My husband and I recently got into the prequel series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.
The show follows several characters as they fight against emerging forces of darkness that are threatening their world.
In one scene, the chance of survival for some of these characters dwindles to almost nothing, and they are forced to rely on one small hope. That’s when one of my favorite lines comes in:
Hope is never mere, even when it is meager. When all other senses sleep, the eye of hope is first to awaken, last to shut.
Elrond, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
Hope is a powerful force. To hope is to have a feeling of expectation and grounds for believing that something good may happen. It is a feeling of trust.
It’s an understatement to say that “believing that something good may happen” has been difficult over the last few years. We’ve learned to live under the shadow of potential new coronavirus strains and one bad news story after another; we’ve become all-too-familiar with the phrase “cautiously optimistic.”
One of the dangers of all this is that we can lose our sense of hope without even noticing it. We can settle for surviving or trying to prevent negative things, and that’s not how God wants us to live.
I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13 NLT
God wants us to live a hopeful life, not a life where we expect the worst. Ask yourself this: When I think about my future, my family, or my relationships, do I believe things will go well? Or do I live a life expecting the worst?
Luckily, this is a great time of year for hope. Hope is at the core of the Christmas story, and it’s important not to let our hearts get numb to that. There is no source of hope that is greater than the hope of the Scriptures—the Gospel, which begins with the birth of Jesus.
The story of Jesus’ birth is not just the source of a warm fuzzy nativity scene or the foundation of familiar Christmas melodies; it is life-changing and transformative. It is a promise fulfilled in an unlikely time through unlikely people. It shows us that God keeps his word, God does the impossible, and God does not forget us in our times of darkness.
These lessons about God can help us approach dark times in our own lives and the world around us with the knowledge that there is always hope.
God will do what he says
At the very beginning of his book, Luke describes his reason for recording Jesus’ story:
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
Luke 1:1-4 NIV
Luke wants us to be certain about the things we have been taught about Jesus. He wants us to know that the story of Jesus is a story of God’s promises fulfilled. His gospel, or “good news,” is an account of Jesus’ life and how he was destined to fulfill God’s purpose of bringing each of us close to him.
Promises about Jesus are found throughout the Old Testament, and reading them can build our faith that God knows what he’s doing and will do what he says.
For the word of God will never fail.
Luke 1:37 NLT
It’s possible to read or listen to God’s Word, but not really believe it. This is dangerous because it will push us to rely on something else to get the things we hope for instead of relying on God.
Humans have something called a “sinful nature” that drives us to hope in something other than God, believing that we need to make good things happen ourselves instead of trusting God to do them. Our sinful nature leads us to reject God and his way of living life, his way of treating others, and even his way of treating ourselves (1 John 2:15-16; 2 Timothy 3:1-7).
Read more: How Do I Know if I Have Cherished Sin?
Unfortunately, sin is deceitful; it doesn’t deliver the happiness, love, or satisfaction it promises:
But continually encourage one another every day, as long as it is called “Today” [and there is an opportunity], so that none of you will be hardened [into settled rebellion] by the deceitfulness of sin [its cleverness, delusive glamour, and sophistication].
Hebrews 3:13 AMP
Our sinful nature creates a conflict between good and evil inside us, which makes us miserable:
So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin.  I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.  But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good.  So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.  And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t.  I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.
 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.  I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.  I love God’s law with all my heart.  But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.  Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?  Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 7:14-25 NLT
When we live a life in sin, we live separated from God, his love, and his guidance (Isaiah 59:2). But Jesus came to free us from that miserable life. We have the hope of being saved from sin (how we mistreat God, others, and ourselves) and shame, so that we can live and experience a new and beautiful life.
God knew we could not conquer sin on our own, and that’s why he planned to send Jesus to earth to carry our sin away from us and give us hope. This had been promised for generations, and is recorded in verses like this one:
All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).
Isaiah 7:14 NLT
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins!  But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.  All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the LORD laid on him the sins of us all.
Isaiah 53:4-6 NLT
The story of Jesus’ birth is an incredible story of God fulfilling his promises. He does not abandon his people, even when they turn away from him. He faithfully loves them and follows through on everything he says he will do.
Pause and reflect
- How do you see your need for hope? How do you see the need for hope in those around you?
- How do you think hoping in Jesus, rather than trying to make things happen yourself, can change your ideas about hope and change your life?
God’s plans for us are greater than our circumstances
Zechariah and Elizabeth: There is always hope that our prayers will be answered
When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron.  Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations.  They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.  While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar.  Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him.
 But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John.  You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth,  for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth.  And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God.  He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”
Luke 1:5-7,11-17 NLT
In the first and second chapters of Luke, we find the unconventional stories of how John the Baptist and Jesus were born. John the Baptist (who was sent as a messenger to prepare people for Jesus’ arrival), was born to an elderly couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth. They were described as righteous and blameless, but Elizabeth had been unable to conceive and was past the age of having children. Zechariah and Elizabeth probably went through years of feeling less than other people and wondering why their hopes were going unfulfilled.
We can learn from their story that God always had plans for them, even when their circumstances told them otherwise. He did hear their prayers, and he did the impossible for them. The same is true for us; we can’t always see what God is doing, but we can trust that he hears us and has good plans for us.
Those plans may not always look the way we think they should, or happen in the time frame we want. But hope means believing that even when our life isn’t going the way we thought it would, God still cares and has a good plan for us. He has the power to do more than we can ask or imagine, and our circumstances can’t change that.
Mary: There is always hope, even when we feel unseen and unimportant
“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,  to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.  The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”  Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
Luke 1:26-33 NIV
In a world that didn’t recognize women as deserving of equal rights, God chose an ordinary girl to play an important role that would forever leave an impact on the world. Mary was entrusted to give birth to and raise Jesus. She would have more influence on his life than perhaps any other human being.
Jesus turned the world upside down during his lifetime, but even through his birth we learn that God sees things very differently than we do. Mary wouldn’t have stood out in the world around her, but she stood out to God because he could see the faith in her heart.
God’s plans for both of these sets of parents went far beyond what anyone would have guessed by looking at their circumstances. He chose and entrusted his perfect plan to those whom no one would have predicted and as a result showcased his miraculous power (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).
When things are difficult or unexpected, we can still have hope, not in ourselves but in God. His vision, his plans, and his power are greater than anything we think possible.
Mary’s response to the angel showed that she had this kind of hope:
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”  The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.  Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.  For no word from God will ever fail.”  “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
Luke 1:34-38 NIV
Becoming pregnant as an unwed virgin certainly wouldn’t have been easy for Mary, especially in her day, but she agreed to the plan. Why? Because she believed that God would keep his word. We can make similar choices to have hope in our circumstances by trusting God to keep his promises.
Pause and reflect
- What circumstances in your life make it hard for you to believe God could have good plans for you?
- How would your life be different if you believed that God is bigger and more powerful than any circumstance in your life?
God sacrifices so we can have hope
Recently, one of my close friends had a baby. It was so remarkable to see her go through the stages of pregnancy. I was in awe of how amazing the human body is and the miraculous ability to create a new life. I couldn’t wait to meet her baby and celebrate this beautiful milestone for my friend.
It was the beginning of a new life and of something even more special: a new member of the family. I know that my friend would do anything for her baby, and this helped me understand how God must have felt about bringing his Son Jesus into the world, knowing he would lay down his life so that none of us have to live in darkness.
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:31-32; 38-39 NIV
Jesus’ birth teaches us about how strong God’s love is; nothing can separate us from it. It was not just the beginning of a new life, but a new opportunity for hope.
“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,  and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”
Luke 2:4-11 NIV
Like the passage says, “a savior has been born” and this good news will “cause great joy for all the people” in the world. Jesus is the reason and source for our hope in the hopeless situations of our life.
Jesus’ birth was a celebration of the fulfillment of God’s promises and what was to come from his inspiring life of serving, teaching, leading, loving, and living out God’s will. Through Jesus, God would defeat the powers of darkness, death, and sin. He would raise Jesus from the dead so that we could also have the power to live a new life (Romans 6:4).
The kind of hope Jesus brings is not about the fulfillment of our selfish desires, nor the changing of our circumstances, but the fulfillment and changing of ourselves, our perspectives, and our values.
A thief comes only to rob, kill, and destroy. I came so that everyone would have life, and have it in its fullest.
John 10:10 CEV
Jesus is the completion of all God’s promises, makes us right before God, and teaches us how to live a full life. When we live his way we are able to live life knowing there is always hope.
Pause and reflect
- How do you think God feels about you, given that he sent his Son into the world so you could have life to the full?
- How can you change the way you think about hope to be more in line with what God says we should hope in?
God doesn’t forget us in the darkness
The message of Jesus’s birth reminds us that no matter what we are going through, there is always an opportunity for hope and joy, because God is thinking about us and wants to take care of us.
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned…  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:2,6 NIV
In Luke 2, during Jesus’s first week of life, we meet two people who had been waiting for his birth. We can learn something from each of them about holding onto hope.
Simeon: Hoping while waiting
First, there’s Simeon.
At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him  and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.  That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required,  Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,  “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised.
 I have seen your salvation,  which you have prepared for all people.  He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!”  Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him.  As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”
Luke 2:25-32,34-35 NLT
Simeon is described here as an old man eagerly waiting to see the Messiah. A key word that I think stands out to describe Simeon is “eagerly.” He wasn’t reluctantly or bitterly waiting for God to come through on his promises. He wasn’t doubting or questioning whether God had forgotten him. He was eagerly and patiently waiting to see God move, never losing his hope or passion for God’s purpose.
Once he finally saw Jesus, it was this faithful eagerness that allowed him to enjoy the answer to his prayers, and have enough hope to pass on to others. Though he acknowledged the pain and sorrow Mary would go through, it seemed that Simeon was more focused on the light Jesus would be for so many people. After enduring years of waiting, Simeon was able to pass on his eager and determined hope that no matter what we go through, God doesn’t forget us.
Anna: Hoping through hardship
Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher, and she was very old. Her husband died when they had been married only seven years.  Then she lived as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer.  She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.
Luke 2:36-38 NLT
Anna had been married for seven years and then lived as a widow until the age of 84, when she met Jesus as a baby. Though she had gone through an incredibly painful and difficult situation, Anna never lost hope or her love for God. In fact, it could be argued that her pain brought her closer to God (Psalm 34:18). Rather than let difficulty and hardship discourage and harden her, Anna turned to God, and in doing so was able to see Jesus and the hope that came with knowing him. This too led her to spreading that hope to others, excitedly sharing the news with everyone she met.
Whether we are like Simeon and feel that we are waiting for God to move and acknowledge our dreams, or are like Anna and have experienced pain and suffering that may make us feel alone, we can have hope. Like Simeon and Anna, our decision to either give up or hold on to hope can determine our ability to impact the lives of those around us. All we need to believe is that God never forgets us. The darkness is never too powerful for him. He never stops loving us and wanting good things for us. He always desires and longs to bring us close to him, to provide us peace, and share his love.
God, through Jesus, is the source of hope and love. He is ultimately what we need and are looking for in our lives. And while the darkness tries to distract us and deceive us, God never gives up on us. This is the message of the birth of Jesus. This is the reason there is always hope.
There are so many other qualities of God that bring us hope. If you continue reading the book of Luke, you can see the light, hope, and purpose Jesus brought to everyone around him throughout his life. As you read through the book, write down qualities of Jesus that inspire you, and talk with friends on how you can grow to be like him together!