great love, grace, and mercy by coming to save us and in Christ provide a way for us to have eternal life. Christmas reminds us we have this HOPE!
Note Heb. 6:18-19a “So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.”
To me, salvation and eternal life is something we would all want and hope for because it indicates that God desires restored relationship with us, that he has more planned for us than what this world limits us to, and that he accepts us with unconditional love! So, how do we experience the Hope that Christmas brings?
** IN RELATIONSHIPS! THE HOPE OF “I HAVE GREAT RELATIONSHIPS”- THAT MY FAMILY, CHURCH, PEOPLE IN MY LIFE MATTER MOST! **
Gifts and presents and stuff is nice, but if all that were taken away, I’d still have some people in my life, relationships, and a relationship with God that fills my life!
You see after the Grinch steals all the gifts and food from Whoville, the townsfolk realize that they still have each other, which is all that really matters! We too must conclude that if the gifts, the food, the festivities, were all taken away, that family, community, or a sense of belonging would be more than enough!
Living now in Colorado with family and children from the East Coast to the West Coast, Jo Ann’s “hope list” or “wish list” as kids like to call it at Christmastime, is that her family can be all together and enjoy that family time! Me? I’m hoping I get some significant gift cards to Cabelas and Bass Pro Shop!! LOL
I think the greatest “gift” we can have is the gift of great relationships, family, and community- something and more importantly someone we can belong to, belong with, be together!
Sure, some of you are saying right now, “That would be great Terry, but I don’t have that and frankly you’re just making me more depressed right now…” I recognize how real and raw it is for some of you to have your hopes dashed by difficult and even broken relationships, bad family situations…
And I would say to you that I HOPE GCC, me, Jo Ann, those around you can be your family, your community, your relationships! We love you, we want you to know that you belong in this family and we’re blessed to have you! I hope you’re in a Life Group and that those people in that group love and care for you! I hope you can hope again when it comes to relationships, family, community and a sense of belonging!
Because in reality, we all had a broken relationship with God! But He came after us- that’s what Christmas is really all about; so we could be restored relationally with God through Jesus Christ!
Gal. 4:4-5 “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.”
I hope you know that and I hope you have that today! Because that’s the Hope of Christmas! But there is MORE…
** THAT HOPEFULLY THERE IS MORE THAN THOSE THINGS THAT ARE TEMPORARY; THAT WE HAVE THE HOPE OF MORE! **
As a kid, well probably as an adult too, I always loved the “more” experience of Christmas! You know, as in “there are MORE presents! Jo Ann and I would remind the kids they still had presents they hadn’t yet opened and they’d say, “You mean there’s more??” As great as gifts and presents are… I’m so glad there is MORE! That God is the God of MORE! There is SO MUCH MORE to Christmas than what we often settle for or realize.
There’s that scene in the movie where the Grinch realizes something amazing about Christmas and it generates hope in him: “It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags… Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more!” And his heart grew!!
The Hope of More at Christmas IF it’s merely more stuff- being greedy, it actually reduces our lives because it shrinks and shrivels up our heart! But IF the Hope of More at Christmas is about gratitude it expands our lives and grows our heart!
Christmas cannot be stolen when it’s about being grateful for what you already have! We’ve realized that simply having more stuff doesn’t make us happy- oftentimes it just makes us more stressful because we have more to worry about!
The Hope of More is focused on EXPERIENCING A MORE FULFILLED LIFE! In John 10:10 Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it MORE abundantly.”
It’s realizing and asking the question: “What makes for a MORE abundant or fulfilled life?” How about these things: MORE of your hopes and dreams being realized. MORE of the God-ordained passions of your heart being lived out! MORE of your faith and trust being centered in the God “who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely MORE (what?) than we might ask or think.” (Eph. 3:20).
The Hope that we’ve been made for more than just this, or these things, but for a life a true fulfillment! That’s all possible because we find…
** THAT WHAT WE ULTIMATELY WANT IS ACCEPTANCE- THE HOPE OF ACCEPTANCE! **
In the story of the Grinch, all he ever hoped for was for acceptance! And it took an innocent, hope-filled, not yet tainted by the prejudices of the world, little girl to see the potential in the Grinch and accept him! Cindy Lou Who reminds the mayor of “what the Book actually” says! She nominates the Grinch for Whoville Cheer-Meister because “he needs it the most!”
“The Book says…” Regrettably, like the mayor of Whoville, we can be guilty of making up or manipulating what the “Book, the Bible” actually says. It says things like, “Whosoever will may come”, that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him…” The amazing thing is that because God loves unconditionally he “accepts” everyone based on the potential of “who” they can become in Christ.
Don’t we all have that hope or desire? To be accepted?? There are few things worse in this life than rejection! Could it be that the Grinch became the Grinch because of rejection? Could it be that we become isolated from others and possibly embittered because we’ve been rejected? Could it be we isolate ourselves from others because we fear being rejected??
I’ve experienced it. You’ve experienced it. REJECTION. And we lose hope because of it. There’s the classic Christmas story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. “Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, had a very shiny nose. And if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows… All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names. (And here it comes!) They never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games.”
REJECTION! Maybe rejection happened for you as a kid on the playground. Maybe rejection happened in a relational context, or a job, or in some other situation. And that rejection has hounded you and isolated you and embittered you… BUT…
“Then one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say, Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight? THEN HOW THE REINDEER LOVED HIM…
ACCEPTANCE! What we all hope for! There’s probably no greater statement or act of acceptance than this: “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners!” (Rom. 5:8). God accepted us unconditionally long before we ever accepted him! God loved us long before we ever loved him back!
WHY? Because like Cindy Lou Who, who saw the potential Mr. Grinch had deep down inside him to not merely welcome him to town but that he could even become Whoville’s Cheer-Meister; God sees and knows who we can become!
God accepts us on the basis of Christmas’ true meaning- WHY Jesus came and WHAT Jesus came to do! The fact is, all of us have the potential to be so much MORE than what we settle for based on our own efforts and abilities- as great as that can be; and yet sometimes despite all those efforts and abilities, we can still experience rejection.
Christmas and the Christmas story reminds us that God deemed us worth saving, worth the blood of his son, Jesus Christ; that we are ACCEPTED by God- that’s the Hope of Christmas!!
Paul writes in Rom. 15:13 “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.”
This confident hope, the hope that Christmas provides, is realized in the experience of loving relationships, a more fulfilled life, and unconditional acceptance by God and the family of Faith!
And in times like these, in the tragedy of what we’ve experienced here in Colorado with Columbine 13 years ago, the Aurora theater shooting just months ago, and now the unfathomable heinous act against the most innocent and hopeful among us- our children, WHAT DO WE DO, WHERE DO WE FIND HOPE?
The Psalmist struggled as well and he said, Psalm 39:7 “And so Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in you!”
The Hope of Christmas is believing, and knowing that God will not disappoint you. As a matter of fact, Isaiah 49:23 says, “Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who hope in me will not be disappointed.”
Well, truth is, we’ve all been disappointed at one time or another at Christmas… but you’ll never be disappointed if you put your hope in God!