Emily Brown is a senior this year. With only one semester left, the future on the horizon is bright, yet full of pressure. She’s looking forward to a nice break from school over the holidays before deep diving into her final semester of high school. In her family, the Christmas season includes not only the celebration of Advent, Christ coming into the world, but also the time of year where she was gifted a little brother.
Grayson was born on Christmas Day when she was only 2. At the tender age of 6, Emily was asked by a well-meaning kids ministry leader to share with the class whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. She proudly explained, “Jesus Christ and Grayson Christ.” Easy mistake. True story, but the names have been changed to protect high schoolers from any unnecessary embarrassment.
Emily soon learned that not everyone born on Christmas Day is donned with the last name “Christ,” but as a maturing adolescent who grasped the reality of her sin and was met by the love and grace of Jesus, she came to realize that believers do, in fact, get new names and bear the likeness of Christ in the world.
Each Christmas, as faith-filled followers set on celebrating Christ’s arrival into the world as a suffering Savior, we look forward with anticipation to His triumphant return. In Christ, we’re not only gifted His great name, but also all the hope and joy and love and peace we need in life as we seek to follow His will and Word.
Like Emily, we’ve all experiencing significant pressures these past two years in ever increasing amounts. Rather than offer respite from it, the holidays can often amplify the stress in our lives.
Welcome to an Advent series we likely all need. The following few weeks will explore other moments in history (ones quite a bit more notable than the birth of a little brother, unless you’re in the Brown family) that occurred on or around Christmas that remind us of Advent and the real reason we honor Christ this time of year.
Born On Christmas Day
Historical accuracy easily proves that Jesus was not actually born on December 25. Grayson was and so were a great many other people. While it can be definitively proved throughout much of our history, who exactly might have been born on this most illustrious day, we can’t be sure what exact date Jesus came. More than just birthdays have happened on Christmas Day and over the Christmas holiday season. Those historical events can in some way, without any manipulation or even that great a leap, remind us of the true meaning of Advent and what Christ brought when He did in fact come.
At the close of 1776, it appeared as if the colonial armies would not succeed as a series of British victories left the Continental Army with two key losses — manpower and morale. In a bold move, General George Washington led his troops across the icy Delaware River on Christmas Day, taking control of New Jersey with a surprise attack on Trenton on December 26. Washington captured nearly a thousand German soldiers with minimal bloodshed and several more successful victories followed for the colonists. His desperate yet hope-fueled move served as a critical turning point in the war for independence. Consider the ramifications and the ripple effect. It certainly could have gone the other way.
Think for a moment about the word hope. How does the expression go? Hope for the best? Prepare for the worst? Consider things that you’ve hoped for and the moments when they seemed to land in your favor as well as those that did not go according to your plans or prayers.
It’s an easy assumption that Washington hoped for the best outcome that day. His future leadership proved that he likely had a Plan B if the move hadn't gone according to his best hope. We’ll never have to know or grapple with what that was.
Hope is a common word. It’s used easily and fits any number of contexts. How often do we express feelings of hope for things that don’t quite warrant the weight of it. You might say or hear, “I hope it doesn’t rain on Saturday,” or “I really hope the wait time at [insert favorite restaurant] is short.” While neither of those ideas and the thousands of other ways we might use “hope” has quite as much merit as Washington’s Christmas Day risk, neither the flippant ways we express day to day hope or even the history of the United States carry the gravity of the actual Christmas season.
In the 1744 advent hymn, “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” Charles Wesley penned the following words:
"Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart."
Various artists through the years, including Chris Tomlin and Meredith Andrews, have recorded and released the hymn as part of their respective Christmas albums. It’s a powerful reminder of what Christmas really is. It’s the fulfillment of hope. Yet, it’s much more wide-spread plural hope, not myopic and singular preference hope.
History tells us that Washington was an Anglican and while we know John and Charles Wesley as keenly influential in the rise of Methodism and the birth of the Methodist church, they remained an integral part of the Church of England their entire lives. This depth of research didn’t uncover whether Washington sang anything at all on Christmas in 1776, much less the actual song, “Come Though Long Expected Jesus,” but it might be safe to assume he thought it on those icy waters. Think of your most dangerous or most difficult moment. Did you call for Jesus to come?
Hope of All the Earth
When we pray to God for the best result or cry out for much needed relief, we’re exhibiting hope. Christ came to bring hope and in the power of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, continues to bring it to every point of need. Charles Wesley seemed to know and write something a bit different from the personal ideas of hope we understand. Christ wasn’t just the hope of every individual believer at every junction of weary need. He was and is the hope of all the earth. Whether folks know it or not, Jesus Christ is the “dear desire of every nation,” and only in Jesus can any single person or this whole messed up world identify with or take hold of hope.
The nation of Israel had been hoping for generations of Old Testament and intertestamental years. Waiting for the fulfillment of the promises of God which would come in the form of a Messiah, lovingly and powerfully setting them finally and forever free. Their only strength to cling to and the only consolation in the world of pressure they lived was the hope that a Messiah would one day come. He did. It’s Jesus. And we only have hope because He’s here.
When school, work, family, or life are personally hard, we can have hope. When politics and viruses and world-wide pressures mount, we can still have hope. Regardless of outcomes and opportunities, there is hope for our individual moments of need, even despair, but also for the entire world to long for and rejoice over. It’s Jesus. He came. He’s here. He will come again.