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28th November 2021

A New Hope

Passage: 1 Peter 1; 3-9

Late one evening during 1940, Corrie ten Boom, her sister and her father sat around their radio. German invasion of Holland- their nation- was a growing threat and tonight, their Prime Minister would address the nation. They sat tense in their seats, but the Prime Minister’s voice was calm and soothing. There would be no war. He had assurances from the highest places that there was nothing to fear. Five hours later, German bombs were falling on their city. “It is very wrong,” said Corrie’s father, “to give people hope when there is no hope.”
600 years BC, Jeremiah was living in a city also under threat of enemy invasion. He was a prophet, and prophets were like the media of those days in that they commented on politicals situation and predicted what was likely to happen. Although in theory, called and inspired by God alone, some prophets were employed by the Government to say what they thought the people most wanted to hear. The people wanted to hear that there would be no invasion, so these prophets were paid to predict peace. “It is very wrong,” wrote Jeremiah, “to proclaim peace when there is no peace.”
This time last year our government promised us a lifting of lockdown over Christmas. We made joyful plans to celebrate with family and friends. Then, with less than a week to go, it was cancelled. In terms of health and safety it made sense. But it was wrong to make promises which could not be kept.
Which brings me to our Worship Team planning our Christmas Services. What do people most need this year, we asked? “Hope,” was the answer. What are people most hoping for? ”A normal Christmas with carol singing, present shopping, family gatherings.” But we cannot promise that, can we? And many people have been deeply disillusioned by religion making promises which have not come to pass. It would be very wrong for us to make false promises in the name of God. &&&&&&&&&&&&
Yet, we cannot expect people to live without hope, can we? What is the point of even trying to celebrate Christmas if we have no hope? We might just as well remain at home and watch all the TV programmes which were shown last Sunday and will be shown again next week. We have to say something!
I remembered a verse from 1 Peter- that God has given us new birth into a living hope. What was all that about? Peter was not living in easy times; nor were the people he was writing for. They were among the first Christians, living in threat of attack from both Romans and Jews. They had lost jobs, become estranged from families, and seen friends dragged off to prison and even to death. Peter is not making promises that all of this will go away any time soon. And although he promises an “inheritance” in heaven, I don’t think his hope is only for some life in the world to come either. He talks about a “living hope,” something to transform your life right here, where you are, right now. “You,” he says, “are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
What is this about? Peter, since childhood, had lived under oppression in an enemy-occupied country. He had struggled inwardly with anger, with frustration, with cynicism towards both politics and religion. He had a loud voice, but very little confidence in himself. So, when looking back on his past life he saw hardship and failure over and over again, which were enough to drive to him to despair for his future. Yet he says, he had been given a living hope: a power to transform the person he was (to save his soul) and to transform the life he lived hour by hour, day by day. This power he had found in Jesus Christ.
And what was that about? First, Jesus had been his best friend and you can cope with a lot when you have a good friend beside you. Second, Jesus had asked for his comradeship in ministry. You start to believe in yourself when someone you respect shows that they believe in you. Third, Jesus had not only stood up to him when he got something wrong but had then forgiven him, picked him up and walked on with him. You start to come to terms with who you really are when someone puts you right and gets you going again after making a mistake. And fourth, Jesus had re-introduced him to God and the God Peter encountered in Jesus was not the God of the checklist he had been taught about as a child, making a note of every fault and systematically downgrading you. Nor was he the God those false prophets had promised, who should be making sure that nothing bad ever happened to you but kept letting you down. No, this was the God who would go through pain, rejection, injustice, betrayal, and crucifixion, coming through victorious in love and in life, now able to save his people from the powers of sin and destruction. When you encounter a power of love and life far mightier than any you have ever dreamed of, you find hope both for yourself and for the world. &&&&&&&&&&
Peter’s life never did get any easier. He lived with uncertainty, threat, disappointment until he himself died for his faith. And no doubt there were plenty of times when he lost his temper, made mistakes, and seriously wondered if life was worth living at all. But what we need to remember and hold onto right now, is that none of this destroyed him. Like St Paul, he could say, “yes we are hard pressed, but we are not crushed; yes, we are confused but we are not in despair; yes, we are persecuted but we are not abandoned; yes we are struck down, but we are not destroyed.” This was all to do with a promise Jesus himself had made- that they would not be overcome- and this is a promise Jesus has kept repeatedly, in millions of human lives. And this is the hope I can offer this Christmas- that if we believe in Jesus Christ as God himself, entering our life in this world, then we can hope for our own future and that of our world. Because no matter what threats of disease and devastation we face, we shall not be utterly destroyed because God himself has come to us and will live in us. And by God we shall be given strength, courage and light as we need it, for we are promised this “living hope” which will be renewed hour by hour, day by day.
Living in hope through Jesus Christ means that the past no longer has the power to haunt us because we can trust in a way forward. We can believe in healing, in reconciliation, in forgiveness for all that has gone wrong through the years and in our freedom in Christ to move on.
Living in hope through Jesus Christ means that the present takes on a whole new meaning. Life which has become wearisome, constrained, what’s-the-point of anything, now offers us endless opportunities to contribute to the love and the goodness and the peace in the world. It does not matter if we cannot see much point in the tiny little things we can do in our very limited lives, because we can trust that, in God’s all-embracing power, every action of loving kindness plays its part. No matter where we are, nothing can prevent us from being God’s people, Christ’s disciples, children of the Holy Spirit. Corrie ten Boom and her sister, Betsie, proved that for themselves when, even in the horrors of a concentration camp they were able to bring others to Jesus and spread peace, love and even joy amongst their fellow-prisoners.
Living in hope through Jesus Christ means that the future is now worth believing in. Peter speaks of our faith being “refined through suffering” and although he is not suggesting that God deliberately inflicts suffering just to test us, what he is saying is that even hard and painful times can, in the power of Christ, make us stronger, wiser, better, even happier people. If Christ could get the better of so much evil and even death itself, then there is hope that we too, whatever happens, will continue to receive, through him “the salvation of our souls,” that is, the saving of the person we are, the being God loves, to live life and to be hope for our world.
So, as the countdown to Christmas begins, let us hope “in Christ alone” and look each day for ways to live out that hope. We’re looking ahead, with hopes and with fears; We think of the past, with laughter and tears. Lord, bring us your light; shine through our years. Amen.