What the world most needs but can’t seem to find

David Thompson

22.12.2022 | Congregational Life, Christmas

David Thompson, Secretary for the Council for Congregational Life and Witness, reflects on the hope to be found in Christ this Christmas.

Perhaps there has never been a Christmas season in living memory approached with such utter hopelessness in the air. The news has become almost unlistenable. If it’s not war in the Ukraine, it’s fuel poverty, the collapse of the health service, or the latest outbreak of rancor and overflow of bitterness on social media. It’s not that any of these things are particularly new, it’s just that they all seem to have come layered one upon the other, adding to a sense of foreboding. Things aren’t good and neither is the mood.

Perhaps what is most noticeable is the ebbing away of hope. The super confidence and unquenchable optimism of consecutive generations that the progress of humankind and advances in science, medicine and politics mean that life is always on the up, no longer seems able to hold sway. A steady diet of unfulfilled promises has left us jaded in the present and cynical about the future. We live in a moment in which a deep hopelessness has become embedded in the everyday.    

Hope seems to be what the world most needs, but can’t seem to find. Yet it is what the gospel offers us as followers of Jesus. We can have acertainty founded in God that things will get better that helps us through tough times.


Hope in Jesus

At the tail end of Luke’s account of the Christmas story, we find a little preached upon account of Mary and Joseph bringing the baby Jesus to the temple to present him to the Lord according to the custom and practice of the Law (Luke 2:22-38). They are met by two seemingly insignificant old people, Simeon and Anna, who were known for spending a lot of time just hanging around the church of their day. It’s a pretty private - almost random - encounter, but one which is infused with hope. This simple story has much to say that reminds us how we can find hope in Jesus in our present darkness.   

Hope – found in the right place

So often we go looking for hope in the wrong places. We think that a visit to the Christmas market, booking that foreign holiday, going to a concert or sporting event, will reassure us that life is okay after all and give us something to which we can look forward. But when the shopping spree has ended, it’s time to step off the plane again, the encore has finished, the final whistle blown, we find ourselves only having been momentarily lifted by the experience. 

How about considering that real hope might be found in the place of worship? That’s what Simeon found when ‘moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts’ (v.27). It’s what Anna was counting on as ‘she never left the temple but worshipped night and day’ (v.37). Perhaps a simple regularity about worship - personal and together in public on the Lord’s Day - is crucial to re-founding and re-finding our hope.

Hope – fixed on the right promise

Amid the wreckage of too many broken promises, we are beginning to learn not to take everything at face value. We have discovered that not all we are told can be trusted. So much is fake news or trite social media soundbite. 

Was there ever a time for us as the people of God to make sure that our hopes are resting in the promises of God and not some empty substitute? Simeon staked his life on them. He said, ‘sovereign Lord, as you promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation.’(v.29-30). Do we?  

Hope – flowing through the right story

So much of life today is carried in, and by, story. We are encouraged to live out of our own story and live in to a thousand fairytales in to which we invited to insert ourselves as hero or heroine. And yet we seem to struggle to find any turning points of hope in our story or the world’s that enable us to live happily ever after. 

Simeon found hope flow in a bigger, better story – God’s. As he takes Jesus in his arms, he takes hold of a story from outside of himself that bubbles over with fulfilment - ‘Your salvation… prepared in the sight of all nations… a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.’ (v.30-32). 

As we approach Christmas again this year, are we sure we are living our lives embedded and immersed in the right story? One in which there runs a continuing thread of hope, rather than the constant throb of disappointment.

Hope – fueled by the right spirit

When hope dies, a spirit of gratitude gives way to a steady stream of grumpiness. That is all around us today in niggling negativity and constant complaining. It hauls us all down. 

By contrast, the infusion of hope brought to the lives of Simeon and Anna by the presence of Jesus, births a thorough going thankfulness. ‘Simeon took him in his arms and praised God’ (v.28). ‘Anna gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Israel’ (v.38).

Perhaps one of the greatest gifts and witness to the grace of God that we can be and bring to the world in its hour of hopelessness is to have a spirit fueled by the kind of thoughtful thankfulness that sees, acknowledges and appreciates God’s blessings, rather than focuses on what we feel we are deprived of or owed. There is something slightly outrageous and subtly contagious about such a spirit.  

Hope – feeling fragile, found firm

It might seem a strange thing to say, but it is possible to claim too much for Christian hopefulness. It doesn’t offer a quick fix for all our immediate problems. When we suggest that it will, that kind of ‘hypefulness’ is a poor substitute for the real thing. 

Everyone in this part of the Christmas story got that. Simeon named it when he said to Mary, ‘this child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too’ (v.34-35). Mary got it through lifetime experience. The presence of hope doesn’t mean the absence of hardship or hurt. 

So, if our hope feels depleted and diminished going into this Christmas season, it’s good to remember that it is always a fragile thing. At times we might feel it wax and wane, come and go, peak and plummet. But ultimately as we rest our hope in Christ we will find it firm. Happy Christmas to you all!

David Thompson, Secretary for the Council for Congregational Life and Witness.

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