“Come, Lord Jesus, come.” For Christ-followers Advent is a time of reflection and longing for the Messiah to enter our world. As our awareness of Christ’s first coming takes center stage in December, so we yearn for his coming again.
Every new mass murder or act of terrorism prompts me to pray the ancient Advent prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus, come.” It’s the very last prayer in the Bible (Revelation 22:20), a prayer that continually reminds the faith community that Christ comes into the world through us. As we light the Advent candles of hope, love, joy and peace, we recommit ourselves to embodying the hope of the world in our thoughts, actions and relationships. Christ has no hands but ours.
As I watched with horror the unfolding of the latest mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, Romans 5:1-5 came to mind, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Hope does not disappoint because good gifts come in surprising packages.
I also remembered a beautiful witness about hope shared by Julie Work at a women’s gathering last week. I share her three stories with permission.
“The first story took place sometime around 1981. In my childhood home, December was full of celebration. My older sister and my dad both had birthdays just days before Christmas. I was about fifteen years old, and my big sister received an amazing gift for her birthday…a stereo. It was awesome! This stereo was everything I had ever hoped for! A turntable, two speeds, important looking cords, connecting (not one but) two speakers.
“So, you can imagine my delight just nine days later when, on Christmas morning, I pulled back the wrapping paper to discover that my gift looked to be exactly like Diane’s! The cardboard box showed a picture of that same amazing stereo system! As I squealed and hurriedly opened the box, I quickly realized that the gift inside did not reflect the outside packaging.
“My mom had been industrious and simply placed my gift inside Diane’s old stereo box, before wrapping. I tried to keep my ecstatic smile fixed on my face, as my eyes settled on my actual gift: a backgammon set – a corduroy backgammon set. Royal blue with red stripes…
“Once I got past the shock that my gift wasn’t exactly what I had hoped for, truthfully, I learned to love playing backgammon. And I learned something else: A good gift is sometimes wrapped in a surprising package.
“The next Christmas story happened in December 2001. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of shopping at one of our church rummage sales, then you know that you can find fabulous items for fabulous prices. At one such rummage sale, I was able to buy a lot of gently used Legos. At the time, my son Charlie was eight years old and loved Legos.
“As Christmas drew nearer, I had the task of finding a right-sized box to place the Legos into before wrapping them as a gift for Charlie. An empty cereal box proved to be just the right size for the job. So, imagine Charlie’s confusion on Christmas morning when he tore off the paper from his gift only to discover…a box…of Corn Flakes. He wasn’t hoping for Corn Flakes that Christmas.
“Needless to say, I could pack a LOT of Legos into that one box. And once Charlie got past the confusion of the outer box, he was delighted with thousands of new Legos to add to his collection. Again, a good gift is sometimes wrapped in a surprising package.
“Here’s the final story from just two years ago. It was Christmastime and Sid Thomas quite frankly was losing hope. As Sid tells it, he was spending hours hooked up to an IV bag. Sid was a diabetic, on dialysis, and seeing no end in sight to his regimen: four sessions each day, every day, forever…or until he received a kidney transplant.
“After much praying and testing and hoping, I learned that I was a match and could be a living donor for Sid. For those who don’t know Sid, he is an African-American man in his 70s. I tell you this only to help highlight his reaction to learning that I was to be his donor. It went something like this. His wife, Kathy, told Sid that a donor had been found. She said, ‘It’s Julie – from the church.’ Sid didn’t recognize me by name. So Kathy pulled out the church pictorial directory and showed Sid my picture. After studying my photo, Sid replied, ‘Julie? Blonde-haired, blue-eyed Julie?’ You see, the kidney was another good gift wrapped in a surprising package.
“Hope. That is my topic tonight. As a teenager, I hoped that my gift was a stereo. Years later, Charlie hoped his gift was NOT a box of Corn Flakes. Sid Thomas? He hoped for a new kidney. What do YOU hope for this Christmas? I’ll ask again. What do you HOPE for this Christmas?
“I shared three stories, each about hope and a good gift. But what about the hope for a great gift? A gift so special that it can be shared through the generations? Imagine a great gift that goes on forever!
“Listen to this from the book of Luke. The angel said to them, ‘Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped (‘wrapped’) in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’
“There’s OUR great gift, wrapped in a VERY surprising package. Think about it. A newborn baby swaddled in a commoner’s blanket, tucked inside a feeding trough, resting inside a very smelly barn. The King of Kings. Jesus the Christ Child. OUR SAVIOR!
“Friends, hold onto that Christ Child. Not only will you have received God’s greatest gift (albeit, wrapped in a surprising package)… You – filled with the hope of Christ – can BE a surprising package.”
How will you be a surprising package of hope for the world during the Advent season? Come, Lord Jesus, come.