Reasons for Hope
Let’s celebrate Christmas and Easter together – here’s why it makes sense
During 2020 millions of us put celebrations on hold. Milestone birthdays, weddings and even Christmas celebrations were cancelled. Getting back together with friends and family, means those celebrations can take place. Christmas and Easter can be rolled into one massive celebration.
Celebrating Christmas and Easter together makes perfect sense. Jesus Christ is the focus for both festivals. Born around 2,000 years ago in the Middle Eastern town of Bethlehem, Jesus is the person at the turning point of history. We even count our years from his birth.
We know his life story from the eyewitness accounts written by his followers Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Their accounts – known as Gospels – are recognised by historians as authentic records. The four Gospels are available to read in every major language as part of the Bible. They describe what Jesus said and did; how he showed God’s love to people who were marginalised and rejected by others; how he wasn’t impressed by pompous, proud people and, most significantly of all, how he talked about God as his father in heaven.
The Gospels all give detailed accounts of Jesus’ death on a wooden cross just outside Jerusalem, and his resurrection from the dead – the event we celebrate at Easter. When Jesus rose from the dead it made sense of his claim: ‘This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.’ These words were recorded by John, one of Jesus’ closest friends (John chapter 3 verse 16). Because of Jesus’ resurrection, Christians believe that death is not the end. It is possible to have a loving relationship with God now that lasts for eternity.
John’s account of Jesus’ life puts his 33 years into context and explains that Jesus was with God when our world began and when men and women were created in the image of God. Having the image of God as part of human identity is why we experience awe, wonder and intimacy; why we have a sense of purpose in life. We were made to enjoy an intimate relationship with God and to live in harmony with each other and with the natural world.
But we all know that our world is fundamentally flawed and human beings are responsible for so much that is wrong with our world. Jesus’ death on the cross was God’s remedy for all that’s wrong. He lived to show us how we can live at peace with God. He died and rose again to make that possible and to restore our broken relationships.
Through the resurrection of Jesus, God has started a new creation. His purpose is to make all things new and to put an end to guilt, shame, fear and all the damage we have done through our greed, self-centredness and hatred.
When people turn to God, they discover the peace, love and hope he offers as a gift – God’s Christmas and Easter gift, all rolled into one.
Four stories of Hope
Drug-dealing had landed Danny in prison. On release he returned to his old habits selling cannabis and was making lots of money. One of his friends said, ‘You are living like a lottery winner,’ but he felt like a slave to his criminal behaviour. ‘I had no peace inside. I’d got nothing…’he says.
His parents were Christians and he knew that he wanted to make peace with God. One day he sat on his bed and prayed, ‘Jesus, sort me out. Please forgive me. I will follow you, but I need your help.’
When Danny tells his story, he remembers that was the turning point, which was followed by a couple of memorable coincidences. His young son came into the room and said, ‘Daddy, peace at last…’ Three times, Danny asked him what he had said. Then his son brought a children’s story book into the room. Its title was ‘Peace at Last’.
Danny then picked up a Bible his parents had given him, which he had never read. The first words he read were: ‘Stop quarrelling with God! Agree with him and you will have peace at last!’ The words from the Bible book of Job hit home hard for Danny.
From that turning point, Danny knew God had forgiven him and he started to follow Jesus; he has found the peace he was looking for.
Raj was 16 when she tried to kill herself. ‘I started taking these tablets. I just wanted to be dead.’
When her dad found out he said ‘It’s a shame it didn’t work.’ She felt totally unloved.
‘I used to pretend that everything was alright; I pretended a lot, but the reality was that no one really loved me for me – only for what I could do for them.’
When she was alone, her pretences disappeared. One night as she was crying, she heard a voice saying ‘Raj, stop crying’.
‘I knew it was God,’ she says. ‘I felt love. I didn’t really know what love was as I’d never experienced it, but I knew it was love.’
That night, as she felt God’s love for the first time, she found herself forgiving her family for the way she had been treated.
Later, thinking about Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection, she says ‘It just clicked; what Jesus has done for me. He saved me! I wanted to be dead and he gave me life.’
Now, knowing that Jesus gave his life to make it possible for her to know God’s love, she says, ‘I want to live a life that is worthy of the cross.’
Stephen’s parents were broken-hearted when their son was killed in a coach crash in May 1985. Stephen was on a school trip and died along with the coach driver, four other children and a teacher.
‘We were struck at that time how people from church surrounded us,’ John says. They cooked and cared in practical ways while the couple grieved.
John took comfort from knowing that God loved Stephen even more than they did. But Linda recalls, ‘I didn’t have the faith and belief that John had then.’
However, there was a lady in Linda’s fitness class whose words touched her deeply. ‘She put her hand on my shoulder and said “God’s weeping alongside you.” I had never thought about that. Lots of people had said “Why did it happen” “How could God let it happen?” But her saying that made Jesus very real to me.’
Even though they lost their son, they trust that God does have things under control and does know what he is doing, and that gives them hope for now and for eternity.
The beauty of the natural world often inspires people to look for a Creator behind it all. Samuel says he feels closest to God when he’s surrounded by Britain’s beautiful scenery in the Lake District.
‘When I look out and see the Fells and the lakes, it reminds me of the magnificence and majesty of God and how amazing and powerful he is to make all of this happen.
‘It inspires me to think that amid all of this God cares about me; amid all of this great creation God has a purpose and a plan for me.’
When Samuel wanted to be baptised as a Christian he asked for the baptism to take place in Blea Tarn, surrounded by the iconic Lake District scenery. ‘It’s a really lovely location surrounded by all the mountains and the Fells,’ he says. ‘I chose to get baptised there because that’s where I feel closest to God.’
First century baptism
One of the first people to be baptised after Jesus rose from the dead, was an Ethiopian travelling back home from Jerusalem. On the way he met Philip, one of Jesus’ followers, and they talked about Jesus. As a result, the Ethiopian wanted to become a Christian so, when they came to some water, he asked Philip, ‘Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptised?’ The story of Philip and the Ethiopian was written down by Luke, one of the four Gospel writers, in his second book called Acts, which describes how the early church grew dramatically in the first century.
100 copies to give away
We have 100 copies of Mark’s Gospel to give away. This short book, written by a first century follower of Jesus, includes eye-witness accounts of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
To win a copy visit hopeforall.org.uk or send your name and address to Hope for All magazine, 8A Market Place, Rugby, Warwickshire CV21 3DU. Copies are also available to buy from hopetogether.org.uk/shop