In March (just before the first UK lockdown) I had the privilege of being in Nigeria. In that space of 10 days away, the world changed as we knew it! When we left Covid-19 still felt distant, on the night before we headed to the Abuja Airport to come home all the Major American and British News channels were nothing but covid as it started to take a grip in those places. As we travelled home through airports that felt abandoned and watched as passengers moved through security with full protective body suits on, I began to wonder what the next few weeks would look like. Even when we arrived home and entered into Lockdowns 1.0, I thought it would be a few weeks of novelty. Now, here we are at Christmas 2020 and covid still affects every part of our lives! We have the thoughts of six weeks of Lockdown (in Northern Ireland). We are tired and weary from the journey, and yet we have more to travel. It can seem hopeless, yet today we are reminded that there is always a reason to have hope and be joyful.
Hope that Transcends Circumstance
When we where in Nigeria, I remember one minister saying to me: “Covid will be just another thing that can affect us!” We had spent days with ministers and Church families who had daily faced the threat of many other viruses, Terrorist Groups, and the basic lack of security and infrastructure. Yet, the Church was not weary but abounding with the hope of Christ and the Joy of Christ and the desire to make Christ known. Whether interacting with ministers who were training in a Bible College to head back into the Northern Territories to plant new churches under real threat for the lives. They were hopeful and certain that God was calling them to serve him. A hope that brought Joy. As a group of clergy, they had grasped that through faith, they had received more than the world could give them or take form them! Thus, their Joy was complete. They where a people who knew that inspire of whatever situation they found themselves in there was always hope and always a reason to be joyful because of what Christ has done for all who know him.
One of the passages set out in the Anglican Lectionary this day reminds us of that truth that Regardless of who we are, what we face, our possessions, power, prestige or position, losses or gains that regardless of our reality if we have faith in Christ, there is always hope and always a reason to be Joyful.
Passage: Titus 2:11-14 (NIV)
11For the Grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.
12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,
13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ,
14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
1. The Foundation of Christian Hope and Joy – Grace (11)
Titus is a wonderful little Letter of instruction and transformation for the Church. Just before this section, Paul had instructed his dear friend to make sure that Good Doctrine was being taught to all the people in his Church, regardless of who they were so that they could pass on the “teaching about God our Saviour” to others. He wanted Titus to make sure people understood the Gospel as the foundation of Christian hope and Joy so that they could make it known to the world. Now Paul begins to explain the wonder of Grace and its transforming powers by reminding all who might read these words of what God has accomplished and for who!
”For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.“
Paul is not saying that somehow worldwide Evangelism has begun, or that all might receive the wonder of Grace. No, the essence of this sentence is that because of Cross Christ the message of God’s Grace and the Hope and Joy that it carries has been made available to all types of people: men, women, children, rich, poor, sick, powerful. Simply the Grace of God does not discriminate on any earthly basis thus no person can refuse the work of Grace in the life of another, and all people can know the certain hope of the Gospel and the Joy it brings in every circumstance. The Christ-child came for all! This is the foundation of Christian Hope and Joy, a foundation that transcends any context or reality meaning that in every context and reality we are a people who have hope and joy regardless of what we face because through faith we are secured! Pauls use of the word ‘appeared’ here further emphasis this, because it implies the breaking in of God into the most helpless of situations to effect rescue and deliverance.
Christmas marks the incarnation where God broke into our world to affect a rescue that would never achieve ourselves and bring about the salvation of his people through faith and Grace. Christmas and the incarnation remind us of the reason for our hope beyond hope and a certain Joy. A hope that says in spite of Covid or whatever the years will bring, we will trust that God is at work! A joy that remains constant through the storms of life because through faith and the working of the Holy Spirit the disciples of Christ know that through faith we have all we need, and we know that Christ will return to remove the curse of sin once and for all. Christmas marks the beginning of that appearing of God into the world, the Christ-child in a manger is the foundation for Christina Hope and Joy in all contexts and in light of Eternity,
2. The Effects of Grace (12-13a)
To hope in something means at some level we trust it to produce. If we hope that our career will bring us joy and fulfilment; then we will orientate our lives towards our career, working at our degrees, perhaps moving countries for the right role, working long hours, and ignoring other areas in our lives to make the most of opportunities. If we hope in our career, then our career becomes our life, identity and purpose. To hope in something is to trust it and to say yes to it.
The nativity Shepherd’s heard listened to a heavenly announcement about the coming of certain hope into the world in the most obscure of ways, they took the messenger of God at his word and sought out the sign – the baby lying in a manger. To hope in something is to say yes to it. Thus, when the Shepherds found the baby lying in a manger, they recognised that before them in all innocent lay the saviour of the world. They said yes to him! Even as they returned to the normality and mundaneness of the fields they returned transforms by an effectual grace at work in their lives as they shared all that had happened to them to who would ever listen and worshipped God.
When we come to know Jesus personally, we put our hope in him and his saving-work to secure our Eternity. It is a hope that affects us not just in light of what is come, but now. To hope in Jesus, to trust in his saving work on the Cross, and to look to his second coming: to know the Christ-child as Lord is to be shaped by him now through the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Grace affects us in a positive way, it transforms us. Our certain hope of tomorrow through faith in Christ gives us an effectual-joy today that transforms us into His image as we wait for, and live for him! The light of the Gospel shines out of us into the darkness out of us in our context. To trust in the incarnate God, to place our hope in him and to live for him means choosing him over all the world! We say Yes to God, the things of God and the way of God because the disciples of Jesus are those who have grasped that this is the source of all Joy! Thus, in saying yes to God and Godliness, we delightfully say no to the things of the world. What we hope in shapes how we live, the Christian hopes in his Lord, and as he waits for his Lord’s return, he lives for his Lord so that others might see the light of the Gospel. It is not some pious denial of pleasure and Joy, no it is the realisation of Joy and a glad choice of the true disciple. Paul knew hope in Jesus, and he also knew Joy from that hope in every situation. Hence one author writes:
” His faith in Christ and expectation of His return, and his hope of what glory was coming in that return helped sustain him through some of the hardest things.”
Grace affects us today as we wait for its fulfilment tomorrow. Our future hope in Christ gives us a certain hope and Joy today and affects how we live and interact with the world around us – we say yes to him, and his ways to make known his Lordship and advance his Kingdom and we say no to the world. Why? Because in him and in living for him, we have the source of all Joy and the way of Joy. Grace has an effect on our lives and living, simple put – it bears fruits. Let me ask you this Christmas – what do you hope in and how is it affecting your life and living? Grace affects us now as we wait for the consummation of our hope and full in Christ. So this Christmas amid all that is missing and the Madness of Covid let us look to the God incarnate the source of certain hope and true Joy.
3.The Reason for Hope and the Reality of Grace-filled Joy (13b-14)
We all have put hope into things that have let us down, it affects us and makes it more difficult to true people and things. Yet we must hope none the less, and even with hesitancy we still look to temporary things to fulfil an enteral longing and desire. The Shepherds heard a messenger of God speak to them that faithful night, and when their eyes laid on the Child lying in the manger they grasped that lay before them was all they and their people had been hoping, they trusted in it even though they had not fully understood and they grasped a joy from beyond this world. Their trust in Jesus was proved right by who he was, how he lived and what he did for all who might believe in him.
Paul reminds us of that as he closes our passage: “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” The people of God live in the certain hope that Christ will come again, but we are also those who grasp that we can live in relationship with God not because of anything we have done but because of what Christ did for us, that he gave himself freely for us to redeem us and this is why we can and should place our hope in him: He takes nothing from us and offers us everything we need (and more!) through faith. So as we live for him today, as we renew our eternal hope in Him and seek to find our Joy through him let us rejoice in all that he has given us through faith. A reality that nothing in this world can take form us – not principalities or powers, no possession os position, not even covid and let us be a people who know him, hope in him, Live joyfully with him and for him and by our examples make that Joy know so that the world around us may know a hope beyond Covid and a Joy that can never be taken. As one author wrote about the reality of sin in the world and the mess it makes, yet the hope we have in Christ in spite of it all:
” He still came as our substitute in order to fulfil all righteousness. He is still coming to be our rescuer and deliverer, even if the times get darker still. This is our comfort in the face of the world that is falling apart – Christ comes as well, and of His rule, there shall be no end.”
Conclusion: Shaped by Hope and Making Joy known
This has been a year like no other, and we have silently slogged into a Christmas like no other. Churches have been silent, friends have been distant and covid shapes our every interaction. Yet the people of God are they who declare to the world regardless of where we are or what we face that we have a hope and Joy like no other! A hope that transcends this world and is received through Grace and a Joy that both transcends this world and transforms it as it works in us. We are they who know there is always hope and always a reason to be joyful. So this Covid-Christmas let us remind ourselves of the source of our hope and joy, and let us commit ourselves to be renewed in it and live.
Let us be those who declare that the nativity is not a cute little story about a baby born in the manager, but the beginning of God Great coming into the world to redeem his people and advance his Kingdom and Rule and let us be those who by the power of the Spirit at work in our lives chose to live for him and not for the world and by our living make known our hope through a joyful existence that transcends our circumstances. This Christmas let us remember there is always one to hope in and a reason to be joyful whether we find ourselves facing isolation, chaos, covid, or difficult contexts and by choosing to live for Jesus let us share that Joy so that others to might know the wonder of hope in him and a Joy like no other.
A Song of Joy
“Give us, O God, such love and wonder.
that, with shepherds and pilgrims unknown,
we may come to adore the Holy Child, the promised King,
and with our gifts worship him,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.”