Giving hope at Christmas
This last Sunday morning I saw a spectacular rainbow as I was walking our dog through Botanical Gardens. I have been blessed to see some amazing rainbows since I have been here, made all the more beautiful by the land, foliage and water that they rise above.
Thinking back to the story of Noah, the rainbow reminds us that God does not forget about his creation: “God remembered Noah.” This phrase does not mean that God forgot about Noah in the ark, but rather it means God was continually aware and mindful of Noah. It also tells us in this story that the rainbow means that God will never turn his anger against his creation ever again.
Now, as to whether you believe there was an ark, or that it is not physically possible to have two of every animal, or if there really was a flood that covered the whole Earth; don’t get distracted by the details of the story.
The message of this story is not about how many animals can fit in a boat, or how long it will need to rain to flood the whole Earth. The message is about God’s love for creation. It starts out ugly with floods and drowning and death, which I believe is a very mild representation of what God could do if he were indeed to turn his wrath against all of the Earth. The fundamental truth of this story is that even in the worst storm of your life, God has not forgotten about you — and there is nothing you have done or will do that is so bad that God will stop loving you or turn against you. That is what the story of Noah tells me.
I realised I saw this rainbow during the season of Advent. Advent is the anticipation of the coming of Emmanuel, which literally means “God with us”. Not “God against us” or “God who forgot about us” but “God with us”. That gives us “hope”.
This is not hope, as in “hoping that the Christmas gift I really want my wife to buy me is under the tree” kind of hope. This is a hope of something that is sure to happen.
This coming week we will experience the winter solstice. The beginning of winter and the shortest day of the year. I love summer, I love sunshine, I love hot humid Bermuda summer air. So you might think that the shortest day of the year is my least favourite day. The very opposite is true. It is my favourite day of the year because it is the day that gives me hope. From that point on the days will get longer. Yes, maybe only by a few seconds at first, but there is hope. A hope that unless Jesus comes again, the sun will come up tomorrow and there will be a little bit more daylight and we will be one day closer to warm air and summer days. I am given this hope as a certainty for a better meteorological tomorrow.
This is the Hope of Advent. This is the Hope that The Salvation Army refers to when we say “Giving Hope Today”. Please don’t think that the food and toys that we provide is the “hope” that we want to give. We provide this tangible help out of a love for all people because we do believe every person deserves dignity and love and nobody should ever go hungry while others have more than enough. We believe that caring for one another is not just a good idea, it is an obligation we all have for our neighbours. Jesus teaches very clearly that we are to care for one another (think about the Good Samaritan, the Sheep and Goats).
But that is not the “Hope” we give and it is not the “Hope” of Christmas. The hope we give is the hope of a better day because Jesus came into this world to rescue each and every one of us from the sin that has a death-grip on us. This is not the promise of an easy life in this world. Many Christians have lived very hard lives. The Christmas message of hope, and the hope that we want to give everyone, is this: even in the darkest days of the storms you are experiencing in your life, God has not forgotten about you, nor has he turned his back on you. Indeed take Genesis 8:1, which says “But God remembered Noah” and insert your own name in the place of Noah’s. No matter what is going on, no matter what you feel, God has not forgotten about you nor will he turn his anger against you.
Add to that the message of Advent. God is with us. Not only did God not forget about any one of us, he literally came and lived with us. Felt what we felt, hurt as we hurt and then gave us a hope for eternal life through his death and resurrection.
The darkest day of the year gives me hope for a better tomorrow — as sure as the sun will rise, the days will get longer day after day. Jesus gives us hope for a brighter tomorrow as well — as sure as the Son did rise, we have hope for tomorrow. Whether that day is in this world or in God’s eternal kingdom, none of us are hopeless or should live without hope.
This is the hope that we want to give and this is the hope of Advent. Merry Christmas.
Major Rob Kerr is Bermuda Divisional Commander of The Salvation Army