This year is the 40th anniversary of my high school graduation. And when I think of my high school graduating class, I am reminded of how we were full of dreams and possibilities and potential. But then life happens. As I look back with the passage of time, I know that many of the dreams of the people in my class were not fulfilled. Many of us did not end up with the kind of career that we expected. Some in my class have had to deal with serious health challenges. Several of us have had to deal with the loss of a loved one.
And losing a dream has the potential to devastate us because when we lose our dream, we also lose the hope that we had because of the dream.
And it is the loss of hope that crushes our soul. Maybe you have already experienced the loss of hope that comes when a dream dies. If so, I want to encourage you to look to Jesus because he gives us a dream that will never disappoint. Therefore, with Jesus, we always have hope.
As we look at the stories of Zechariah and Mary in Luke 1 we see that both were visited by the angel Gabriel and told that they would be given a very special son who would be conceived in a miraculous way. But there were also significant differences in the lives of Zechariah and Mary. Zechariah had prominence because he was elderly and older people were valued in that society. He had position because he was a priest serving the Temple. He had the right location because he was in Jerusalem, the holy city of God. Mary had none of those advantages. She was a young, poor woman who had neither prominence nor position in her society. She lived in the hick village of Nazareth about which people use to say, “Nazareth, can anything good come from there?”
And yet Mary had one advantage that Zechariah did not have. Mary’s heart was not bitter. On the other hand, Zechariah had lived for years with the dream of having children with his wife Elizabeth because in that society children were considered a blessing from God and they cared for their parents in their elder years. But when Elizabeth lived beyond the normal range of child-bearing years and still not child had come, that dream died. It is normal to grieve the loss of a dream, but when someone gets stuck in their grief and they are unable to move beyond that to trust that God has something good for them in your future, their heart becomes bitter.
Imagine what it was like for Zechariah. In his role as priest, Zechariah prayed on behalf of the people and God had heard and answered other people’s prayers, but not Zechariah’s. And so when Gabriel appeared and told Zechariah the news that he would be a father, Zechariah responded by saying, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.” (Luke 1:18) Cynical bitterness had corroded Zechariah’s heart and now even the appearance of an angel could not move Zechariah to trust God and what he was going to do in Zechariah’s life.
Now the bitterness in Zechariah’s life was not a barrier to God accomplishing what he had in mind through Zechariah. God was going to carry out the dream that he had given to Zechariah. But there was a consequence for Zechariah. Because he would not believe in the dream that God had given, he could not tell anyone about the dream that God had given. Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.” (Luke 1:19-20)
When the angel Gabriel told Mary that she also would have a very special son, Mary said, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” For the longest time, I have asked myself what is the difference between Zechariah’s response and Mary’s, because they sound so similar. But the difference is this: Zechariah was asking for proof and Mary was asking for the process. Zechariah could not believe that what Gabriel told him would happen. Mary believed that what Gabriel told her would happen, but she was wondering how it would happen. And the reason that we know that Mary believed what Gabriel told her is because of the last thing that she said before Gabriel left her. Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” (Luke 1:38)
God replaces lost dreams with new and better ones. And the Ultimate New Dream for all of humanity was given by God through these 2 very special children that were promised to Zechariah and to Mary. Zechariah’s son is John the Baptist who grew up and prepared the people for the coming of the Lord who would save them from the shattered dreams of their own sin and give them a new dream where everything was right in their relationship with God. Mary’s son is Jesus who offers a life full of hope to all people. Because the dream that Jesus offers is life with God where we can know with certainty that we have a God who loves, who is with us and who only wants what is best for us. And though we will suffer for a time, a day is coming when God will bring to fulfillment for us all the countless good things which he has for us, things which we can only dream about now. And the certainty of these good things is greater than the certainty of my hand being at the end of my arm because the promise is being given by the One who created my hand and my arm, so he is able to bring to fulfillment things of which I can now only dream. These things are true because they come from the Great Dream Giver and all of these things—the forgiveness, the relationship and the glorious eternal life are a totally free gift given to you by Jesus.
The question is: Will you trust the One who is giving you this gift? It is easy to trust Jesus on the sunny days when everything seems like you are living your dream and everything is going according to your plan. But the bigger question is: Will you trust in Jesus even when it seems like your dream has been totally shattered?
Dear sisters and brothers, I want to encourage you to hold your own personal dreams loosely because the dreams that come from our own heart might happen, or they might not. But the dream of life with God that Jesus gives us—where we have a close, intimate relationship with him now and where one day everything will be made right, and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, and we will be fully human in a way that will make this life seem like a shadow, and we will stand before Jesus and he will wipe every tear from our eyes—that dream will never disappoint you, that dream will sustain you through all of the ups and downs that you will experience in this life, that dream will keep your heart from becoming cynical and bitter, that dream will keep you open to receiving whatever dream God has for you in this life as he works through you to impact those around you in a way that is going to make an eternal difference in their life.
Dear friends, our hope is not in our dreams. Our hope is in the Great Dream Giver, Jesus. Trust in him and the dream he gives and you will always have hope.