The God of hope

One of our great needs as we enter a new year is hope. The problems of our world are great and there are no easy solutions. In our personal lives or our families we may be experiencing sadness and pain. Even the dark and damp days tend to depress us. So we don’t find it easy to be optimistic.

Real hope is found in God. Secular humanism, which is energetically promoted by some, offers no hope. The apostle Paul prayed a remarkable prayer for some early Christians, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.” This is a prayer we can make our own for the coming year as we put our trust in the God of hope. How does God give us hope whatever our circumstances may be?

God helps us to deal with the past. Our memories of the past can cast a long shadow over the future. All of us have reason to be troubled by our past sins. Other people may also have done bad things to us. We need to find forgiveness and to be able to forgive. In Jesus God provided a way for us to be forgiven. When he died he suffered the punishment our sins deserve. The moment we receive Jesus as our Saviour we are forgiven and have nothing to fear. Through experiencing God’s forgiveness we also find the grace to forgive others.

God promises to provide our daily needs. As we enter a new year we may be anxious about how we will be able cope financially and pay the bills. We may have lost, or be in danger of losing, our job. What a difference it makes to be able to pray to God and trust him to provide all our needs. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Our Father in heaven, give us this day our daily bread.” God knows our needs. We can bring all our anxieties to him and trust him to help us.

God gives us hope for the future. None of us knows what will happen in the coming year. All may go well or we may face serious illness or even death. Jesus is a living Lord who gives us a certain hope whatever happens. When we trust in him he promises, “Because I live you will live also.” Nothing that happens can rob us of the hope Jesus gives us when we trust in him.

He was Mary’s Son

In the birth of Jesus God broke into history and drew near to us all. He is Immanuel, “God with us.” Then, as now, many people wanted to keep God out of their lives. They didn’t want their lives to change and to submit to his authority and rule. But Jesus still came from heaven to earth. As one Christmas carol puts it, “He came down to earth from heaven, who is God and Lord of all.” He came into this world in an amazing way when he was supernaturally conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb. He was Mary’s Son.

Mary humbly accepted the amazing privilege which God gave her. She responded to the angel who came to tell her the news of what was going to happen to her by saying, “I am the Lord’s servant, and am willing to accept whatever he wants.” She was willing to accept the stigma of being thought to be immoral, and even of Joseph thinking that she had been unfaithful to him. When King Herod tried to kill her son, she accepted having to flee into exile in Egypt where the family became asylum seekers in a foreign country. She stood at the foot of the Cross as her son died and experienced the piercing grief of bereavement. He was Mary’s son.

Mary’s son was also her Saviour. Mary was not a sinless person, she was like us all. She was, however, someone who wanted to really know God in a deep way. She responded to the angel Gabriel by saying, “Oh, how I praise the Lord. How I rejoice in God, my Saviour!” She was a thoughtful person who reflected on everything that happened to her son. After the shepherds came to visit the baby Jesus “Mary quietly treasured these things in her heart and thought about them often.” After the cross and resurrection, like the disciples, Mary fully realised why they had been told to call him Jesus. He was indeed her Saviour as well as her son. She had carried him in her womb and cared for him through his life. Now by his death and resurrection he had saved his people, including his mother, from their sins.

What will this Christmas be like for you? What do want most for Christmas? We all need to find what Mary found. Mary’s Son came to save us from our sins. He came to be “God with us”, not only at Christmas but always, in this life and forever.

Immanuel – “God with us”

Some families in Newtown, Connecticut, have taken down their Christmas decorations. It is their understandable response to the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Last week a young gunman shot 20 children, aged 6-7 years old, and 6 adults, including the head teacher. Many people around the world have shared something of the pain and anguish of the families who have lost children and loved ones. The fact that young children were killed so close to Christmas has deepened the sadness.

Christmas in our secular world is a strange time. It comes in the darkest days of winter and, for many, involves spending large amounts of money. For those who are poor it accentuates the difference between them and their richer neighbours. In a secular celebration of Christmas, however, there is nothing to touch the deepest recesses of our hearts and the pain and sadness that many in this world experience.

The event that Christmas really celebrates, however, speaks to us all in every experience of life. It truly is something to remember and celebrate. The birth of Jesus is the focal point of history. He was no ordinary child. He was conceived in Mary’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit because he was both God and man. He is “Immanuel” which means “God with us.”

That is exactly what we all need to know, and especially the families in Newtown who have lost their children and loved ones so tragically. It is good that they are finding real comfort in the support of the community and of people in America and around the world. But as time goes on, and life returns to the new “normal”, they will need to know that God really is with them in their sadness and loss.

Jesus is uniquely able to understand and help us in our times of deepest need. When he was a baby there was a plan to kill him. Soon after he was born an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream saying, “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” Herod did send his soldiers to Bethlehem with orders to kill all boys under the age of 2. Their families were devastated. This Christmas let’s pray that the bereaved families in Newton, and all of us, will know that, in Jesus, God really is “with us.”

The value of a soul

The recent decision of the Court of Protection in the case of David James is very significant. David James, who is 68 years old, walked into hospital seven months ago with a stomach complaint. While in hospital he contracted pneumonia which led to multiple organ failure. He has been kept alive despite suffering a stroke, a heart attack and kidney problems that have left him unable to speak or to breathe unaided. The hospital applied to the court to refuse “aggressive” treatment, including restarting his heart, if he deteriorated further. It said the potential suffering outweighed his tiny chances of recovery. David’s family opposed the hospital in court saying that David had been put on a controversial end-of-life pathway to free up his intensive care bed.

The judge found for the family saying that while David’s situation is “grim”, the proposed treatment was not “futile or overly burdensome”, as doctors claimed. The judge concluded that, “Although the burdens of treatment are very great indeed, they have to be weighed against the benefits of a continued existence.” He said the doctors had undervalued the limited quality of life David could still enjoy. He described David’s relationship with his family as “of the closest and most meaningful kind” and this carried great weight in his decision. The family said that David smiled when they visited and enjoyed reading the newspaper, listening to music and seeing his grandchildren.

The judge was right in placing a high value on David’s life, even when it is so limited. The sanctity of human life is a very important principle. The lives of babies, disabled people, the chronically ill and the elderly are precious. Some people feel vulnerable today because they fear their lives are not regarded as valuable. They feel they are “dispensable” if the cost of their care is high or they are seen as a burden on society.

We are all precious in God’s sight. He “knit us together in our mother’s womb.” All our days “were written in his book before one of them came to be.” Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, paid the price of our redemption with his own blood on the Cross. Lucy Ann Bennett wrote, “O teach me what it meaneth, that cross uplifted high, with One, the Man of Sorrows, condemned to bleed and die! O teach me what it cost Thee, to make a sinner whole; and teach me, Saviour, teach me the value of a soul!”

When bad things happen

Dealing with the past is not easy, especially when bad things have happened. In recent months people who were abused as children and teenagers have come forward. It is clear that they are still traumatised and are struggling with the pain of what happened to them. In some cases, those who abused them have died, which makes investigating the accusations and bringing justice impossible.

Many of us have had bad experiences in life because people have done wrong things to us. When these experiences cannot be dealt with and resolved we may struggle with ongoing pain and anger. As a result our lives may be crippled for many years and there may seem to be no way of moving forward.

Jesus suffered unjustly and was condemned to death on false charges. He was a good man who had healed the sick, set people free from the power of evil and even raised dead people to life. His teaching brought blessing to many people. But his life and teaching were a challenge to those who were in power and so they plotted to have him put to death. When he was condemned to death, at the age of 33, he had to cope with an injustice to which there could be no remedy in this life. His condemnation and death were a gross abuse of power.

So how did he deal with this? When he suffered, “he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” He committed the whole situation to God, his Father. He knew that a time would come when God will call us all to account and judge us in perfect justice. No one ever really escapes justice. So we, too, can leave issues which we have not been able to resolve with God and try to move on. He will deal with us all justly.

But Jesus also gives us an amazing example. As he hung on the cross he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” He did not want those who were responsible for his death to be condemned but to find forgiveness. So, too, God can give us grace and strength to forgive others for what they have done to us. Hatred and the desire for revenge can consume us. The wonderful experience of God’s forgiveness for our sins creates in us the desire that others, too, may find his forgiveness.