The current situation in this world gives a sense of hopelessness, both for many congregations as well as for the world of unbelievers. Among many Christians and congregations, there is a sense of spiritual lethargy and depression. Catastrophic decline in the number of church attendees and the number of active believers at work for Christ in our culture today have resulted in an erosion of confidence, disillusionment and even despair among many churches in many countries. Many congregations are holding together only by virtue of a small committed core – such ones are holding more and more responsibilities, and it is also disturbing to come across committed older Christians who have served faithfully over the years and are now feeling that they have ‘had enough’. Many Christians feel their situation ia hope-less, in terms of the credibility of the historic, biblical faith in the modern world, not just at the intellectual level, but at the daily level of personal experience, nothing will change.
But what about the unbelieving world? Not too far back, there was a great wave of optimism; technology has advanced at a fantastic pace, offering possibilities unheard of in the previous generations; the prospect of a new age of unity, coupled with the development of respect, tolerance and pride in human achievement – all these fan a huge optimism about the future of mankind with the feeling that man is the master of his future and destiny. But recent developments have caused a ‘puncture’ in the ‘balloon of optimism’; climate change has reached a point of ‘no return’ and predictions are rife that the world would see unprecedented disasters and calamities all over the world; the present global viral pandemic is still raging on with much deaths, long term damage to health, leaving behind great numbers of orphans, widows and serious setback to the economies of many countries, and there are many more pandemics to come; conflicts between nations and blocs, with the development of more sophisticated weaponry that can cause widespread large scale damage do not augur well, and war and outbreak of conflicts are certainly imminent.
The number of depression and anxiety among peoples of the world is in the millions; the number of suicides is not abading – in fact it is increasing astronomically. A deep seated cynicism and despair is increasing with a sense of hopelessness emerging; all the advancements in the world, all the impressive wealth, power and materialism offer no hope and satisfaction ultimately. Hope is therefore a major and urgent need – not just for unbelievers but also for the church.
The hope given by the Bible is the ultimate hope.The previously hidden secret of God’s will has now been revealed. Ephesians 1:9-10 gives a perspective which should control all our thinking about the future – everything in all creation will be brought in unity under one head, even Christ. In Christ, God chose and predestined us to be adopted as His children, in Christ we who believe have redemption and forgiveness of sin and Christ is the ultimate purpose and focus of God’s plan for the whole universe. The uniting of everything in heaven and on earth will be in and through Christ. He is the one in whom God chooses to sum up the entire cosmos. He is the one who restores harmony to the created order. But He is not just the instrument or the agent of that restoration; He is the focus, the centre point of it all. Everything points to, and actually comes to, its fulfilment in Christ. So all the alienated elements of the fractured universe are being brought together under one head, Christ.
But hold on a minute! What we have outlined above seems to point to despair, hopelessness not just for the unbelieving world but also for the church. We need to recognise that what God is doing may be ‘hidden’ and not obvious to the unbelieving world and to believers who do not walk by faith. The Bible tells us that what is seen is temporal but what is unseen is eternal. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb. 11:1 NIV). God expects the just and the righteous to live by faith. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” (Heb 11:6). The Apostle Paul wrote, “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:14). No wonder people of the world who are unbelievers cannot understand or appreciate what God is actually doing now in this world – the fact that it cannot be seen or understood does not invalidate what God is doing and working out with a view to bring all things together under Christ such that God would be all in all.
Remember that the revelation of Scripture is progressive, historical and leading to a fulfilment in Christ; we may not see it clearly at one point in time but if the Spirit helps us to see the whole eternal plan of the Triune God, inaugurated even before the creation of the world, then we would appreciate that history is not going around in circles but history is leading to a glorious end in Christ, in the renewed humanity and a renewed creation. This is the hope of all those in Christ; Christ promises you that He will come again and bring all those who believe with Him to His heavenly home to see and share His glory.
This hope is the message that Christmas brings! As we observe Christmas, let us not forget that it is all about Christ. It is not the materialistic celebration the world indulges in; it is not about carols and Christmas trees; it is not even about exchange of gifts and shopping – it is about Christ – “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)
Let us not be like those without God and without hope.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart. I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).