CALL TO PRAYER: The Hope of Christmas
NASHVILLE (BP) -- Some na´ve and theologically uninformed persons think that being a Christian means one is not supposed to have trouble in this life. That is a falsehood. Jesus Himself made it clear: "In this world you will have tribulation" (John 16:33, with emphasis added). The rest of the verse provides a ray of hope: "But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
For some, trouble comes in the form of personal sickness, whether physical or mental. For others, trouble comes through suffering with the sickness of those we love. Most families at some point will hear the dreaded "C" word, cancer.
For many, trouble comes in the form of loneliness or failed lives. Trouble may come from pain caused by someone close to us.
For so many, trouble comes through death -- death of a relationship, death of dreams, death of hope or the physical death of a loved one.
I have known the troubling loss of my mother, extended family members and our eldest daughter just four years ago. Our daughter's death was a life-changing event which continues to impact my family, myself and all who love us.
Death comes. Trouble comes. Tribulation is a part of our human experience.
But God has a message for us, a message of hope found in one of the most familiar Christmas passages:
"Then the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.'" (Luke 2:10-11).
Freedom from fear
This message of hope is freedom from fear. Isn't it interesting that the angel almost always said "Fear not!" to human beings? Someone has written that "Fear not!" is found 365 times in the Bible. I think it is actually a few less than that; but there are at least enough reminders for us to have confidence that we don't need to live in fear.
We need that assurance, don't we? We all have fears. We need a message from the Lord to calm our hearts. For some, there are fears flowing from the past. Much pain comes from our past. Some fear failure in the present, living in constant fear of that which is. Others fear the future. Christmas means hope and that hope should bring freedom from fear.
This message of hope is Good News. In the same Luke text we hear the angelic messenger announce that he is bringing good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. We need good news, don't we? Good News from God is part of the precious gift of Christmas. It is a message that did not come to some, but to all. What is that great, Good News? God became flesh and is ever present. He is our healer. He is our ever-present Lord.
This message of hope is that we have a Savior. The angelic message pointed to a person: there is born in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. I am thankful we have a Savior. Christmas is not primarily about a babe in Bethlehem. It is definitely not about the materialistic frenzy of getting and giving. It is about a Savior.
During this Christmas week, let me urge you to devote yourself to pray very specifically in these three ways.
-- Visualize a neighbor or friend who is experiencing troubles and pray for that person by name. Mention to the Lord the particulars of their needs, as far as you know them. Ask the Father of mercy to come to their aid with comfort, hope, healing. Ask the Lord to let them see His glory in Jesus, no matter how dark their present circumstances. Emmanuel still means "God with us." Place the person before the Father, who will hold them close to Himself.
-- Visualize a neighbor or friend who needs good news and pray for that person by name. You may consider them a problem person, someone you or your neighbors characterize at Christmas as a scrooge or grinch. We must remember that problem people are merely people with problems. They have lost their zest for living, wondering if their lives have ever had meaningful purpose. The good news is their lives can count, for a time and for eternity! They are part of the "good tidings of great joy to all people" that the angel heralded in the nighttime song.
-- Visualize a neighbor or friend who needs a Savior and pray for that person by name. Paul had an urgent passion for his "kinsmen in the flesh" to know Jesus. Do we share his urgent passion for our family, our friends to know Jesus? You can't pray for someone very long without developing a burden that inevitably becomes a catalyst for sharing the Gospel. It is amazing how the doors of witness open up when we pray for the lost.
When the Greeks came to see Jesus, they made the simple request, "We would see Jesus" (John 12:20). Jesus said (John 12:27), "For this reason I came to this hour." The reason for Christmas is that we would have hope. The ultimate hope is not just freedom from fear. It is not merely good news. It is the ultimate Good News -- God has provided Himself a Savior. We all need saving. That is the ultimate hope of Christmas.
Frank Page is president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).