Andrew Watson: Waiting in hope for Christmas
Look to the skies this Christmas, says Andrew Watson - not for a sleigh, but for the Saviour
SO what are we hoping for this Christmas?
More socks, perfume, turkey and chocolate? Maybe a new phone or Xbox? Or maybe we already have enough of those things.
Perhaps some are hoping much more for a good report from the hospital in the new year, or better prospects in work.
Possibly some are hoping a loved one will come home, that our children will find love, that Brexit won't be too hard on us.
If we were refugees we would simply be hoping for safety; if we were homeless maybe we would be hoping for no more than a dry night and to survive to see the morning.
At this time of year, we wish each other "goodwill and peace on earth" but, with Isis, Kim and Trump, we wonder how likely that might be.
Hope does not actually have to depend on circumstances.
If it did we would all be staring at the same uncertain half-glass of water trying to be optimistic, rather than the opposite.
In the Bible, 'hope' means 'waiting in expectation'. Specifically, it is waiting for God, waiting for God to keep His Word and to act.
The Son of God showed the greatness of the Almighty not just with the miraculous power we might expect, but with astounding humility, being born in a stable and dying on a cross
But many these days aren't sure there even is a God, so why should we be confident He will do anything?
The Scripture writers would answer that we can be confident because of His faithfulness in the past.
Seven centuries before Jesus was born, an Old Testament preacher called Isaiah, himself living in uncertain times, was inspired to predict God would send another good king like David, only better again (Isaiah 9:6-7).
The Gospels record how Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of God with jaw-dropping authority, calming the storm and raising the dead.
Yet possibly the most amazing thing was this: the Son of God showed the greatness of the Almighty not just with the miraculous power we might expect, but with astounding humility, being born in a stable and dying on a cross.
This last bit was cruel and humiliating, yet the Bible insists it was no mistake.
Jesus deliberately humbled himself as the perfect, all-sufficient sacrifice that whosoever trusts in Him can know forgiveness and a welcome in God's kingdom family.
Things are already much better in the world because of Jesus.
Our Bible study group have been using material called Jesus the Game Changer in which historians show how so many of the values we take for granted such as sanctity of life, equality, education and healthcare, treating everyone including the disadvantaged as we would like to be treated ourselves - these can all be traced to the teaching and example of Jesus.
Twenty-first century liberals try to deny this and even abuse the freedom established by Christianity to try and reverse its standards, but there is no doubt the world is a fairer, kinder, safer place through the first visit of God's Son.
The good news of Christmas is that because God kept His promise first time round, sending the Christ just like Isaiah and others predicted, we can have confidence in the promises Jesus and his apostles give in the New Testament: that better is yet to come; that He will return in glory to judge the living and the dead and gather His Church; that God will make all things new and wipe the tears from our eyes; heavenly resurrection - that is the destiny for those who trust and obey and serve Jesus.
"Just as man is destined to die once and after that to face judgement, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him," as it says in Hebrews 9: 27-28.
So Christians, don't give in to cynical despair. We share the pain and do all we can to alleviate suffering in our Master's name.
But we keep the faith. Despite all the short term grief we hope, we wait gratefully, prayerfully for God to act as before, in holiness and grace.
Look to the skies this year, not for a sleigh, but for the Saviour. As it says on the last page of the Bible: "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus."
- Rev Andrew Watson is minister of the Presbyterian congregations in Dunfanaghy and Carrigart in Donegal.
- He is the author of Finding Our Way Home: Prayers and Reflections for Our Journey in Christ, published by Veritas and on its suggested reading list for the World Meeting of Families in Dublin next year.