Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Hope

Advertising is big business.  Wikipedia defines advertising as "a form of communication used to encourage or persuade an audience to continue or take some new action."  Most commonly this means that advertisers are trying to get us to buy stuff that we may or may not need.  We see this all year round in our consumer-based society, but Christmas is a time when they really bring out the big guns.  Special deals on products, one-day sales, limited-time offers, and let's not leave out "the newest best thing your Christmas won't be complete without!"

It can be overwhelming.  With so much demanding our attention, time, and money, it's easy to get distracted from what Christmas is all about.  But I think we can also learn something from those who are demanding our attention during this Christmas season.  Letting people know what is available to them and convincing them that they need it is the key to good advertising.  And advertising is not always bad if you have something that's worth something to someone.

Advertising at Christmas is not just a modern-day practice.  God is in the business of advertising too, and that's really what the first Christmas was all about.  He had something that people needed, and He sent messengers to proclaim the good news.  But He started way before Christmas Day.  Black Friday retailers don't have anything on God's advance planning.  Many of the Prophets of the Old Testament proclaimed that a Savior was coming hundreds of years before Jesus arrived, and months ahead of time God sent an angel to tell Mary and Joseph all about the role they would play in bringing this Savior to the world.  

On the night of Jesus' birth, more angels came to announce His arrival and proclaim, "Peace on earth and goodwill toward men."  But this wasn't the end of God's marketing scheme.  He sent John the Baptist to "prepare the way for the Lord", and when Jesus began His public ministry, He was a walking advertisement of what God wanted the people to know and take hold of.  "The kingdom of God is near," He said.  Salvation had come.  God's mercy was alive and well.

I was doing some searching this week on the word "hope" in the Bible.  I was looking for encouraging verses to share with those who need hope in their lives because of difficult circumstances they are facing this holiday season.  In the Old Testament I found it 70 times, used in both positive and "I have no hope" ways; and from Acts to Revelation, it is used 60 times.  But in the gospels, it occurs once, and only as a figure of speech rather than as a reference to having hope in God.

Doesn't that seem odd?  When the Old Testament Prophets and Poets talked about hope, they were talking about God bringing salvation to His people, in both broad and specific ways.  Oftentimes they were talking about Jesus, the Savior that would come and deliver them. And the New Testament writers were speaking about the same thing.  And yet Jesus Himself never used the word. 

I think the reason for this is that Jesus said it a different way.  He was much more specific in how He described Himself and His role.  He didn't say, 'Your hope has come.  I have arrived,' and leave it at that.  He said, "I am the bread of life,; I am the light of the world; I am the good shepherd."  I bring healing, pardon from sin, satisfaction, eternal life, peace, joy, and everything that you truly need.  He told them about something they'd had all along.  Jesus didn't come to proclaim anything new.  He came to say, You are loved.  You always have been, and you always will be.

The Prophet Isaiah proclaimed: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."  (Isaiah 9:6)

Isaiah was one of God's advertisers, and I see myself the same way.  I write to "encourage or persuade an audience to continue or take some new action."  But it's not just hype.  It's not about greed or running a successful company or inventing the newest best thing.  It's about sharing a basic truth: You are loved.

In John 17:26, Jesus says these words to His Father during prayer: "I have made you known to them, and I will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them, and that I myself may be in them."  What did Jesus come to do?  He came to advertise God's love.  He came to show us what we really need.  And He never stops!  I encourage you to look for ways that God has displayed His love to you.  As you celebrate the Savior's birth this season, think about what God's love really means for you.  What difference has God's mercy and love meant to you in the past, and how can it make a difference today?  

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 15:13