THE CHRISTMAS COLORS 
GREEN – THE HOPE OF JESUS

by Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch
December 3, 2017
TEXT:   Isaiah 11:1; Isaiah 43:18-20

 

Sermon begins with a children’s sermon – saying something like this:

 

            I invite the kids to come up here for a brief moment.   Join me up here by the Advent wreath. 

 

            Welcome kids!  Did you notice anything different as you walked into the sanctuary today?   Yes – there are decorations everywhere!   Lights and color everywhere.

 

            All these decorations point to the fact that we have entered a new season – a season we call ADVENT.   Advent means “coming” – and it literally refers to the four weeks leading up to Christmas.  We focus on the coming of Christ on Christmas – and we light candles to help us remember.  

 

            This is the Advent wreath.   You see there are 5 candles here.   We light each of the candles for the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas…and then the white one, which we call the Christ candle, we light on Christmas Eve.   And today, we lit the 1st candle – the candle of hope.

 

            You know, I told you we are in a new season.  And what did I call that season?    Advent.   That’s right.

 

            Well, you know one way we tell what season it is, is by looking at the trees.  (Show them the bare branch).   If we see a tree like this, what season are we in?  (Winter) Well, what happens in the Spring?  In the Summer?   How about in the Fall?

 

            Well, it is Winter, now.  We see a lot of trees like this right now, don’t we?   But we don’t use trees like this to make our Christmas tree, do we?   No, we use what is called an evergreen tree.  It has green leaves like this artificial one all year long – it stays green, no matter what the weather.  The green tree reminds us that Spring will come soon after Winter…and that life comes after death.   We have a hope, that just as the evergreen never changes – God’s promises never change either.   We can trust Him, no matter what season we are in…. whether we are happy or sad.

 

            When I was a little girl, after we decorated the Christmas tree, my oldest brother would always have me stand beside him – and we’d look at the tree and how pretty it was, and we’d sing ‘O Christmas Tree’ together.   So, I thought we could do that right now.   If you look on the screen, you will see the words.   And congregation I’d like you to join us.   Let’s sing:

 

O Christmas tree! O Christmas tree!

Thy leaves are so unchanging.  (sing twice)

Not only green while summer’s here - But also when, it's cold and drear.

O Christmas tree! O Christmas tree!

Thy leaves are so unchanging.

 

            Thank you, kids!  I want you to remember as we go through Advent, that when you see the color green – that it is a sign of hope and the promises that are unchanging from God!

 

            You can return to your seats.

 

            I for one absolutely love all the decorations that have been placed in the sanctuary.   I love all the lights and the color!  I think the lights and decorations come at just the right season of Winter -- because outside, it can be dreary at times – and everything just looks dead.   And the days are getting shorter – and the darkness longer.  It is wonderful to see the lights twinkling in the night sky on houses.   And then to see all those great colors in our decorations - green and blue, red and white, silver and gold…it just adds to the joy of the season!

 

            This month, we are going to focus on the colors of Christmas.  And this Sunday we are focusing on the color of green.    Green is that color that gives us hope that winter won’t last forever.  One day soon, in about 3 months or so, we can be assured that Spring will come.  Soon we will see the buds on the tree and flowers blooming.  The green of Christmas says that new life is just right around the corner – hang on, Spring is coming!

 

            Did you know that in medieval Northern Europe, people would use the branches of evergreen in their homes as a shield to protect them from evil?  Back in the 15th century, they believed the demons fear the color green - the symbol of summer and life!   The evergreens are steadfast and never give way to the death of winter.  Thus, green has always been a color of hope – of blessings – of life even during the winter cold.1

 

            We all need that hope, don’t we?   Sometimes it seems like things are dreary and cold and winter will last forever.   We need that hope that there will be Spring after Winter – warmth after cold -  new life after death.  And that hope is what keeps us going.

 

            700 years before Christ, in the land of Judah – it seemed like the misery of winter would go on forever and that there was no hope for new life.  Israel and Judah had rebelled against God – they had not listened to Him and had hardened their hearts.   Instead of being obedient and relying on God, they had relied on themselves.   Instead of waiting for God to act, they had become impatient and consulted psychics and mediums and rejected God. And because of this, the Syrians from the east and the Philistines from the west came and attacked them.   The whole nation was ravaged by the attack – they were a smoldering wasteland – burned out, lifeless stumps.   Life as they knew it was gone.   Everything had changed.   It was a picture of utter hopelessness.

 

            The prophet Isaiah looked at the people that were left.   They were discouraged – spiritually drained – hurting and hopeless.   Perhaps he thought: “this is the last straw – because of all their bad choices and their sin – Israel is no more”.  The situation was bleak – and seemed impossible.   Literally – the land was like a wasteland of stumps – and spiritually, they were devastated and without hope.   What would happen now?

            Have you ever felt like that?   Maybe you are in a situation right now where you are feeling helpless or hopeless.   Maybe there are broken relationships you have that just seem too far gone – you just don’t see how there can ever be any reconciliation.   Or maybe your finances are in a mess – or you are anxious about what the future will hold.   There’s disappointment with the kids and your marriage seems distant and stale.   Or maybe it is just living in this crazy world that is full of hatred – and division – political and moral unrest.   You look around and everything just seems like a pile of stumps.   No life in them and no hope.   You think that there will be nothing good come out of it. 

 

            But God – God had a message for Isaiah – and has a message for us as well.   Listen to the good news of hope God tells Isaiah – beginning in Isaiah 11:1.   God says: 

 

Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot—
    yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root.

 

God had not abandoned Israel.  In the midst of their devastation – God was going to send them a new beginning – a new day!  Something good was going to be coming that would give them hope for the future.

 

            Every time I think of this passage, I think of a trip Greg and I made to Yellowstone.   It was just after the great fire of 1988.  There were 7,249 fires identified in the park that year and some 800,000 acres of Yellowstone burned! As we drove into the park, we saw so many of the trees burned…just like you see in this picture.   They were black – ravaged by fire – just tree stumps everywhere.   It looked like it would never be green again.   But what was so amazing was that many lodgepole pines started growing up from those dead stumps.  Beautiful green trees amidst the black stumps.   There was hope for Yellowstone.2

 

            Now think about that with Israel.   Literally they were that blackened forest – a wasteland of stumps.   And spiritually, they were defeated and hopeless.   But God promised to bring a new branch out of those stumps and give Israel a new beginning – a day full of hope and joy. 

 

God gives many promises throughout the rest of this chapter – talking about this “Branch” who will come and bring justice and peace and will make a way – right when it seems impossible – He will make a way for His people to come home.

 

            But who is this new branch that God describes?   We know Him as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.   He is the righteous branch – out of the lineage of David - that came to earth to bring hope and peace to Israel AND to you and me.    This is just one out of the 300 prophecies that speak of the coming Messiah – that were fulfilled in Jesus!

 

            God continued to share with Isaiah great promises of hope and deliverance to these people who were going through times of great difficulty and trial.   Turn over to Isaiah 43.   These are so many great words of hope in this chapter.   God tells them that He has not abandoned them – and He will be with them through it all.   He declares His love for them and assures them that He is their Savior.  And look at verse 13.   He declares that from eternity to eternity, He is God!   And NO ONE can snatch anyone out of His hand.   No one can undo what He has done.  Now, that’s a verse to underline and memorize!!

 

            And then, look down at verse 18.   God has more promises for Israel – and for us!   Promises that He is going to do something great, in His time.  We are to forget all the former things – all those dead parts of our lives, those times of hopelessness – and see that God is going to do something new in us!   He says: “See I have already begun!  Do you not see it?  I will make a pathway through the wilderness.   I will create rivers in the dry wasteland, so my chosen people can be refreshed.”   God will do something new – He will be water to the dry parts of our lives – and bring growth!  He will touch us with hope and a future.

 

            Some of us need to hear that message today.   Maybe your marriage needs a new thing – or your relationship with your kids.   Maybe your spiritual life seems dead and dry – and you need to be refreshed.   Maybe you just need a new attitude this Advent season – to let go of worry and sorrow and hang on to hope and joy in the Lord. 

 

            I believe God can do that!   I believe that God can make a way when there seems to be no way!   Now you might be thinking, “Yeah, right!   That might be a nice thing to say, but I don’t think He can do anything about my situation.   It is just too impossible.  Nothing can change it.”   But I believe that God is at work in your situation right now – even as we speak – no matter how difficult or bleak your situation is.  God can bring new life when and where you least expect it.   I really believe God actually works best in impossible situations. 

 

            God specializes in showing His power in hopeless situations. There are so many examples of this in the Bible.   Israel was in an impossible place, standing at a Red Sea with the Egyptians advancing upon them…and God made a way, by parting the sea so they could escape on dry land.   (Ex. 13:17-14:31).   A shepherd boy named David stood before a 9-foot giant and God used his sling shot and a smooth stone to conquer him.   And a virgin named Mary was able to conceive a baby through the power of the Holy Spirit…because, as the angel said, “nothing is impossible with God.”

 

            But sometimes we have to wait for God to act in our impossible situations…and trust God’s timing.   We may not always see God’s hand at work – and we may think nothing is happening --- but we have to trust His promises that He is at work wanting to bring us a hope and a future. 

 

            I read about a pastor whose secretary walked into his office, and she found him pacing back and forth.  When the secretary asked what was wrong, the pastor said, ‘I’m in a hurry and God isn’t.3  Have you ever been there?   I know I have.   I’ve wanted a decision made – a situation changed – a direction on which way to go… and it just doesn’t come quickly.   I ask myself, “What is taking so long – where is the answer?   Does God even hear me?

 

            I thought Ron Hutchcraft had a good answer for those questions.   He said, “God is following a careful process, largely invisible to you, that will bring glory to Him and lasting joy to you.  Maybe God is taking time to get you ready for the answer!   It’s very possible God wants to use this waiting time to recreate you into someone who has mountain-moving faith – or to give you time to make some changes.  Or perhaps God may be taking time to get the answer ready for you – a person or a position, some needed resources or an open door.   But God is working.”4   Just like flower seeds and tree roots that lie dormant throughout the winter – will all the sudden germinate and grow as the season starts warming up.   And then all the sudden, one day, you see that bud pop out or the flowers bloom…exactly at the right time.   We need to trust God’s timing – even when it seems late.  

 

 And what is absolutely vital for our lives is that we hold on to hope.   It is hope in God’s promises that will keep us going!   We don’t know what the future will bring – but we do know who holds the future and that our lives are in His hands.  We are told in Scripture that God never changes – He is the same yesterday, today and always --- and that He ALWAYS keeps His promises.  Hebrews 6:17-19 says:

 

17 God also bound himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that he would never change his mind.18 So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. 19 This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.

 

We have to cling to that promise like an anchor.   And let that anchor sink down to the very depths of our souls and shape who we are – how we respond and react to all of life’s twists and turns.

 

Eugene Peterson holds on to this anchor of hope and says:   I don’t know one thing about the future. I don’t know what the next hour will hold. There may be sickness, accident, personal or world catastrophe. Before this day is over I may have to deal with death, pain, loss, rejection. I don’t know what the future holds for me, for those I love, for my nation, for this world. Still, despite my ignorance and surrounded by tinny optimists and cowardly pessimists, I say that God will accomplish his will, and I cheerfully persist in living in the hope that nothing will separate me from Christ’s love.”5 

 

That’s the good news of Christmas.   We have a Savior – the gift of Emmanuel – “God with us” and nothing can separate us from His love.   We can have hope when we look to Him and hang on to His promises.

 

Keep your eyes on that branch that came out of the stump of Jesse.    That branch became the cross of Jesus.  You can look to that tree that Jesus was crucified on and have hope!  Because of His death – we have hope of eternal life!  It is God who can resurrect – He can bring life out of death – victory out of failure.  A comeback from defeat.   No matter how hopeless you feel, you have hope in Jesus.    Keep looking to the branch!

 

Let us pray:

 

PRAYER & INVITATION

 

RESOURCES:

 

1Homiletics,  October-December 1992.   Volume 4, Number 4.   Page 40.  “Christ the Apple Tree”, Second Sunday in Advent, Year A.

 

2Park Vision, Yellowstone National Park.

http://www.shannontech.com/ParkVision/Yellowstone/Yellowstone17.html 

3I can’t remember where I found this story…however I did find it attributed to Philip Brooks, as quoted in a sermon by Vernon Carruthers entitled, “When You are in a Hurry and God

            Isn’t”, found on www.sermoncentral.com

4Ron Hutchcraft.  “Why It’s Taking So Long”.  

            https://hutchcraft.com/a-word-with-you/your-hard-times/why-it-s-taking-so-long-7775

5Eugene H. PetersonGod's Message for Each Day: Wisdom from the Word of God