Sunday Sermon – December 22
At the close of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, September 15-17, 1787, James Madison penned these words: “Whilst the last members were signing [the Constitution], Dr. [Benjamin] Franklin, looking towards the president’s chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him, that painters had found it difficult to distinguish, in their art, a rising from a setting sun. ‘I have,’ said he, often and often, in the course of the session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the president, without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting; but now, at length, I have the happiness to know that it is a rising, and not a setting sun.’” The Founding Fathers had accomplished what they had set out to do. With full pains of labor, they had given birth and were seeing the rise of a new nation.
I find the thought of that painting a fascinating one. If you saw the painting of a sunrise, would you know it was a sunrise and not a sunset? Benjamin Franklin struggled with it, too. Is it the beginning or the end of the day? For Franklin, the painting reflected his concerns over the great task set before them. When he was fearful, that painting represented the end; when he was hopeful, that painting represented the beginning. In the end, he decided it was a happy beginning.
During this season of Advent, we’ve been looking at a few of the names the Bible gives to Jesus. Each day you’ve had a different name to read about and discover what God wants to tell you about himself through it. Names mean something. This morning we‘re taking up the name Alpha and Omega, given to Jesus at several points in Revelation.
Revelation 1:8 says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” This verse uses a way of the old Rabbis for describing the completeness of something. Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, so they mean “beginning and end.” In this case, they represent the whole of time. It’s akin to saying Jesus was there in the beginning, he’s here now, and he’ll be there in the end. Or, to put it simply, Jesus has always existed.
A similar thought is found in Isaiah 44:6-8 where it says, “6 This is what the Lord says—Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. 7 Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come—yes, let them foretell what will come. 8 Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.” The first and the last; the Alpha and the Omega.
So let me connect this name, the Alpha and Omega, to what it is saying for us this Christmas. It means “hope.” It means it doesn’t matter whether the sun is rising or setting because Jesus is there at the beginning, the middle and the end. He is the Alpha and Omega.
During the second world war November 1942, as Hitler’s Luftwaffe had invaded English skies, Britain was feeling the dread of his enlarging shadow. The country was asking the question “How long can they endure the unrelenting darkness of their situation?” Prime Minister Winston Churchill needed to answer that question. What could he say to give the people hope and courage? On November 10th, he addressed a worried audience at the Lord Mayor’s Day Luncheon. Slowly and in his own particular style, he spoke these immortal words:
“Now is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” This is the state of humanity. Now is not the beginning but it also not the end. We can see neither but we have hope because Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, was, is and is to come. He’s been there, he’s here, and he will be there at the end.
Christmas is about hope. The name Ebenezer Scrooge is synonymous with Christmas ever since Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. Scrooge is a man incapable of joy. He is rich, but lives alone in squalor. He takes pleasure in nothing and is indifferent to human suffering. On Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by a series of ghosts who take him on a journey of insight into his own character. They show him his sin. The ghost of Christmas future is the most shocking vision of them all. In a desolate graveyard, the spirit’s bony finger points Scrooge toward a headstone. Scrooge is commanded to wipe the snow off and read the name carved on it. The name is his own. Weeping and shaking, Scrooge pleads with this spirit: “Are these the shadows of things that will be… or are they the shadows of things that may be only? Why would you show me this if I was past all hope? Tell me that I may sponge out the writing on this stone.” Can the past be removed? Humanly speaking, it’s impossible. This is the human predicament. We are chained to our pasts, to things done and undone that cannot be changed. “What is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.” Ecclesiastes 1:15, NIV. The misdeeds of the past are like chains. Our sin is carved in stone- or so it seems. Scrooge awakens from his vision and discovers he is not dead. He still has time, the end may change. At the end we see that Ebenezer Scrooge had joy. Nobody knew how to celebrate Christmas like Ebenezer Scrooge.
With Scrooge we see hope. We see the ability to make his name mean something else. While Scrooge is still a name that means a person bereft of joy at a time when joy should abound, the name Ebenezer actually means “stone of help.” It shows up 1 Samuel 7:12 where, upon God moving on Israel’s behalf to defeat the Philistines, Samuel sets up a stone at Mizpah as a memorial. The verse says, “12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”” The Ebeneezer is lifted up as a reminder of the hope we have in God’s faithfulness. Ebeneezer Scrooge, then, grows into his name by the end of the book. He is helped by God to see the errors of his past that he may see joy in the future.
In this morning’s devotional, my dad writes about the names Stacy and I are giving our soon-to-be-born son. The names we have chosen have special meaning for us. Matthew means “gift of God,” which is exactly what he is. He is a long-awaited miracle and answer to prayer. His middle name is Brian, the name of my best friend who died of cancer a few years ago. In the devotional my dad writes, “The names chosen are descriptive of something they hope will have an impact on how this little one will grow up. Will he grow into his name?” I love this thought and it’s absolutely true here. Matthew could do far worse than to grow up like Brian because Brian loved Jesus. He was all about Jesus and my hope for Matthew is that he will come to know Jesus early and walk with Him all his days. My hope is that Matthew will share the hope of God like Brian did. I hope he will indeed grow into his name. But more than that, I hope he will grow in the name of Jesus.
Christmas is a time of hope. Advent looks forward to the next coming of Christ by reminding us of the hope he brought when he came the first time as that little baby lying in manger. All of Israel looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. He was to be their hope, but so few recognized him when he came. But he did come and that same hope is now passed along to us.
1 Peter 1:3-12 says, “3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
“10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.”
Without Jesus, what kind of hope is offered? Gilbert Beeken said, “Many see only a hopeless end, but the Christian rejoices in an endless hope.” Jesus can do what he came to do – and he can do it completely. That little baby came to die for your sins and redeem your soul for Heaven. He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. He was, He is and He is to come. He is your Living Hope.