Good morning Hope City! I’m so glad to be back together this weekend as we celebrate and remember this Christmas season together. We are spending the month of December looking at the Hope that we have in Jesus, even when all the world around us looks hopeless, we know that we can take heart and have hope because of what happened in a Bethlehem stable.
We are looking forward to this next Sunday, to Christmas Eve as we gather to celebrate the birth of Jesus. I hope that you’ll take some time this week to invite your friends to join you here at Hope City. In fact, we’ve put this card on every chair this morning. This is for you to use to invite someone to join you at Hope City next week.
In fact, this isn’t just a card. This could be much more than a card… This card represents life change! For many of you, you were invited by someone here at Hope City with a card very similar to this. We are excited to start a new tradition here at Hope City and hope to have your family join us in this!
This Christmas we have been taking a look at how the birth of Jesus has brought light to even the darkest places in our life and our world. We are basing this series off of this incredible verse from John 1 that says,
“4In him (In Jesus) was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:4-5
Such a powerful thought for us this Christmas!
The Christmas season is an incredible time of the year. It represents the start of so many fun things! One of my favorite things to do with my family is we have an annual Gingerbread building contest. Really, it’s no contest, because mine is always the best… but I love sitting around the table with my kids and decorating these little gingerbread homes. I love the laughter, I love the stories, I love listening to their conversations as we build these little structures. I’m sure we aren’t alone in this. You have your own Christmas Traditions that you do with your family, or friends. Christmas also represents the end of other seasons. Like, My Fantasy Football Season. Let’s be honest though, that season was over a long time ago. I’ve been on a 4-week losing streak. It was disappointing really. It started out so strong.
Christmas is an incredible season that we say is filled with JOY! It’s filled with wonder, and excitement. We sing JOY TO THE WORLD, and in reality, some of you are hoping that Joy will come to your house too, not just to the world. Christmas can be a challenging time of the year as well. And it’s not just because Fantasy Football is over… Christmas can remind us of people we are missing, and times we are missing out on. Christmas is not always a season of Joy, that’s why I like this Christmas picture. It’s just so much more realistic! Sometimes it comes wrapped as a season of disappointment. And no, ladies, I’m not talking about your husband’s meager attempt at a Christmas Present. I mean, true disappointment.
Before you feel too badly about yourself, let me tell you, 10 years ago, I rolled up to Christmas morning thinking that I had Tiffany’s presents on lockdown. Like, there was not going to be anything that would stop my gift giving prowess. She’s going to be amazed at what I had got her. See, I had heard her say one time that she would love some Christmas Plates, so I figured, why not get her a whole set of Christmas dishes. So I headed to the local Kohl’s department store and picked out what I thought she’d like. I think it was a scene with snowman and trees, and like the snow men were 3D on the plates… very cool!
And because I had put all my eggs in one basket, I thought, why not just wrap up each egg individually. So she had an entire 8 piece dish set wrapped individually to open. One by One, by One. 8 plates, 8 bowls, 8 mugs, 8 saucers. It was a Christmas miracle! And you could see with every box, every time she opened something her disappointment grew more and more. I did all that wrapping for her to return it to Kohl’s 2 days later! WHOOPS!
Disappointment is the feeling of your hopes and dreams being unfulfilled. It’s the letdown of your expectations. We have all experienced disappointment.
You’ve been disappointed with the way a product failed you, or failed to meet your expectations. It’s like the Snuggie…
You’ve been disappointed by your kids, your spouse, or your best friend. In some way, they let you down. I can remember my Dad saying to me, after catching me in a lie, he said, Peter, I’m not mad at you, I’m DISAPPOINTED in you!
Why did he say that? Because he had an expectation that I would tell the truth, and that my integrity meant something, and my lies didn’t meet his expectations.
Some of you have experienced disappointment in a deeply profound way. And Disappointment if not quickly managed, turns into discouragement and discouragement if left alone can turn into despair. And Despair can cause you to do things that you may regret later.
This morning, I want us to think about the Christmas Story that we’ve come to know and love, we’ve romanticized it, and made it hallmark worthy. But this morning, I’d love for you to turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew 1:18 on page 657. There is one person in this story who had a very different take on Mary’s pregnancy. You probably could guess that I’m referring to Joseph.
Look at Joseph’s story:
18This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:18
Right there… in the midst of this story is this one word that stops us in our tracks. It’s the word BUT. Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph. These two young people who had their whole life ahead of them were pledged in marriage, some of your Bibles say Betrothed to one another. They were more than just engaged. Mary and Joseph’s engagement, or betrothal, was actually a legally binding matter. They were married, but not yet living together, or enjoying the intimacy of living together yet.
And then this little word sneaks in right here. BUT. Life is going so well for Joseph. You get the sense that he has his sights set on his future, and all that could look like with Mary as his wife. There would be his career as a carpenter. Not a bad gig. Certainly not the most lavish life, but let’s be honest men… when we’ve got the love of our life by our side, we don’t need lavish, we’ve got love!
BUT… just when He thought that everything was starting to line up and His dreams were becoming a reality, this happened. Mary was pregnant! SHOCKER!
Engagements break off all the time in our world. It’s sad, and there may be some gifts that need to be returned, or plans that need to be broken, but it is not the same as what Mary and Joseph experienced. What would Joseph do? Mary’s news of her pregnancy rocked his world!
Some of you have had news this Christmas season that has rocked your world. Maybe not the same, but it’s left you wondering what are you supposed to do? Joesph had those same thoughts. What do I do next?
19Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. Matthew 1:19
Joseph was a just man, a righteous man, and he was deeply committed to Mary. There was no doubt that he was looking forward to the day that they could come together as man and wife. Joseph must have felt like his whole world was coming to an end. And so he decided to end his marriage with Mary.
Joseph had three options. The harshest and most extreme example was that he could have Mary (1) stoned to death for infidelity. This was the law at the time. Secondly he could (2) make an example out of her in the public court, dragging her in front of everyone accusing her of adultery. She would be shamed, brought to trial, convicted in front of everyone and forever ruined… And the last possibility that Joseph had was he could (3) write her a bill of divorce before a few witnesses’ and end their relationship.
Joseph loved Mary. He didn’t want to make a public example of her. But his disappointment wouldn’t allow him to do nothing. He was stuck. He had to do something. Joseph settled on a quiet divorce. But while He had considered these things, an Angel came to Joseph in a dream. Look what Joseph heard.
20 “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). Matthew 1:20-23
In the midst of Joseph’s deepest disappointment, his discouragement, and probably even his despair God stepped in and made a mid-course correction. And it’s a good thing too! Joseph was this close to missing out on the most incredible thing in his life, being the earthly father to the Son of God!
If we’re not careful, Disappointment and Discouragement can Derail your Future! It is easy to allow negativity to control your future. The decisions that you make based upon how you feel can easily lead you away from where you want to be. The decisions that you make today impact the stories that you tell tomorrow.
This dream of Joseph’s must have been both startling and oddly comforting. Can you imagine hearing that your future wife is going to give birth to the Son of God? That would be overwhelming. And in the same way, it also must have been comforting too. To hear that what Mary has told you was true, to hear that she hadn’t been unfaithful to you, would be comforting.
It’s like when you go to the doctor when you’re not feeling well. You want them to give you a diagnosis. No one wants to be feeling sick and hear the doctor say, “You look fine to me.” Tell me what’s wrong so I can fix it!
Well, Joseph gets a glimpse into what God is doing, but he almost missed it. He almost missed out on being in the front row seat to see Immanuel be born.
If you’re not careful, you can easily sidestep what God may do through you due to a setback, or a missed expectation. We have expectations for life, what it should look like, what we should be doing, and when we should be doing it by. But what if your expectations are not the same as God’s plans? What if God has other plans for you. I wonder if sometimes our disappointment causes us to miss out on what God wants to do in us, and through us?
This past week Carson Wentz, the Philadelphia Eagles quarter back suffered a season-ending ACL tear in this past Sunday’s win over the Los Angeles Rams. After an incredible season of leading the Eagles to have a record of 11 wins and 2 losses, and clinching the NFC EAST, which is the first division title since 2013, Carson Wentz will be sitting out the remainder of this post season. This is tremendously disappointing. Not for the rest of the NFL, but for Eagles fans and certainly for Carson, this is heartbreaking.
Here’s the deal. No quarterback, or team player for that matter says, I’m going to work my tail off so that just before the playoffs, just before the big game, just before the super bowl, I can sit out and watch from the sidelines. NO ONE DOES THAT! Imagine the disappointment that Wentz has to be feeling right now.
You’d almost expect someone in this situation to be angry and bitter towards God. To ball up their fist and shake it in God’s face. But here’s the amazing thing… After the season ending injury, listen to what Carson Wentz has to say about his situation.
Did you hear the disappointment in his voice? Yes, of course, but you also heard the confidence that his trust in God was greater than his setback.
Disappointment and Discouragement can derail your future, but disappointment is not your destination. You don’t have to stay in this spot. In fact, disappointment is often just a distraction from what God has in store for you. When we move our eyes off of what God has in store for our life, and start focusing on what we have in store for our life, disappointment is bound to grow. Selfish ambition will always produce disappointment. But if we focus on what God has in front of us, the opportunities to grow our faith, to serve others, and to love the world around us, you will find that your disappointment will begin to dissolve as you move the attention off yourself and on to God! Godly ambition grows your faith and puts you in a position to experience the movements of God.
So let me ask you, what disappointment are you facing right now? What set back are you experiencing? Maybe you’ve been disappointed by something or someone, and it’s moved from disappointment this Christmas season into discouragement. Or maybe you’ve started to focus your ambition and attention in the wrong place. Well, no matter where you are right now, there is something that we can learn from Joseph and how we defeat disappointment and discouragement.
Look at what Joseph did…
24When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. Matthew 1:24-25
Did Joseph have the same life that he had expected before hand? NO! Life was different. His fiancé was going to have a baby. He all of a sudden became responsible for not just one other person but two. We see the tremendous depth of Joseph’s faith. But Joseph did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him to do. He switched his focus from being on himself and his desires to the desires of the Lord.
If you’re facing discouragement and disappointment this Christmas, I want to encourage you to do three things like Joseph.
- Listen for God’s Voice
It is so easy for us to get caught up in the business of life, of parenting, of your career, your relationships, and everything else that comes along and miss out on the voice of God! In a world that demands your attention, that bombards your thoughts it can be hard to hear God’s voice. I love the fact that God sent an angel to Joseph in a dream. You can imagine that this man, was so hurt, so crushed, that his mind was racing to figure out what was next. Have you ever been so focused on the problems of your world that you couldn’t focus on anything else?
Just the other day Tiffany was talking to me while I was working on my computer getting some thoughts down for church. There was a lot on my mind, a lot that needed to be done, I’m clicking away on my keys, and she’s talking. I started to go into the “Uh Huh” mode, and then she said, “Did you hear what I was saying to you?” And I was like, “UH HUH”. Wait, what? OH NO! I’m sorry!!!
I missed out on what she was saying because I was so focused on what was in front of me. I couldn’t hear her voice!
God’s voice is present everywhere, His Holy Spirit is in us guiding us and directing us, if only we’re willing to listen. If we’re willing to take the attention off ourselves and see others. It’s hard to see God when you are focused on yourself. Don’t miss God’s voice because you are so focused on your own discouragement or disappointment. God very well may be leading you through those moments in order to bring you out on the other side as someone even stronger and more prepared for His purposes. Time and pressure have dramatic effects on this world. This is the difference between coal and diamonds, sand and pearls. It’s through a crazy process called metamorphosis that the lumbering caterpillar becomes a beautiful butterfly.
Listen for God’s voice, you never know what adventure God has you on, or what step He will have you take.
When you listen for God’s voice, the next thing we need to do is to seek clarity.
- Seek Clarity
Clarity is necessary when you are going through seasons of disappointment and discouragement. In moments where our emotions are telling us one thing, and God may be speaking another, we need to find clarity.
One of the ways that you seek clarity is through God’s word. Scripture has long been the companion of the brokenhearted, because God’s voice and His presence is so clearly felt when spending time reading His word. Don’t miss out on this. The Bible is not an ancient artifact, or outdated piece of literature, it is God’s inspired words written down by men, so that you and I would understand God’s love for us, His plan for redemption, and our place in His story. But we cannot find our place in His story if we are not spending time in His presence. I know that the Bible can feel overwhelming, or you may wonder where do you begin. Find a reading plan, download the YouVersion app and find a plan to read. God’s word will bring great clarity in your life. Another way we can seek clarity is through one another.
Proverbs 15:22 Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.
7 years ago I started attending Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield PA. I was married to Tiffany, a father of 2 at the time, and a Full time Youth Pastor. Life was busy, and at times overwhelming. And then I had 98 credit hours to complete for my Masters of Divinity. About halfway through my program, I can remember coming home and feeling like there was no way I could do this anymore. We were financially strapped, my time was in demand, and I couldn’t see the end of the tunnel. I mentioned to Tiffany that I thought I was going to quit and she quietly listened and said, let’s pray about that.
Well, a few days later I come home from work to find two friends of ours were sitting in our living room waiting for me. This was a married couple who we greatly admired and looked up to, and Tiffany said, I think you need to share with Bob and Alice how you are feeling about Seminary.
And over the next hour, they lovingly cheered me on, spoke wisdom into my life, and told me that there was no way that I could quit. And I’m incredibly grateful to have listened to their counsel! Here’s a picture from one of the days that I’ll never forget.
We need one another. We can’t simply go through life on our own, throwing darts at whatever comes in front of us and hope that one of those things will be the bullseye! Surround yourself with people who can help you find clarity. These can be people who are nearby and far away. This can be people who are living now, and who lived years ago. Sometimes this counsel comes in the form of an email, a phone call, or quite possibly a letter. Find those men and women who are seeking God with their life and invite them into yours.
Every person needs to Listen to God’s voice, seek clarity, and then we need to trust God.
- Trust God
This is exactly what Joseph did after hearing the message from the Angel.
24When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife
Joseph did what the Lord commanded him. It wasn’t just that Joseph believed what God had said, He went and did what He believed. He lived it out. He put his faith into motion. His feet did what his faith led him to. We can’t say that we have faith in God and not trust in God. It’s not enough to say I believe it.
Trust is accepting what God sends into your life whether you understand it or not and living it out. In the midst of our despair, in the season of discouragement, one of the most powerful statements you can make is to say, I trust you. Too often despair causes us to gear up, get our gloves on and start fighting on our behalf. And God is inviting us to put the gloves down, to rest in him and trust His plan for your life. It takes you out of a position of control and says, I’m willing to allow you to be in control. I’m willing to let you have the lead.
The question is, are you willing to wait… God’s movement is rarely early, but always on time. And it may leave you in a season of waiting. Waiting to see what God does, and how God will do it.
In fact, ADVENT is the season of waiting. During the weeks leading up to Christmas we focus on the first coming of Jesus as a baby born in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. We do two things, we remember, and anticipate. We don’t just celebrate that Jesus came, we celebrate why He came. But Advent is also a time where we anticipate what Jesus is going to do when He returns again. Christ promised that He would come back again. He promised that He would return to establish His kingdom for all eternity. Jesus has come, and He is coming again. This is the heart behind Advent. And this should cause us to take heart in what God is doing in us right now as we wait. We have a week before Christmas Eve. Don’t worry about what needs to be done still, or what needs to be bought, or wrapped. Spend time thinking about what God has already done, and what He’s going to do in you and through you!
What is God doing in your life right now? Whether you are experiencing the most Joyous Christmas season or you’re still trying to find the Joy… what could God be doing in you?
I have a friend who likes to say that Advent is the season when Christians stand on their tip toes. We are trying to get a glimpse of what God is up to. Don’t allow your Disappointment, or your discouragement to cause you to miss out on what God is doing.
So what is it, what is God inviting you to trust Him with today?
What if this Christmas you stood on your tip toes, expecting to see God do something in your life. Christmas is the season of waiting… Let’s find joy as we wait together.