Friday, December 23, 2016

Christ Brought Us Hope. A Christmas Message

By Oleg Turlac

I always get excited when I turn the calendar page from November to December, for I love the season of Advent. Of course, December is a busy month. We decorate our houses with Christmas trees and lights and rush to stores to pick gifts for our loved ones. But Advent is about preparation for Christmas. During four Sundays of Advent we prepare our hearts and minds for celebration of His coming into the world. The four important themes of Advent are: hope, love, joy and peace. Let me share with you a few thoughts about hope.

Humans cannot live without hope, for we were created by God for eternity. We always look into the future. We cannot experience joy today if we know that there would be no tomorrow.  Let us think for a moment. If someone was to tell us the exact date of our departure from this world, I suspect that this would influence our mood for the rest of our days. There is a Russian saying that goes like this, “Hope is human’s last possession.” When we lose everything, we still can hang to hope. Hope is so important to those of us that battle sickness. We have strength to go through treatments and battle disease because we have hope that one day we will feel better. Alexandre Dumas once said, “Hope is the best doctor.”

U.S. Senator and 2008 presidential candidate John McCain was a pilot during the Vietnam War. During one of his missions, he was shot down by a Soviet-made rocket and ended up in a Vietnamese prison. He was a POW for more than 5 years. In an interview he shared that though he was beaten and tortured physically that was nothing compared to attempts of his captors to deprive him of hope. Vietnamese officer that was in charge of the prison promised McCain that he would pass his letter to his family. McCain put much effort in writing of this letter, for he wanted to express all his love toward his family that he missed so much. But the officer took the letter and never sent it to America. The Vietnamese promised that McCain would be taken to meet representatives of an international humanitarian mission but when McCain was all dressed and ready to go, they failed to take him to the meeting. For more than two years he was kept in solitary confinement. McCain shared, “More than anything, our captors wanted us to give up and lose hope.”

God of the Bible is the Lord of hope. In Isaiah 9 we read prophet’s words that God will restore His chosen people. He will send the messiah who will come and make things right in relationship between Yahweh and His people. Though God’s people were taken into captivity, God never regarded punishment as the end goal of his relationship with His people. When God’s people turned to Him and sought His face, he always promised hope and deliverance.

Messianic hopes of Israel and all people on earth were realized when Jesus came into the world. In Matthew 1:23 we read, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”(which means “God with us”).

John writes, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Apostle Paul wrote to Philippians, “He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross!” (Phil.2:7-8).

Jesus Christ, God’s Son inaugurated God’s Kingdom, which is bigger than any given country or territory. God’s Kingdom conquers people’s hearts (Luke 17:21). The coming of His Kingdom means that Almighty God became our Father and we became His children (John 1:14). Jesus gave us new life full of hope, love, joy and peace. We are no longer slaves to sin but have new life of obedience to God. Because God loved us so much that He gave His only Son as a sacrifice for us, we choose to love our neighbors and pray for our enemies (Mat.5:44).

In Christ, we have hope of eternal life. We know that because Jesus rose from the dead, we can live in hope of the resurrection. When our loved ones pass away, we grieve but not like those that have no hope. We live in hope that one day we will be reunited with them (1Cor.15).

How do we, Christians, differ from those that do not follow Christ? At times, I ask myself this very question. I do have a few friends here in Toronto that are not followers of Jesus. When we get together, we talk about different things. Most often, my non-Christian friends are worried about economy and their own financial well-being. The subject of money and how to make ends meet comes up quite often. When I hear what they have to say, I think to myself, “Lord, how am I different from them? I do not have much money. I do not know the future. I am human, just like my friends, and anything can happen to me...” But then I always come back to this thought, “Yes, I may not have much but I have hope in Jesus. I believe in God. My faith gives me hope for today and tomorrow.” When I wake up tomorrow, God will meet me there.

As we all prepare to celebrate Christmas with our loved ones and church family, let us remember that Jesus Christ brought us hope. “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 9:2).