People of Hope

People of Hope

Christmas comes on Dec. 25th, but for many Americans it starts long before that: It used to start with shopping on Black Friday, then it went to Thanksgiving when it’s supposed to be time with family, now it seems it starts even earlier with stores and Christmas music on the radio the first of November, which in all honesty I’m ok with because that just puts more attention on Jesus.

What I’m not OK with is that throughout the Christmas hype, we get caught up in getting the best deals at the stores, giving the best gifts, being the most decorated house in the neighborhood, running to all the Christmas shows and parades that we can pack into 4 short weeks, the whole Santa thing, and let’s not leave out all the eating we can do! Packing on at least 10-15 lbs is normal throughout the holidays!

We get so wrapped up in the hype of Christmas that it’s easy to forget in all that stuff, why we are even celebrating. And that’s where Advent comes in…this 4 wk period is when Christians pause to say, “Let’s remember what this is all about.

  • Let’s center our focus on what this is all about.
  • Let’s remember who the child is, born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago.
  • Let’s remember the hope and the promise that came with him.
  • Let’s remember who he calls us to be and what he called us to do.

MARY’S FINAL YEARS

Acts 1:8-14

Let’s begin to remember by looking at Mary’s story. We’re starting at the end, but that’s going to be a little challenging because we don’t know much about the end of Mary’s life according to scripture.

There’s only one verse that mentions Mary by name after the resurrection of Christ. (Acts 1:14)

While we have no biblical evidence of Mary’s final years of her death, there are stories and traditions out there about if or when her body went to Heaven, how she died. However, we have no real evidence since it’s not in scripture. So we try to read between the lines and see the whole story.

How Mary died though is not as important to me as the fact that as she approached death, because of Jesus’ resurrection, she undoubtedly believed that when she died, she would see her son once again.

Among the greatest gifts, God has given us at Christmas, is the hope that “death has been swallowed up in victory” (as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15). The infant Jesus would grow up to say, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” John 11:25-26

I would like to believe that between Jesus’ death on the cross and Mary’s dying and going to Heaven, that she saw Jesus sometime after his resurrection.

We know for certain that Jesus appeared to the 12 disciples, 2 men on the road to Emmaus, several women at the tomb, and over 500 people at one time.

Don’t you think Mary saw Him too? Mary was with Him every step of His life. His birth, childhood, we read about Mary during His ministry, and the book of John tells us how she was even at His death, watching, waiting for the suffering of her son to end.

The appearance of Jesus after his death would have changed everything for her.

  • She still would have carried the grief of his suffering with her.
  • She would have carried the sense of separation and loss that any of us would feel after the death of someone so close to us.
  • But the Resurrection, we can be sure, changed how Mary experienced her grief: it gave her hope.

The Apostle Paul wrote the following words to the church at Thessalonica after several key members of the church had died:

Thessalonians 4:13-18

Paul tells us to encourage one another with hope and that you will see your loved ones again. Encourage one another with the viewpoint that the world will not always be as it is now.

This is part of the hope of Christmas – that the One who was born in Bethlehem will set all things right one day.

Our first Christmas after the death of a loved one is hard. But such grief can be endured when we remember that the Christ whose birth we celebrate, conquered the grave and gives us hope that we will see our loved ones again.

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We have hope in the resurrection. And we are not supposed to keep that hope to ourselves.

What do you think Mary was doing from the time Jesus ascended to Heaven until her own death?

Acts 1:8-14

The one scripture that does list her name after the ascension….

By the way, this is written, it’s hard to say that Mary was for sure at the ascension. But we know that she was with them in the upper room when they got back. We know the disciples would have told her everything that He said.

That they are to witness to others, telling people about Him everywhere. They were to be the light of the world. Teaching others what He had taught them. They were to share the hope of the resurrection.  And my favorite part, His promise, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

How reassuring for Mary!

This is the Great Commission. They were to devote the rest of their lives to being his witnesses and continuing the work that Jesus had begun. How could Mary not have done that? She was the BIGGEST witness ever!

Within a week, while they were waiting and praying together, the Holy Spirit fell upon them and they launched the church, preaching the gospel, inviting people to faith, baptizing, teaching, meeting together in homes, worshiping in the Temple courts, and sharing with anyone who had a need.

I believe that Mary saw the Great Commission as her own mission and that she too devoted the rest of her life to the mission that God gave her.

I believe she would have continued to do the same things Jesus was doing –

  • Looking for people who were lost and bringing them back to God;
  • Finding those who were hungry and thirsty and sick and naked and in prison and care for them; To love her neighbor and love her enemy;
  • To let her light shine before others so that they might see her good works and give glory to her God.

That takes me back to where we began…

Our mission at Christmas is not to get stuff for people to open on Christmas morning. It’s not to get caught up in all the activities, It’s not to get caught up in Santa Claus; Or in the hustle and bustle of what our world says Christmas should be.

Our mission is to be people of hope who let Jesus’ light shine through us; Who act as His witnesses so that others see Him in us.

Our mission is to be people who offer hope and help,Who pray and work so that our world looks more like the kingdom Jesus proclaimed.

This is what Mary would have been doing. And this is what we are called to do.

This year, how will you offer hope to people who don’t have it? How will you offer encouragement and joy?

If your Christmas doesn’t include reaching out to someone in need, you’re missing out on the mission.

I wonder if Mary celebrated the birthday of Jesus in the years following Jesus’ ascension. Some have suggested that the ancient Jews did not mark birthdays, and that may be so, but how could Mary not remember and mark the birth of her son each year?

And as she did, I imagine that she would have looked back on Christmas through the lens of Easter, with great hope that one day she would see her son again.

At Christmas, we’re meant to be People of Hope, celebrating who He is and what He did for us and preparing ourselves that He is coming back.

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