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Hope & Christmas

Written by Alan Love Psalm 42:11

Why, my soul, are you downcast?

Why so disturbed within me?

Put your hope in God,

for I will yet praise him,

my Savior and my God.

In preparation for Advent and the Hope candle, this phrase, “put your hope in God” captured my imagination. Think about the words. “Put your hope in God.” Your hope is something that you must put somewhere. Psalm 42 was written by a seriously discouraged person. He deeply longs for engagement with God. Yet, God seems just out of reach. Instead of feasting at the table of God’s abundance, tears are the only sustenance that he knows. And, so, he returns to this refrain – “put your hope in God.” He is talking to himself. He has a conversation with his own heart. He recognizes that hope is something that you must put somewhere. And, for the psalmist, there is no question of where his hope will be located. He will put his hope in God. And, when the circumstances of his life argue otherwise, he speaks truth to himself. He reminds himself that his hope has to be put somewhere and he is going to put his hope in God.

As you enter this season of Advent, what is your experience? Are you feasting at the table of abundance? Or, like the Psalmist, have tears been your food day and night? Regardless of how we enter the season, the question before us is the same. Where is your hope located? On what or in whom have you placed your hope? What are you counting on? Where have you placed your big bet? The gospel, at the core, is an invitation to put your hope in God – not in our ability to scale up to get the attention of God, but in God’s mercy and grace in making himself known to us. The psalmist could have misinterpreted his discouraging circumstances as evidence that he hadn’t done enough to win God’s favor. Instead of doubling his effort, he doubles down on God’s mercy and grace. He puts his hope in God. “Here is the mystery that we all should taste and see: Other religions create programs for men and women to purify themselves, to be worthy enough…and reach for God. And, if we are elite and spiritual enough, God reaches back. But Jesus is the God who came down. He condescended to be with us. He put on our flesh, our humanity, our weakness, and took hold of us. He experienced our humanity that we might experience his glory.”[1] Have you put your hope in God? Light the Hope candle and breathe the simple prayer – “God, I put my hope in you.”

For many who are reading this, you have put your hope in God. And, yet you find the psalmist’s experience of unmet longing, unending tears, and unrelieved agony very relatable. For us, this simple verse of hope offers a surprising invitation. For most of my life, I read this verse as a challenge to get my attitude straightened out. “Hey, why are you downcast? Get your perspective right. Put your hope in God.” I read a challenge where God intended an invitation. My guess is many of you read this verse as a challenge as well. “What are you whining about? Get your perspective and attitude right and put your hope in God.” But what if this is an invitation? What if this is an invitation to name our discouragements, our disappointments, and our dead ends and, in doing so, to remember that God is with us in them. Our hope is in him. “Put your hope in God” is not a self help slogan; rather, it is an invitation to remember that God is with you in the context of the things that cause you to be downcast. This verse is an invitation to “pray the true condition of your heart.”[2] Name what causes your heart to be downcast and then put your hope in the God who left heaven to be found in appearance as a man and humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.[3] Christ in you and with you is the hope of glory.[4]

Jesus you are my enduring hope. I bring my disappointments, my discouragements, and my dead ends to you and rest in the HOPE that you are with me in them. These things that cause my soul to be downcast may or may not resolve, but the source of enduring hope is in the truth that…

Once in royal David's city

stood a lowly cattle shed,

where a mother laid her baby

in a manger for his bed;

Mary, loving mother mild,

Jesus Christ, her little child.

He came down to earth from heaven

who is God and Lord of all,

and his shelter was a stable,

and his cradle was a stall.

With the poor, the scorned, the lowly

lived on earth our Savior holy.

And our eyes at last shall see him,

through his own redeeming love;

for that child so dear and gentle

is our Lord in heaven above;

and he leads his children on

to the place where he is gone.[5]

[1] The Possibility of Prayer, John Starke

[2] Sermon Series on Prayer in the Psalms, Tim Keller

[3] Philippians 2:6-8

[4] Colossians 1:27

[5] Once in Royal David’s City, Cecil Frances Alexander

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