An Unexpected Hope
December 1, 2019 Pastor: Series: HPJL
Topic: Hope in Christ Scripture: Luke 1:26–1:35
When you think of the word “unexpected” does your mind jump to the positive or to the negative? I’m talking about your first gut reaction. When you hear “unexpected” does your gut drop a little with anxiety or does your heart flutter a bit with excitement? How many of you are the ones that hear “unexpected” and get nervous? Alright, and how many of you are the ones who get excited at the thought of something unexpected? Ok, not an unexpected split. Bottom line, I think we can agree that the unexpected can be good and it can be bad. For every unexpected marriage proposal, there is a story of unexpected car trouble. For every winning lottery ticket, there are thousands of broken hearts.
I tried to think of some of the most memorable unexpected moments from my life. Many of you know about some of the unexpected things from my story, things I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Losing my parents, the fire in our home back in PA, everything that happened with Caitlin last Spring. So how about I share one that doesn’t have quite the gravity? Caitlin and Isaac and I had just gotten back from a wonderful vacation a few years ago. We pulled into the house and went in. As we were bringing in our bags, we notice that our washer has a little red light on it. Odd. Cait and Isaac are standing there, and being the savvy homeowner that I am, I decide to open the washer door. Look, it can be difficult sometimes to relate to the events we read about in the Bible, but at that moment, as I opened that washer door, I understood how Noah felt when those flood waters first surged. Far more water than should have been physically possible to fit into our washer came gushing out, like a dam had broken. Caitlin is screaming. Isaac is crying. I’m wondering why we came home from vacation. But, like I said, for every story of frustration there is a tale of hope.
Rewind back to my sophomore year of college. The end of every semester of college was stressful for me. Money was always tight, and my dad didn’t have the means to help me with the cost of school. Beyond loans, there always seemed to be a bill or two that served as the regular gut punch I always assumed was coming. My sophomore year, as I was working through my finals right before Christmas break, that gut punch came. And it was a savage uppercut. I had no idea what I was going to do. Not a half hour after I got that invoice statement, I was walking down the stairs to check my mailbox. In it, was an envelope bearing handwriting instead of the stamp or uniformity of the typical junk mail. In the envelope was a note from someone I hadn’t really spoken to in about 2 years. His name was RJ and he was one of the adult volunteer youth leaders from my youth group. RJ wrote how he was so proud of me for pursuing a calling in ministry and how the Lord had been putting me on his heart for a while. He went on to reference a gift he enclosed and mentioned how he didn’t know why I needed it but felt the Holy Spirit telling him I would. I looked in the envelope again and inside was a check for just slightly more than the bill I had received not an hour ago. I was overwhelmed. Like I said, it had been almost 2 years since RJ and I had really talked. I had felt alone and suffocated by what that bill would mean for my future. But the urging the Lord had given RJ, his note and gift, it gave me An Unexpected Hope. Unexpected, because it came out of nowhere. Hope, because it didn’t only help me in the moment but revealed the path the Lord had set out before me.
This morning we’re going to open our Advent message series by looking at one of the most impactful, inspiring examples of An Unexpected Hope in the existence of humanity. As we begin this approach to the celebration of Christmas, we are going to use our time together to focus a little more intentionally onto the tenets or defining realities of the liturgical season of Advent. Every year, we light candles in recognition of these realities and their appearance into the story of the world. They are Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Candles of purple and pink generally serve as our focal point for observing these realities. But they were fostered and given long before the first advent wreath was created. And perhaps one of the most obvious but also richest places for us to look is within Luke’s gospel. And so, this Advent season we’ll search out the meaning and impact of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love and use Luke’s account of Christ’s birth as our platform to do so. And we begin in the first chapter with verses 26-35.
* Read Luke 1:26-35 *
You can’t tell me this account doesn’t scream unexpected. I think that sometimes we can be so familiar with the nativity story that we become immune to the sheer absurdity and wildness of the account. This part of the story that we find in Luke’s gospel is sometimes rarely even mentioned. That’s even more true concerning our text next week. Often times we jump into what we call the Christmas story with a pregnant Mary and her husband Joseph, traveling to Bethlehem. But consider for just a moment how perplexing and even terrifying this series of events truly are that we’ve just read.
We don’t even have to get that far ahead of ourselves. The first few verses are stunning. The angel Gabriel appears before someone with no fanfare or reputation. We esteem Mary as the mother of Christ and one possessing a rare, magnificent faith in God but prior to Gabriel’s arrival, she is like virtually all the other women in her phase of life: a virgin promised to marriage. But Gabriel changes all that. In the Jewish Scriptures, Gabriel helped Daniel interpret his visions and here he shares the Lord’s plans for this young woman.
And those plans include the conceiving of a child that will be the Son of God and bear an authority greater than that of kings like David and of forefathers such as Jacob. This son will be named Jesus and his kingdom will never end. And then Mary asks the question all of us would ask. “Um, how?” Some people tend to doubt the historicity of accounts like this, but Mary’s very human, very concerned response is good proof. Mary doesn’t marvel at this incredible pronouncement. She doesn’t fall to her knees in praise and jubilation. She puts two and two together and realizes something is missing.
The answer she receives wouldn’t settle my nerves and I doubt it did for Mary at first. This young girl is told by the angelic messenger of God that the Holy Spirit and the power of the Most High will come over her and that she will conceive. My perception of Mary’s great faith in God, a faith we will explore more specifically next week, would not be shaken in the least if she indeed had a panic attack upon taking all this in. And yet, what is fostered from all of this? A surprising turn of events. An abrupt declaration of world-altering news. An Unexpected Hope.
As we begin this Advent journey toward Christmas, I pray that we will find the ability to identify and then embody the essence of what this celebration truly means for us and for this world. Luke’s account of these events will be the road we travel on and the tenets of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love will be the lampposts that guide us to that blessed night where a child was born, placed in a manger, and set into motion a story that would change everything.
And it is fitting that we begin with Hope. It’s such a perplexing and unique thing. On one level it is something we hold onto in anticipation, and yet, at another moment, it can be a sudden lifeline thrown to us in a desperate hour. It can be both long-enduring and immediate. But I believe the most important truth about hope that we learn through the birth and life of Jesus Christ is that hope can be embodied. It can have a name and a face and a voice. In Luke’s gospel, along with the others, that name is Jesus. The face is that of a tender infant. And the voice is the cry of a baby.
But in that moment when I was in college and carrying a terrible anxiety about my future, the name of my Unexpected Hope was RJ. When Caitlin was in the hospital last Spring, hope took the voice of Dr. Gregory Blume when he was the first one to share with me good and hopeful news about her recovery. Through that entire experience, many of you became the Unexpected Hope I needed, both through that terrible chapter and in the moments where I felt like everything was falling apart. And I pray that throughout my life God has used my presence and my voice to be a hope for others.
So, I offer up something to you. I don’t want to call it a question, so I’ll call it a challenge. How can you be the Unexpected Hope in someone else’s story? More specifically, how can you be the means for God to share a spark of light and inspiration in the story of another? If it’s one thing we find abundantly clear in the collected stories and accounts of the Bible, it’s this: God can, and often will, use anybody and everybody to bring His light to dark places. So, what about each of you? Two friends of our church had the chance to do this by finding a lost dog. The day after their son’s dog ran off after a car accident, Darren and Angela Brant drove out to that spot of the highway in the middle of nowhere and somehow spotted little brown Buster holed up in the brush. Reuniting a boy and his dog is no small act of delivering hope.
For some of you it might mean taking more notice of a person you’ve had on your heart recently. Perhaps, there is some way the Lord is trying to inspire you to bless them. Maybe it’s you writing that note to that person that you’ve been thinking about recently. Or visiting someone. It could be more spontaneous and come in the form of a random act of kindness and generosity that you share with a stranger who is still, nonetheless, your neighbor. It’s also possible your work of delivering hope is more of a labor. It could be difficult for you as the hope-giver. Finally offering forgiveness to one who has wounded you. Cracking open the door of possibility for a relationship to be restored that you have been content to remain cut off and disconnected. And sometimes fostering hope means saying goodbye.
I don’t know the details for each of you, but I do know this: If you claim to love Christ and have decided to follow Him, you are called to be emissaries of hope. Each of us have been touched by others who have shared it with us. And, as we know and find in Luke’s gospel, the world and the entirety of humanity was forever changed by the arrival of An Unexpected Hope.