Sermon: December 13, 2015 – The Birth of Hope


Text: Hebrews 6: 18b-19a

“We who have taken refuge might be strongly encouraged to seize the hope set before us. We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul…..”

A little over a week ago I was up early and went out to get the newspaper and I noticed the early beginnings of what I thought might be a fabulous sunrise. I thought about what might be a good vantage point in which to capture this daily wonder, and I knew the church was up on a hill and thought that might hold some potential. So I went inside, put on some real clothes, grabbed my camera gear and quickly headed for the church. That is the thing about a sunrise; they come and go so quickly that unless you are ready for them, the moment will escape you. So I was in a bit of a hurry.

Well, I found the vantage point I was looking for and proceeded to shoot the sunrise. I decided to post the photo on Facebook and I used one of them on the cover of last week’s bulletin. When I posted the photo on Facebook, however, I didn’t want to just put up the photo, I wanted to put something with it that helped communicate what I was feeling at the moment I took the photograph. What I was feeling was hope. I couldn’t really explain it, but for some reason, the sunrise gave me hope.

I wrote a little something on Facebook that morning about my hope – some of you I know have read that and commented on it. This morning I want to expand on my thoughts about hope, because at times our lives feel hopeless, and when we feel that way, we need to be reminded that hope is ours. We need to be reminded that hope is something we can participate in and the season of Christmas is the season of hope.

There was a basketball coach who found himself coaching his high school basketball team in the state finals. It was half-time of the state championship, a game of a lifetime, but the coach’s team had been outplayed in the first half. They were behind by almost 20 points and the coach struggled with what to say to his players during the brief half-time intermission. He gathered his team together and began to speak;

“Each and every one of you had hoped to win this game. That hope is now diminished, and may in fact be completely gone. If you reduce everything to winning and losing, more often than not, you will be disappointed in life. It may not seem like it right now, but this basketball game is a very small part of your life; but it is a part of your life you will carry with you forever. I want you to change your thinking about this game. It doesn’t matter who wins or who loses – that is just the score. What matters is whether or not you have made a contribution. In this second half, I’m going to do something unusual; I’m going to play everybody – not just the best players, but everybody, because at the end of the night I want everybody to know that he made a contribution. Don’t pay any attention to the score, we probably will not win the game, but that doesn’t matter. I want you to be able to hold on to the idea for the rest of your lives that you made a contribution in the state finals. A contribution may be a good pass, it may mean making a free throw, it may mean setting a good screen, it may mean getting a rebound, and it may mean scoring a few points. Just go out this second half and have fun and think about making a contribution, and don’t think about winning or losing.”

As you might guess, the team listened and responded. Pretty soon they were playing together as a team in the second half. Each player focused on making a contribution; slowly the deficit began to be made up as the players passed the ball more, set screens for each other and shared the basketball. True to his word, the coach played every player that night; the entire bench made a contribution. And the team returned to their home town as state champions.

The coach managed to shift the hope of his players from something intangible to something tangible. He moved the hope from something that seemed impossible, like winning the game, to something possible, like making a good pass. As he gave his team new hope, they could see the single step ahead of them and took that one, and then took another and another and another, until finally they worked themselves back into the game and eventually won the state title.

The coach’s words are important for us to hear today as well. Things can feel impossible and we can feel like there isn’t any hope left in the world. We turn on the news to yet another mass shooting or another terrorist attack somewhere in the world. The airwaves are full of hate and fear, we feel hopeless and helpless in a chaotic world. On top of that, now it has to be Christmas; as if we didn’t have enough stress already; now it has to be Christmas. In the midst of our despair about Isis and war and hatred and misguided reactions and misplaced blame, we are still supposed to celebrate Christmas. There are parties and concerts and cards to send and cookies to bake, presents to buy and wrap and ship not to mention decorating the tree or the house and on and on it goes; it can be overwhelming; and before we know it, we are behind. Way behind; we will never catch up and we will never win.

Let me ask you to think about this Holiday season in terms of just making a contribution. It might be just one Christmas card that will brighten someone’s day, it may be just one present for that someone under the tree, it might just be a phone call. If you can make a contribution this Holiday season, then the season will have been a success. Can you do just one thing? Of course you can. And that one thing may make a difference for someone else, it may brighten their day and lift their spirit. When I took the picture that gave me hope, it was just one thing. I didn’t wait until I felt like I had time, or everything else was done, I just took the picture. You will never get everything done, so why stress and fret about it? Hope to make a contribution and look and watch for those opportunities, and as you do, much will be accomplished.

You don’t have to win the Holiday game. And it is a game, I hope you realize. You don’t have to score more points than your neighbor; you don’t have to be the champion of your block. All you need to do this Holiday season is make a contribution. Find a way to give someone else a lift; find a way to give someone else some hope. If you can do that, and I think each and every one of us can; then this Christmas season will be a winner for us.

What is left undone is undone. What we didn’t get to is inconsequential as long as we took the opportunity to make a contribution and offer hope to someone we may not even know. That is our hope this Christmas season, to make a contribution. It is a hope we can see, it is a hope we can accomplish, and it is the hope that has been set before us and it is the hope of the Christ Child. Don’t worry about winning the game this season, just make a contribution and change someone’s life.

If we can do that, it will in fact be the birth of hope. Go in peace and go with God, and go in hope. Amen.

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