I. Introduction¢â‚¬â€‌God ¢â‚¬“with...

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    I. Introduction—God “with us” gives us hope. “…and He shall be called Emmanuel” (Mt. 1:23).

    Each occasion we embrace to celebrate Emmanuel can stir our hope in a hope-challenged world. All around us:

    Life events, whether personal or global seek to steal our joy. Personal losses, health challenges, and economic downturns challenge us personally. World events seemingly out of our control all around us, bring destruction, concern, and even terror.

    Relationships are imperfect and often disappointing. Holiday celebrations can remind us of loved ones lost this year and even, sadly at times, bring out the worst of family dysfunctions.

    Irrelevant religion continues its battle to crowd out the real thing. Materialism crowds out the sacred, and parties often forget the Person. Being greeted with “Happy Holidays” sounds empty, and again the Person is forgotten.

    But, when God shows up, so does hope!

    Even as we celebrate “God with us,” realistically we still face life in a fallen world, a world of tribulation. But it’s this same Jesus who gives hope for life beyond this world as well as hope for life abundant even now!

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    “Let the Word of Christ dwell deeply in you . . .” (Col. 3:16).

    Pastor/Presenter, is there a time in your life when you have been in trouble or tribulation? Could you share about a personal time of distress or suffering when you needed a hope that prevailed? Also, be sure to have asked permis- sion from anyone whose story you are telling if it is not entirely your own.

    I remember when I faced _____________________________ but God _____________________________

    “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be’” (Rom. 4:18).

    “Against all hope …” What an accurate description of faith in the midst of obstacles! This Old Testament story revealed how Abraham and Sarah’s old age, combined with Sarah’s unbelief, produced a staggering faith in God. In the midst of all that seemed to challenge the promises of God, hope prevailed to bring forth Isaac. An entire nation was born!

    Scripture Reinforces the Truth that Hope Is a Person

    The Apostle Paul begins a letter to young Timothy with these words, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope. . .” (I Tim. 1:1).

    Similarly, Jeremiah reminded those who would listen: “Do any of the worthless idols of the nations bring rain? Do the skies themselves send down showers? No, it is you, O Lord our God. Therefore our hope is in you for you are the One who does all this…” (Jer. 14:22).

    This same prevailing hope will enable us to face the obstacles in our world today.

    After all, Scripture reminds us: “In this world you shall have tribulation” (John 16:33). This word, “tribulation” or Pësréí in the Greek, speaks particularly of trouble, distress, hard circumstances, or suffering. During this Emmanuel Season, let’s acknowledge that life’s tribulations bring stressful life events, relationship disappointments, and sadly at times, irrelevant response—BUT through it all there is a Person—Jesus—who brings hope!

    Life Events (of all types) Can Challenges Us

    Life’s events can catch us by surprise. Unfortunately, some of our biggest challenges can come without warning or possibility of control. Changes in your health, death of a loved one, infertility, traffic accidents, physical trauma, violent crimes, and natural disasters are just some of the sources of personal pain.

    [Opportunity: Pastor/Presenter, you may also want to use a regional or local example from your own community.]

    Without the possibility of avoiding these challenging life events, how do we maintain hope? If we can’t control or predict these events, how can we find hope in the midst of them?

    Imperfect Relationships Bring Pain

    If those unpredictable life events are not challenging enough, the most profound stressors can often come from our relationships with people. Much of life’s pain is often closer to home as conflict and betrayals rip the fabric of trusted commitments. What happens when unfaithfulness and violence have torn our families apart; when loss of health brings trauma and this life’s ultimate loss—death?

    “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope. . .” (I Tim. 1:1)

    “Therefore our hope is in you for you are the One who does all this…” (Jer. 14:22)

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    During our time together today, we’ll be addressing these questions: Where do we find a source of hope for our challenging relationships? What do we do when marriage loses its sacred bond, or our children violate the values we’ve worked so hard to instill in them? Each of these can prompt incredible despair—hope can be lost.

    Not only do life events and close relationships often bring pain, but these struggles are compounded because. . .

    Irrelevant Religion Discounts Hope

    More personally, most of us have experienced the well-intentioned response of spiritual platitudes.

    You know God is with you.

    God will bring you out of this.

    God is refining His work in you.

    While true, they do NOT address the need of the moment.

    “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear “ (Eph. 4:29).

    Again, we don’t have to wait long before we hear about the latest ministry leader who has made the headlines because of unethical behavior. The more subtle misuse and abuse of spiritual truth for personal gain is becoming more and more widespread.

    Even in our own homes and our own community, we must take a hard look at the real impact our faith is making on the next generation. When surveys indicate that as many as 80 percent of church-attending youth will leave their faith after college, it begs the question: Is our faith relevant? Are we making a real difference in the lives of young people? Are we passing on a faith that will bring hope in the midst of a challenging world?

    Let’s invite the Christ of hope into the problems of our day! Have you ever considered inviting Him into your struggles or stresses?

    Experience Scripture: “Call unto Me and I will answer you” (Jer. 33:3).

    [Pastor, pause and allow the congregation/participants to pray a specific prayer that invites Christ into their personal challenges and life stressors. “Lord, I come now to call upon you that you might show me Emmanuel—reveal to me Jesus in fresh ways.”]

    “Looking for hope in all the wrong places” might be an accurate description of today’s world. Yet in the Gospel of John, we find an example of hope in the tribulations of life. A man, who was blind from birth, found hope in spite of his circumstances, in spite of his family relationships, and in spite of his religious irrelevance. This man was not one of our more “famous” heroes of the Bible, but his interactions with Jesus can inspire our hope. In this Emmanuel Season, let’s embrace these lessons from Jesus who is our hope!

    “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day,

    Allow this Emmanuel Season to touch your

    Pain-filled life events

    Disappointing relationships and

    Experiences with irrelevant religion

    with the Person of Hope—Jesus!

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    we must do the work of Him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ Having said this, He spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes” (Jn. 9:1–6).

    So whether our tribulation comes from painful life events, close relationships, or even struggles to live out our faith God gives hope.

    II. Emmanuel Gives Hope in Spite of Life Events

    “And as He passed on, He saw a man blind from birth” (Jn. 9:1).

    This man was born into suffering. His predicament was not of his own choosing; life simply dealt him this blow. Jesus stepped into the hopelessness of this man’s life and brought healing and restoration. Isn’t it amazing to consider that we have a Jesus who notices and cares? The blind man made no effort to stop Jesus; he made no plea for help. Christ noticed the man and his apparent struggles and was so moved with compassion that He took initiative to care.

    It’s also important to remember: It was the blind man’s tribulation that allowed the opportunity for Christ’s work to be displayed and God’s glory to be revealed (Jn. 9:3).

    Lastly, the blind man’s condition must have brought the same rational questions we often ask in the face of tragedy and loss. Even his family or his friends must have asked:

    Why him?

    Why now?

    Where was God? When we face our own challenging life events or when we struggle to understand the pain of others, two truths from the Gospel of John can guide our steps and sustain our hope:

    1. Jesus—our Emmanuel notices, and He cares.