Welcome to the first Sunday of Advent. What an amazing season it is as we journey together toward Christmas. The word advent is a version of a Latin term which means coming.”  So we use these weeks leading up to Christmas as a chance to look forward to our celebration of the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, the light of the world, our Savior.

 It’s a journey of the heart and soul, but it’s also a journey that will realign our expectations and experience of the Christmas season. And it’s a journey that will explore the gifts of Christmas delivered by and through Christ: hope, love, joy, and peace. We all need hope in the storms of life and love that never gives up. We need fresh joy on our journey and peace no matter what we’re facing or dealing with.

Our journey and series will center on the star as our guiding light. As we embark on this journey this Advent season, I want to encourage all of us to look for the light.

As we’ll explore, it is a time to prepare, maybe to pause and to ponder, to breathe deeply and turn our eyes to the true meaning of this time of year—a season that can seem so hectic and stressful in our culture.

Will you journey toward Bethlehem, drawn by hope for the love, joy, and peace that await?

Is that a difficult vision for you? Does your night seem cloudy? Is your Christmas season overwhelmed already by any number of struggles: financial stresses, relational dysfunctions, memories of loss, commercialized expectations? We’ve all been there at some time or another. We may be there now in some form or another.

But let me encourage you—that’s exactly where hope shines brightest. How do we follow the star on a journey of hope? How can we purposefully live this season of anticipation in light of hope?

I’d like to suggest it starts with acknowledging the darkness around us, embracing the wait, and committing to the journey.

1. Acknowledge the Darkness

I have here with me a flashlight. Right now it doesn’t seem too exciting. It’s actually kind of hard to even see the light it puts out. However, if we found ourselves in complete darkness, we might feel very differently about this little gadget.

It’s kind of amazing that God chose a star to guide the wise men to Bethlehem.

God’s glory is seen in the stars. But the thing about stars is they can’t be seen in the light. In fact, they are seen best on the darkest of nights, away from the lights of the city. The darker the setting, the brighter the starlight.

This time of year, holiday glitz can artificially light our lives. Or we may seek out our own flashing distractions to try to distract us from the gnawing darkness within. But facing the darkness and calling it what it is allows us to see true light. It’s when we acknowledge the darkness that we can see the star that leads us on the journey.

As we journey together toward Christmas this Advent season, let’s be honest about the darkness we find ourselves in—

We live in a world full of darkness and fear, but it is into that great darkness that an even greater star appears to light the way.

The Bible tells us that it was also a pretty dark time for the people of Israel when Jesus showed up. The Old Testament prophets had prophesied of a Messiah, but it had been a long wait—hundreds of years of waiting.

The People of Israel lived in that space between promise and fulfillment.

They were desperate for a deliverer. Honestly, many of them thought God had forgotten them, especially as they lived under Roman oppression in the time of Herod.

Today we share that common experience of darkness and desperation. Nothing can rescue us except God. And the beauty of the journey of hope is that we see, in what seems to be the darkest hour, God shows up. We can find and continue to draw hope, knowing that Jesus entered our darkness that first Christmas.

It’s not an instant process, but it’s a real process that gives us what we need through the journey.

2. Embrace the Wait                                                          Who likes waiting? Does anyone like waiting?

We live in a culture that does everything possible to reduce the amount of time we spend waiting! I don’t think most of us would do very well living in the days of the Israelites. The people of Israel in the Bible knew all about the long wait.

Since Genesis, in the very first book of the Bible, when sin entered the world, we see that God offered the promise of hope. In Genesis 3:14–15, God cursed the serpent that tempted Eve and said that through her offspring will come one who will crush the serpent.

This was Jesus, the source of hope from the very beginning. God had a plan of hope from the start. But constrained by the time of our world, the waiting seemed like forever.

Advent is a time of waiting. While it feels unnatural, there is great benefit in embracing this season as we anticipate the coming of Jesus. The waiting reminds us of where our hope is set. It allows us the time and focus to hear the distant rumble of thunder, the promise that our hope will be fulfilled.

And while we wait to celebrate Jesus’s birth, we also wait for our true hope to be fulfilled when Jesus comes again. This will be the ultimate fulfillment of our deepest hopes.

We still live in the space between the already and the not yet. And so our challenge is to embrace the waiting with hope—and to allow that hope to carry us through the wait. You could say that hope fuels our very faith. It draws us onward, giving us expectation that our belief and longing will be fulfilled as God has promised.

Will you seek the light of the star this Advent, no matter how faintly it might first appear to you, and draw hope from its growing light?                                                                                          

3. Commit to the Journey                                                        I don’t know about you, but my natural images of waiting and journeying are different. One involves sitting around; one involves moving. But the concept of waiting throughout the Bible is one of active waiting. We wait with expectant hearts, but we are constantly moving forward on our journey.

Priest, professor, writer, and theologian, Henri J. M. Nouwen described the waiting we see in Scripture as very active. In Waiting for God, he wrote, “Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it.”

That’s not easy! It takes strength and courage, but those we can draw from the very source of our hope. As the psalmist encouraged: “Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord” (Psalm 31:24).

So what does that look like in real life? Peter gave us a glimpse when he said, “Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming” (1 Peter 1:13).

Hope is about waiting, but that waiting involves a commitment to being present in our journey of obedience. Alert, sober—these are words of expectation and active anticipation. The good news in all this is that wherever you are on your journey, it’s okay—keep following God’s light.

Advent is about preparing. You just have to show up and be willing to follow God’s lead.

And He wants to fill your heart with hope for the ultimate healing and life in His Son.

That is a reason for hope that will fuel your journey through Advent and far beyond.