Advent 2012: Week 1 - Hope in the one who is promised
Hope in the one who is promised - Isaiah 40:3-5, John 1:6-18
It might be helpful to begin the housegroup meeting by asking each member to share one example of how they have had to maintain faith and hope in the face of adversity in recent life.
Why not then pray together as a group, thanking God for the hope that he gives in Christ, and asking Him to maintain hope in Christ in situations that remain difficult.
If your housegroup worships together using songs or hymns you could sing one or both of the following:
My Hope is built on nothing less
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.
On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.
His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.
In Christ Alone
In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand.
In Christ alone! who took on flesh
Fulness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones he came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied -
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave he rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine -
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand.
The hope of Israel was founded in the promises of God. Throughout the Old Testament we read countless promises made to Gods people, both individually and collectively. From the earliest days of Israel’s existence, day 1 infact, as Abram is called – God makes a promise and Abram looks forward in hope and in faith. As Israel begins a new phase of its life as a nation under the leadership of Moses, God makes a promise and a whole people look forward in hope and faith. As Israel’s national life continues, through ups and downs, (mainly downs it has to be said) God makes promises and his people look forward in hope and in faith.
Q: Why not spend some time looking up some of the promises God made to his people Israel. Are there any particular themes or patterns that emerge?
The promises of God are not idle speculation. Rather they are promises made by one party in covenant relationship to the other party in the relationship. And so they take on great significance as the party who promises is shown to be utterly faithful (Jer 33:20, 25 etc)
The functioning of the covenant between God and his people in the Old Testament can be summarized as follows:
“…when the covenant people transgressed the covenant, failed to listen to God’s voice, and turned aside, national calamity fell upon them. ..The only hope of deliverance was repentence and faith. When they turned from their evil and sought the Lord, he forgave them in his mercy and restored them to the fellowship of the covenant relationship.”
Within the context of this covenant God makes promises to his people.
In our first reading today we read of one such promise made to the covenant people of God. At this point in Israel’s history things were looking bleak. In exile in Babylon God’s covenant people were seemingly living outside of the boundaries of thier special relationship with God.
Given the seriousness of the situation we can easily imagine God’s people asking a series of questions. Was this ‘it’? Were the promises to David worth nothing? Not to mention the promises to Abram, and Moses? Who was really in control of history? Could YHWH be trusted?
Q: Perhaps these are questions that you too have asked? Can you bring to mind and share any particular times in which trusting the promises of God seemed impossible to trust and hope in?
In the face of this crisis the Prophet Isaiah speaks a promise to God’s people. The promise is that the Lord himself will visit his people, and that his visit will be proclaimed by the so far anonymous ‘voice’ who cries out in the wilderness. At a time of despair the promise of the Lord drawing close to his people offered encouragement and hope.
As we read this passage through the lens of the New Testament John the Baptiser immediately comes to mind. Indeed as John began his ministry the parallels are drawn and in all 4 Gospels John’s ministry is inextricably linked to this prophetic call.
Just as Isaiah proclaimed the coming of the Lord to Israel, so John proclaims the coming of the Lord in Christ. Indeed in Christian tradition John the Baptist has been seen as the fulfillment of these words uttered centuries before his birth. It wasn’t that the Gospel writers thought the prophets words had lain dormant for centuries, but that in the coming of Christ, proclaimed by John, the words sprang to life again with a deeper and fuller meaning.
John is linked to this great promise of God to Israel – that he will come and visit his people and bring about their rescue and redemption. John is the herald of the full and final fulfillment of the promise – Jesus Christ, the hope, not just for Israel, but for the whole world.
Just as Israel placed her hope in Isaiah’s promise of God drawing near, and was sustained through a time of real trial and difficulty by the promise, so we place our hope in the one who is promised in the OT scriptures, and the one who came in fulfillment of the promises.
Questions for discussion:
The Old Testament is full of promises from God to his people. Is there a particular promise through which God has encouraged you?
Do you find it easy or difficult to trust God and his promises? Why?
Do you find that the promises of God, and in particular the promise of Christ fulfilled, encourage you to hope? Why?
Are there any situations which you are facing that are particularly difficult, and in which you need to find hope through trusting God and his promises?
John the Baptist proclaimed that the Christ was coming and urged people to respond through repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins. John proclaimed that the promise had been fulfilled, that the hope of Israel was fulfilled.
As we look back in our Christian lives it is very likely that we can identify people who, like John, proclaimed Christ to us and urged us to respond. Maybe in words, maybe in the way they lived their lives – most likely both, as both are required.
Without these ‘proclaimers of Christ’ perhaps we would never have come to know and place our hope in Jesus.
The challenge for us all is to be, like John, a proclaimer of Christ, the one who was promised and the one who has come. There is a tendency sometimes to think ‘that’s for the evangelists’ or ‘that’s for those who are eloquent and gifted’ – but it’s for us all.
As those who have responded to Christ, who know him and love him, we are called individually and collectively to proclaim him and point to him and the hope that he offers following the example of John the Baptist.
Paul in Romans 10:13-15 says:
“…Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on he one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone speaking to them? And how can they speak unless they are sent? As it is written ‘how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Who do you proclaim Christ to in word and action? Is there anyone else to whom you might proclaim Christ? At home, at work, at school, at the squash club, golf club, art group…the list is endless!
As a group spend some time praying for opportunities, boldness and sensitivity in proclaiming Christ. You could pray specifically for people to whom you are already proclaiming Christ.
Perhaps as a housegroup you might like to commit to each person inviting someone to our January Alpha Course or Church Welcome Evening as a way of putting into practice the call to proclaim Christ and point to him?
Our next Welcome Evening is on January 16th and is an ideal event for those who are looking to get involved with Church after a time away, those who are new to the area, or new to church. The evening includes a meal, a chance to meet the senior staff team, and an brief talk about the priorities and structure of St Giles’ and St George.
For more information or to book a place please email: email@example.com
Alpha begins on January 23rd and is a 10 week course exploring the basics of Christian faith. The evening includes a meal, a short talk, and an opportunity to discuss and ask questions in a non-pressurized environment.
For more information or to book a place please email: firstname.lastname@example.org