How Hope Matters Today!

Dr. Jon Morrissette - 12/8/2019

This month our theme is the “Thrill of Hope.” This phrase comes from the Christmas song “O Holy Night.” “Long lay the world in sin and error pining… Till He appeared, and the soul felt its worth… A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices… For yonder breaks a new glorious morn.” When was the last time you were “thrilled to pieces” about something? When we were younger most anything thrilled us. As we grow older, the number of things that deeply “thrill” us grows ever shorter.

In his book, “Thrilled to Death,” Archibald Hart describes how the endless pursuit of pleasure (all our over-indulgence and over-stimulation) is leaving us emotionally numb. Our pursuit of extreme and overstimulating thrills hijacks our pleasure system and robs us of our ability to experience pleasure in simple things. We are literally being thrilled to death! Maybe this Christmas you find yourself unable to experience pleasure or happiness, emotionally numb, suffering profound boredom?

On the richter scale of thrills, few things are more thrilling than the birth of a child. On the Richer Scale of birth announcements, absolutely nothing tops the announcement of Christ’s birth. Jesus was the single most anticipated birth in history. Luke’s genealogy tells us Jesus’ birth was anticipated from the beginning of human history—God promised Adam and Eve their offspring would crush the head of Satan. God promised Abraham/Sarah that all nations on earth would be blessed through their child. God promised he’d establish King David’s throne forever. Luke wants us to know Jesus is of the lineage of Adam, Abraham, David... all history culminates in Christ Jesus.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, was overcome with joy at the thought of what her son would mean to the nations. Luke 1:46-55 she sings, “My soul praises the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, because he has looked with favor on the humble condition of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed, because the Mighty One has done great things for me, and his name is holy. His mercy is from generation to generation on those who fear him. He has done a mighty deed with his arm; he has scattered the proud because of the thoughts of their hearts; he has toppled the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly. He has satisfied the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering his mercy to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he spoke to our ancestors.”

I want you to notice the peculiar way the Gospels talk about HOPE. We tend to speak of HOPE as hope deferred. Hope only lay in the distant future. Hope is eternal, everlasting, not-yet-realized. Hope is God preparing for us a heavenly home. Hope is waiting to receive our resurrection bodies, waiting for sin/death to be swallowed up in victory. Hope is escape from this dark world into God’s eternal kingdom of light. Hope is seeing the New Heaven, and New Earth, and New City.

But in the Gospels HOPE is ALSO breaking in upon the world RIGHT NOW. Yes indeed, there is a now/not-yet… a present/future aspect to hope. But what’s thrilling about Christian hope is that it has as much to say about the present order of things as the future order of things. *Mary realizes that with the appearance of Jesus, the favor of God is interrupting this present order. The Mighty One is doing a great thing for not just her but all who fear Him. God is stretching out his arm. He is scattering the proud, exalting the humble, satisfying the hungry, sending the rich away empty handed, helping his people, remembering his mercy, acting on his ancient promises, keeping his Word. Notice for Mary, the “Thrill of Hope” isn’t only about what God is yet to do one day, it’s just as much about what God is doing this day!

I want to talk about Luke 4, but let’s go back to “Oh Holy Night.” “Long lay the world in sin and error pining… Till He appeared, and the soul felt its worth… A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices… For yonder breaks a new glorious morn.” That “new glorious morning” has come. It arrived at the birth of Jesus. Our Thrilling Hope is unfolding. But there is something about verse 3 that really caught my eye…

“Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is Love and His gospel is Peace; Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother, And in his name all oppression shall cease, Sweet hymns of joy in grateful Chorus raise we; Let all within us praise his Holy name!”

Do you notice the peculiar way, like the gospels, this hymn frames hope. Yes, Jesus appeared. But notice the hymn doesn’t speak of hope in disconnective, ethereal, other-worldly, escapist, futurist language. No, HOPE is breaking into the present order of things. Hope is as much about humanity’s redemption NOW as anything that lay in the future. Hope is Jesus teaching us to love one another just as he loved us. Hope is Jesus’ kind of love, the good news of Jesus, ushering peace into our world. Hope is the sound of chains breaking, oppression ceasing once and for all. Could there be any more tangible expression of hope than these words: “the slave is our brother!”

This hymn was written in 1847 by Adolphe Adam, a French poet and wine merchant. It was translated into dozens of languages and sung by generations of Christians. What do you think a wine merchants experience of the evils of slavery might have been in 1847, as he traveled the world? Recently I read the New Yorker Magazine’s 1619 Project. Whether you agree with the premise of the 1619 Project, you cannot ignore the horrors it catalogs—how brutal, how violent, how unfair/unjust, how cruelly exploited, how profoundly the black has been abused for centuries by white people. For all the horrors of humanity that have occurred, American maltreatment of slaves is ranks toward the top. Do you realize how revolutionary, how politically incorrect and disruptive and divisive, it was for any person (black/or white) to sing “The slave is my brother.” I asked Eric if he could think of any modern lyric that rivals this. Hope is that God is presently turning the present order upside down!

I think previous generations of Christians understood how imperative it was for the Hope of Christmas to speak as much to present realities as future realities. Jesus came to immediately turn the world order upside-down. The slave isn’t a commodity, he is your brother and sister, he is fully human, he has dignity and worth and value, he/she is to be loved, we are to sit at the same table of communion and share one bread and one drink, red, yellow, white and black all are precious in his sight. We all share in one baptism, one Lord, one Spirit. “Long lay the world in sin and error pining… Till He appeared, and the soul felt its worth… A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices… For yonder breaks a new glorious morn.” This is a new day. The sun is rising on a new King, and New Kingdom, and new order of things.

Now back to Luke 4. Notice the peculiar way Jesus announces the inauguration of his Kingdom. Luke 4:18-19, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim [announce] release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Notice there isn’t one word in there about the far distant future. Jesus is announcing that a new order, a new Kingdom, … the very reign of God … is breaking in upon human relationships right now!

It’s enough for now just to enumerate the new realities breaking forth upon our dark world, like the dawn of a whole new morning. Jesus announces (1) release from captivity/ bondage/ strongholds; (2) recovery of sight for the blind which is literal and figurative; (3) freedom for all who are oppressed/abused/downtrodden; (4) favor/forgiveness for all who are indebted (financially, morally etc.); (5) healing for the afflicted. Hope isn’t some distant dream, its also a present reality. Hope isn’t some spiritual pie-in-the-sky vision, it’s a tangible miracle breaking in upon humanity today!

In Luke 4:18-19 Jesus is quoting two chapters in Isaiah—Isaiah 58 and 61. The NT writers would often quote the familiar opening line of a verse as a way of alluding to everything written in a particular section of the Bible. That is the case of Luke 4:18-19. Jesus is quoting the opening verses of Isaiah 61/58 knowing that the reading will fill in all the rest. Isaiah has a peculiar way of describing Hope just as Mary, Gospels, Jesus, and the previous generations of hymnwriters. Hope is…

… no longer oppressing your employees, your workers, people weaker than you (58:3).

… no longer living divisively in contention and strife harboring bitter resentment against everyone who thinks different than we do (58:4).

… no longer viciously striking another human being for any reason (58:4).

… no longer shouting people down (58:4).

… hope is breaking the chains of wickedness, untying the ropes/strings that oppress (58:6)

… hope is sharing your bread with the hungry, bringing the poor into your nice pretty house, clothing the naked, not neglecting the well-being of your very own flesh and blood, your family, your child born or unborn no doubt (58:7).

… hope is God having your rear guard, while setting your path forward day after day (8)

… hope is having confidence God will always answer when you call upon Him (9)

… hope is ceasing from finger-pointing, blame games, and malicious talking about others (9)

… hope is offering yourself to help the hungry, its satisfying the needs of a neighbor (10)

… hope is the Lord leading you, satisfying you, strengthening your bones, watering your garden, refreshing you with living water (11)

… hope is rebuilding ruins, restoring foundations, repairing broken walls, restoring the streets (12)

… hope is not forsaking the Sabbath, but actually delighting in worshipping the Lord (13)

… hope is not going your own way, and seeking your own pleasure, and talking too much (13)

Isaiah 58, Isaiah 61 are portraits of hope. More specifically, they are portraits of the thrilling, hopeful life Jesus lived. Even more, they are snapshots of the kind of lives, and kind of impact we can have, when we truly let Jesus reign as King in costly ways. Christmas hope isn’t a matter of talking, but a matter of being God’s people, and aspiring for God’s will to be done here/now on earth just as it is heaven/will be done for all eternity.

Scripture Verses

Luke 4:18-19

Study Questions

Apply It!