Advent Week 1: Hope

A Message from Danny Akin

No time of the year brings more joy and happiness than the Advent or Christmas season. In what is known as Mary’s song, the mother of our Lord sings with words that should find a home in all of our hearts, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46).

Unfortunately, and all too true in our increasingly secular age, many have forgotten the reason for the season. The eclipse of the divine has taken place as we are suffocating in the commercialization of Christmas. Sadly, we think more about gifts than God. We focus more on stuff than the Savior.

These devotionals, put together by the Southeastern family, are intended to help us get our focus back where it belongs, on our Lord and his kingdom. God’s word repeatedly reminds us that the kingdom of God is not in the things we buy, the parties we attend, and the TV specials we watch. It is about things far more important. It is about hope, peace, love, and joy. Most of all, it is about the birth of a King whose name is Jesus.

It is our prayer that these devotionals will help you and your family focus well on the one named “Immanuel, God with us,” who came to “save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21, 23).

Finding our Hope in His Strength by Dr. Keith Whitfield

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights. – Habakkuk 3:17-19

Tis the season! And as Kevin’s mom in Home Alone reminds us, “This is Christmas! The season of perpetual hope!”

Too often, we anchor our sense of “hope” in how good we determine our circumstances are. Thus, we often address our challenge to find hope in our lives by assuring ourselves that things aren’t quite as bad they seem. We focus our attention on whatever positives we might be able to identify.

It is what we call “finding the silver lining.”

Is your team losing? Don’t give up hope! There’s still a little time left on the clock. Did you forget your last weekly quiz? Have hope! The lowest two grades will be dropped. Are all the airlines booked? This is the season of perpetual hope, Mrs. McCallister! You can still hitch a ride back to Chicago with John Candy and “The Kenosha Kickers.”

But Habbakuk lives in the real world. He knows that there is no lasting, real hope to be found in his circumstances. It would seem silly to challenge him to find the silver lining when there are no grapes on the vine. It would seem trite to tell him to look on the sunny side when the fields produce no food. It would be pointless to encourage him to look at it “glass-half-full” when there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls. Hope must mean more than that.

Christian hope does not require us to ignore or deny the discouragement, suffering, and grief we experience. And Christian hope does not mean that we have to find something positive in our circumstances. Troubles are not good. They do not transform us, and they do not provide hope for us in and of themselves.

Habbakuk reminds us of the central truth of Christian hope: Hope has nothing to do with our circumstances and it has everything to do with the Sovereign Lord. Hope cannot be secure in us or in our experiences. True hope is only anchored in the Lord. Christian hope is only found when we direct our eyes and ears away from ourselves and to the one in whom we hope—the very one who came for us and united us to himself.

For those who live in deep darkness, God has shined the light of the world in Jesus Christ. For those living in the land of the shadow of death, God is near in Jesus, in whom there is life and His life is the light of man!

So what does Habbakuk mean that he will “rejoice in the Lord”? It means to view our circumstances through Christ! To consider him who endured such hostility unto the cross, so as not to lose heart in our present suffering (Heb. 12:3); to remember how Christ in his resurrection defeated sin and death, knowing that the One who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus (2 Cor. 4:14), holding to the truth that for the believer pain is not forever, as there is a new heaven and earth coming (Rev. 21). God will one day right all wrongs and thus wipe away every tear from our eyes.

And as we turn to Him in faith, just as Habbakuk claims: the Sovereign Lord is my strength! God empowers us to endure by faith. He even uses the tribulation to conform us to image of Christ! And as we trust in Him to impart strength and confidence to us, He will work in our hearts to lead us to rejoice even when times are lean and painful (vv.17–18).

Maybe like Habbakuk your life is too dark to find a silver lining. The invitation of Habbakuk is for us to stop looking to find “hope” in your circumstances and to start look to Jesus Christ, our living hope (1 Peter 1:3).

Waiting for Our Blessed Hope by Dr. Julia Higgins

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. – Titus 2:11-14

Come, thou long expected Jesus
Born to set thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in Thee

So goes the first few lines of a beloved advent hymn, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” penned by Charles Wesley in 1744. One of my favorite interpretations of the song comes from Nashville based singer/songwriter Sandra McCracken. She produced an Advent album for children a few years ago, which opens with Wesley’s hymn. McCracken’s version adds a refrain where children sweetly repeat: “we are waiting, we are waiting, we are waiting for you….” These lines remind the listener that hopeful waiting has been the theme for believers throughout the ages. Today, we should remind ourselves amidst the busyness of the season and the difficulties of life that we are waiting.

But what is it that we are waiting on? Titus 2:11-14 teaches that the grace of God has appeared. We are not anticipating the first advent of the Christ. The God-man has come and brought salvation to us! Jesus lived the righteous life we could not and has died the death we deserved. He has been raised and is alive forevermore. This announcement of salvation is available to all who would receive Jesusby faith. And this grace that saves us also sanctifies us. Titus 2:12 tells us that saving grace trains us to deny ungodliness and to live righteous lives in this present age. The readers of Titus would have recognized the intent of Paul here–to describe the present age as one that was against the kingdom of God. Their age, not unlike ours, was filled with wickedness, ungodliness, and worldviews antithetical to the loving, righteous, pure, and holy kingdom of Jesus. Grace equips believers to reject the present age and look forward to a better one.

While we are not waiting on saving grace or sanctifying grace, Titus 2 explicitly describes the future salvific event those in Christ await: “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” The glorious appearing of Jesus is the blessed hope of the believer! Did you catch that? The return of Jesus to set all things right is our hope. We may be tempted to hope in finances, family members or friends, government, or our jobs or position in life to set our anxious hearts at ease. We long for something or someone to fix everything and make life right. For the believer, that longing is only answered in Jesus, our blessed hope. The one who has been saved by Him and is being sanctified through His Spirt finds that the great hope of this season, and all seasons, is the future return of good King Jesus. Let this Christmas season be the one that reminds you that Jesus came as was promised. God is faithful, and Jesus has promised to return. Our confident hope and expectation is that He will come again. As we look back on the first advent of Jesus let us look forth in anticipation to his second advent. This is our blessed hope.

Hope in the Old Testament by Dr. Benjamin Quinn

“So the Lord God said to the serpent:
Because you have done this,
you are cursed more than any livestock
and more than any wild animal.
You will move on your belly
and eat dust all the days of your life.
I will put hostility between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.” – Genesis 3:14-15

As a kid, Christmas Eve was my favorite day of the year.  Yes—Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day.  Why?  Because Christmas Eve was not just the day before Christmas when we opened presents, celebrated with family, and ate lots of seasonal goodies.  It was the peak of my year-long excitement for Christmas Day to arrive, and the build-up of excitement was often more memorable even than the events of Christmas day.

In other words, all year long, 364 days were filled with hope that, indeed, Christmas Day would arrive.

The hope for Christmas was more than an emotion or internal angst as I waited for Dec. 25 to arrive.  This hope filled my thoughts throughout the year, it ordered my actions (we all know the looming disappointment for those who are “naughty” before Christmas!), and it tilted me toward the future looking forward to Christmas Day.  Christmas Eve was pregnant with the angst of what was to come—I couldn’t wait and I relished the excitement!  And best of all, each year, Christmas Day actually came!

In the Old Testament, this hope-filled anticipation was an everyday reality for God’s people prior to Jesus’ birth.  Since Genesis 3, God’s people knew that someone would come to right the wrong of sin and crush the head of the serpent, but when?  How long, Oh Lord?

As the story unfolded, God made clear that the One to come would be a child of Abraham but even more faithful.  He would be a better Moses, an eternal High Priest of a better covenant.  He would be the Son of David who will sit on the eternal throne!  He will be born to a young, virgin woman and His name will be Immanuel—God with us.  This child shall bear the government on His shoulders, and He shall be the wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father and prince of peace!

When He comes!  Oh, when He comes…

Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, generation after generation, the story was told that He will come, and this is certain, for God always keeps His promises.  Thus, hope was rooted in God and His promise to send the Messiah.

So they waited, in hope—believing the promises of God.  It filled their thoughts, ordered their actions, fueled their worship, shaped their calendars, and inspired their stories.

Indeed, the Day would come would and their hope would be realized as the world rejoiced in the birth of Jesus. The virgin did conceive, and Immanuel was born.

Today, we look back and remember the hope of God’s people before Christ.  We also look forward toward the hope of Christ who will come again.

Christmas Eve is still a favorite day for me as, with my own children, I’m filled with the hope of the Christmas Day to come. Yet, as we live between Jesus’ first and second coming, every day is like Christmas Eve, our hope tilting us toward the return of the King who will come and restore all things! What a day that will be.

Until our faith gives way to sight—let us hope!

The Gift of Help and Hope by William “Duce” Branch

My soul, praise the Lord.
I will praise the Lord all my life;
I will sing to my God as long as I live.
Do not trust in nobles,
in a son of man, who cannot save.
When his breath leaves him,
he returns to the ground;
on that day his plans die.
Happy is the one whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea and everything in them.
He remains faithful forever,
executing justice for the exploited
and giving food to the hungry.
The Lord frees prisoners.
The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord raises up those who are oppressed.
The Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord protects resident aliens
and helps the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
The Lord reigns forever;
Zion, your God reigns for all generations.
Hallelujah!  – Psalm 146

In recent years, we have seen how fragile our political institutions truly are. Leaders come and they go; they rise and they fall. As I reflect on our political landscape, Psalm 146 comes to mind, especially as it urges, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation” (Ps 146:3); and declares, “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God” (Ps 146:5). The psalmist teaches us that neither princes nor presidents are trustworthy sources of hope. They too quickly come and go (v. 3).

There is however a God who helps, and He (alone) is the God of hope. He is trustworthy because as creator, sustainer, and ruler, he cannot fail to be a help in the present or give hope for the future. The psalmist warns against trusting in “a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.” How fitting that Advent season is the commemoration of the coming of the Son of Man who came exactly for the purpose of providing salvation.

This trustworthy “Son” should be praised, as the Psalm urges us at the opening and closing. The reasons are laid out for us in vv. 6-9:

•    He keeps faith forever.
•    He executes justice for the oppressed,
•    He gives food to the hungry.
•    The LORD sets the prisoners free
•    The LORD opens the eyes of the blind.
•    The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;
•    The LORD loves the righteous.
•    The LORD watches over the sojourners.
•    He upholds the widow and the fatherless.
•    He deals with the “wicked.”

Yahweh, which appears five times in these four verses, is emphatically presented as the one who can give hope to people plagued with all manner of problems and weighed down by all kinds of needs. Are you lacking anything from a faithful friend, to food, a father, or freedom? There is hope in the Lord. Perhaps, like me, “a just society” is number one on your “Christmas wish list.” Take comfort because as the psalms shows Yahweh is “about that life!” He will bring it to pass.

With the first advent of Christ, it becomes clear that the Yahweh of Psalm 146 is the Jesus of the New Testament. During his “inaugural sermon” (Lk 4:18-20) Jesus described his mission in ways that parallel Psalm 146:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

See, the present help and ongoing hope that the Lord Jesus brought at his first advent is the kind of help and hope we need and can expect now. After all, as this season so often reminds us, Jesus is the ultimate gift given to man. It was as though the Father put him “under the tree” as a gift, only to put him on “the tree” as a substitutionary sacrifice. Hallelujah! Thank God He did.

Clearer than before, we’ve seen that regardless of what earthly kings mount their earthly thrones, do not hope in them. Experience the blessing of trusting in Jesus and never being disappointed. He is the Father’s gift of help and hope, for now and forever.

Prayer by Missie Branch

Dear Lord,

We come to you anticipating your return,
yet patient because your thoughts and yours plan are trustworthy
and beyond us to even question.

As we wait, during this advent season,
we do so gratefully, remembering the works of your son,
our long expected Jesus, who came to us willingly, purposefully, and sacrificially.

Father, we also wait in joyful celebration,
recognizing that Jesus, our blessed hope,
came to be light in the midst of darkness and our salvation when we were lost.

With your grace, we too look to live as lights in the midst of darkness,
a city up on a hill, imploring unbelievers to reject this present age
with all of its corruption and to look forward to a better one promised to us by you.

And while we live longing for your return,
we pray, echoing the words of the hymn writer,
“From our fears and sins release us. Let us find our rest in Thee.”

May this Christmas season be filled with the thrill of hope as we look to you our greatest gift.
Come Lord Jesus, Come!!


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