FOR ADVENT: Hope
By Linda Rex
I recall a conversation I had a while back with a beautiful lady who has seen the struggles and difficulties of life. She had recently experienced the cruelty of unjustly losing her livelihood after having worked very hard to finally have her own home and to pay off all her bills. When she was finally starting to see some light in her dark life, she was knocked down again.
In the midst of this situation, the one thing she needed, she said, was to have some glimmer of hope. She needed to be able to believe that there was a good reason to go through another day, to try one more time to do things in a way that was honorable and ethical in the midst of a culture that told her to take the easy route of dependency, addiction and sloth.
To tell her to keep believing, to insist that she try one more time, was not enough. She had reached the end of her resources—there wasn’t anything left inside to carry her, and there wasn’t anything left outside in her life to lift her up. She felt all alone, forgotten, unloved, and unwanted. She felt a deep sense of despair. Nothing could help her.
Or so she thought. It was in the midst of this place that she encountered the living Lord.
How Christ comes to meet us in the midst of our despair and darkness is unique to each of us. He met his people Israel in a time when they despaired of ever hearing from God again—a time when they were held in the grip of a pagan government which disrespected their heritage and their God. And he came to them in a form they never expected—a tiny, helpless infant lain in a manger by a common carpenter and his bride.
One of the ways Christ came to this lady in despair was in the people of faith he began to place in her life. These particular people began to share life with her, expressing God’s love for her in various ways.
They did not always do what she expected. They did not pay her bills or take care of her problems the way she wanted them to. But they did provide her with love and concern and prayer. They did provide her with the means to better her life and to grow as a human being into greater Christlikeness. It turns out that through them and through the Word of God, they gave her what she needed most—hope in the midst of her despair. They introduced her to Jesus Christ.
Christ is our hope in the midst of despair. He is that divine Word from the Father of Lights who entered our humanity and joined us in the midst of our human depravity and our broken world. He even “became sin for us,” taking on that very thing that keeps us in our despair and brokenness. And he died our death and rose from the dead, giving each of us a new life, a hope in the midst of despair.
In sending the Holy Spirit, God through Christ, made a way for us to begin to experience the kingdom life even now in the midst of our broken and sinful world. We are able to interact with God in a real way through our union with God in Christ and our communion with God and one another in the Spirit. Through Christ and by the Spirit we are able to experience a living, ongoing relationship with God himself, coming to hear and understand the living Word of God personally, and having God’s way of being written on our hearts and minds.
This means that Christ becomes and is a real part of our day-to-day existence. As we respond to his nudges by the Holy Spirit, we come to experience healing, hope and change in our lives. Things don’t always get better immediately as far as our circumstances may go, but somehow that doesn’t matter so much to us anymore.
In the midst of our struggles and dark places, God begins to shed his light. We begin to have a new perspective. We begin to see and experience possibilities when there were none before. God brings us into relationships that are healing, helpful and restorative. He begins to work change in our lives.
But God doesn’t do this all by himself. He calls us to participate with him in this transformation. We can continue to wallow in despair if we wish, and deny the real grace God offers us in the midst of our suffering and grief. We can cling to our darkness if we wish—God allows us to do that. But he calls us out of it and offers us himself, through Christ and by his Spirit, as a means of lifting us up and transferring us from darkness and despair into light and life.
As participants in God’s light and life, we need to be sensitive to the work the Spirit is doing to draw others out of despair and darkness. We are called by God to share with others the Word of life we have been given. We can give them a real hope in the midst of despair when we introduce them to Jesus Christ and show them God’s real love and compassion.
We come into their lives the way God in Christ entered ours—humble, insignificant, and truly human. We share the mundane parts of our existence with them, along with the relationship we have with our heavenly Father through Christ his Son and by his Spirit. We give what we can to help them become the children of God they were created to be, so they can also be full participants in God’s love and life. This is our participation in what Jesus is doing in the world today.
Offering someone just a little bit of hope may seem trivial. We may think we have to accomplish great things in the world or become well known for our Christian faith and piety. But the simple gift of hope can be life-transforming and healing in more ways than we could ever imagine. Just ask someone who has received it.
Lord, thank you for coming into our world and joining us in our humanity and our brokenness, and for healing us from the inside out. Thank you that you offer each of us hope in the midst of our despair. Do not leave us here in our dark places, but please come to us and lift us up into your arms of love and life. Make us compassionate to others who need the gift of hope. Through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, …” Psalm 146:5 NASB
by Linda Rex
There are two final goodbyes that are on my mind this morning. They are completely different one from one another, and yet they are in many ways one and the same. Saying goodbye for the last time to two people who played such an integral part in forming me as a person has truly stretched me and forced me to rethink many things about what really matters in life.
Etched in my mind is the day when I received a frantic phone call at work from my mom that my dad had collapsed outside at home while trying to meet the UPS delivery man to receive a package. An ordinary snowy day turned into a crisis at the hospital with Mom and I watching as the emergency room personnel frantically tried to shock my dad’s heart back to life. When it became obvious that their efforts were fruitless, we saw the life ebb from his body as Dad passed from this life to the next.
Night before last as I sat with my Mom, holding her hand and watching her taking her last breaths, I thought about how different these scenarios were. Dad had passed so quickly, not making any effort to hang on to life but rather having life pass from him so rapidly that it could not be clung to. But here Mom was sucking in each breath as though it was an elixir. Her life did not pass away without a difficult struggle.
But in each case there came a time when there was just no life left in the human body. My parents exited this life and went on into the next. What their life looks like now, I’m not totally sure. I just know that the life they have now is much better than what they had here on earth.
A little while ago I wandered into the room where Mom spent her last moments. In my mind’s eye, I could still see her lying in the hospital bed and I felt again the hush that came with trying to keep the house quiet so she could rest in peace. Even though she is gone, I still feel her presence here with me.
Is it mystical to believe that somehow she and I are still connected? That Dad is somehow still a part of my life today?
I cannot grieve with deep, wrenching sorrow because I have such a comfort in knowing they aren’t gone forever but are still living, each held in Christ’s love for all eternity. Jesus, in taking on our humanity, has connected us all in himself, holding fast to each of us in himself in such a way that we do not fade back into nothingness when we die, but rather transition into a new life he created for us when he rose from the dead so many millenia ago.
So even though I feel the separation and miss the daily conversations, I have such peace in knowing they are so much better off now without the restraints of this temporary existence. There was so much about this life and this culture that grieved them—they longed for the day when Christ would come and deliver them from this evil world. And now they are free from it all. How can I wish they were back here with me?
Even though in those last moments it seemed as though all of heaven and earth paused and held its breath, time moved on and my parents are no longer with me. The sun still came up in the morning and went down at night as the earth rotated on its axis. The universe doesn’t cease to continue on its path when someone passes on.
I’d like to hold on to my loved ones, but I can’t stay here in this place forever. Now decisions need to be made—where do we go on from here? How do we move on? I know that my parents would not want us to stay stuck here in our grief, but to take instead the next meaningful steps in our lives. What’s that going to look like? I don’t know. But I face the future with some anticipation and with a hint of sorrow on the side.
I just know that after all we’ve been through in caring for Mom in her last days and in saying goodbye to her and Dad, I will never be the same again. Everything they ever said and did is somehow a part of who I am today. And as I go through life, it will continue to influence my choices and decisions as I participate in their humanity through my memories of them, and the genetics and personality that we have in common.
The apostle Paul wrote that we do not grieve as those who have no hope because we know that death is not the end. We will see our loved ones again.
And it is also true that we share in a real way through Christ in their life even now. We have been bound together with them in so many ways. Death cannot and does not separate us from one another.
For me, saying goodbye in this transition from life into death is more like saying, “I’ll see you in the morning.” There is a new morning where we will see each other again. So rather than there being an end to our relationship, there is an anticipation and expectancy of seeing each other and sharing life in a new way in a new place. And that is something to look forward to rather than looking backward with regret.
So in saying goodbye to my parents, I am sad, yes. I miss them both terribly. But I want to focus on the time when I will see them again. And I want to experience the comfort and real presence of having them with me now through Jesus and our connection in the Spirit. In this way by God’s grace I can find peace in the midst of great loss. And I thank God for making this possible in Jesus and by his Spirit.
Thank you, Heavenly Father, that in the midst of loss and grief we still have hope. Thank you for connecting us to one another and with you through your Son Jesus Christ and in the Spirit so that when we experience death we can know that there is still a day ahead of us when we can be with our loved ones again. You are so compassionate and understanding! We praise and thank you in Jesus. Amen.
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13–14 NA
by Linda Rex
Some parents come up with the most unusual ways of having fun with their kids. One such crazy idea often suggested for April Fool’s Day is to have a “Backwards Day”. On this day, everything would be done backwards—clothes are put on backwards, people walk backwards, and so on. Of course, there are limits to what’s practical, but it puts a real wacky spin on everything when you try to do it all backwards.
I think our expectation that certain things go only one direction affects us in more ways than just how we put our clothes on in the morning. It also affects the way we think about God and each other, and how we approach living our daily lives.
For example, when we believe that the spiritual dimension does not exist, or that it exists totally apart from the physical dimension we experience moment by moment, then believing in any god or a god who truly loves us is very difficult. That side of our existence isn’t something that is tangible, that can be seen, felt or heard in the way we normally hear, see or experience things.
From our point of view, and from this side of the story, it is next to impossible to have any comprehension of some reality other than our own. This is because the spiritual dimension is so completely other than us. It is non-human and seems to exist apart from us. Looking from our perspective, we can believe the spiritual realities don’t exist at all.
And yet, there is an inner sense in most of us that there is much more to this life than just what we see and experience in our daily lives. We often feel drawn to something beyond us, to a greater good and a greater life than what we have at the moment. The incredible beauty of a glowing sunset, the tinkling sound of a babbling brook and the majesty of a snow-covered summit all point to something tremendous and wonderful. John Eldredge, in his books, calls these glimpses of heaven, of the Garden of Eden that was once ours.
It is as though something inside us is calling us to a deeper reality—a life beyond this human existence. And yet, our concepts of a life beyond this life are too often just the idea of a heaven where we fly away into some spiritual bliss, floating above the clouds and playing harps or being absorbed into a nebulous ethereal oneness.
But the writers of the New Testament scriptures present a different picture. They say a tangible change took place, and takes place even now, in our human existence. It’s a change not only in our being as humans, but also in all of the created cosmos. It has to do with the permanent union between all that is spiritual and all that is human and created by God.
If indeed the One who is spiritual and eternal and totally other than us entered our human existence and become one of us as a human being, lived among us, died as we died and then lived again, then humanity has a whole new basis for its existence. Death is no longer the end, but rather the ushering in of a whole new way of being. All that it means to be human is no longer the same.
Now we have new possibilities. That which is wholly other than us, which is supreme self-giving love and mercy, is now a part of our humanity. We are capable now, because of that divine life within us by the Spirit, of being truly loving and merciful. No longer should we say that we are powerless before anything that binds or destroys us—because we carry within us the new humanity Jesus Christ labored so hard to give us, and we are joined with one another in a true oneness and unity that is beyond our physical humanity.
This means there are new possibilities in our relationships. When there is hostility, division, anger, resentment—we can step back and realize that we share a common humanity and that there is something, rather Someone, within that person who is also within us. We can find within us the capacity for mercy, compassion and kindness that never existed before. The source of these things is the same Source of our human existence and he shares with us everything we need to be the human beings we were meant to be—so we may be a true reflection of the Divine One.
We can go through life believing that none of this is true. We can live as though there are no spiritual realities that are fundamental to our existence. But when we do that we are missing out on real life—we are living in an empty way that will come to an abrupt end when we die. At death, when we come face to face with the One who even now bears our glorified humanity, what will we say? How will we cope with the reality of living eternally within the scope of human existence determined by Jesus Christ?
If we are living that life now—living daily and moment by moment in an ongoing relationship with the One who lives his life in us through the Spirit—then the transition will be joyful and pleasant. We will be thrilled and excited about the possibilities ahead of us.
If we refuse to believe and receive the spiritual realities that exist for us in Jesus Christ, death for us will be quite a shock, especially when we realize that the only things we can carry into the next life are our relationships with God and each other and the quality of the character God has been able to work into our nature. Our blindness to the spiritual realities will leave us in a dark void—like the utter blackness Jesus describes. Our God, who is a consuming fire, will in his great love for us, refuse to leave us in our darkness and separateness, so his work to transform us and bring us into communion with him will seem much like a scorching flame to those who refuse to believe.
But what does any of this have to do with everyday life? With playing silly games with our kids? With trying to pay our bills and with keeping our marriage strong?
All of life can be lived even now in view of the spiritual realities that are ours in Jesus. We are already able to participate in a personal relationship with the God who made us and redeemed us. And we are able, even now, to experience the benefits of that relationship through prayer and through the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives and relationships. We have God’s wisdom for daily decisions, and God’s power to change our circumstances and to provide for our needs. And that’s a great way to live!
Thank you, Lord, for the new life we have available to us even now in Jesus Christ and by your Spirit. Awaken us to the spiritual realities, to your indwelling presence. Show us all the ways you are working in us and in our world to transform and heal and guide us. Through Jesus and by your Spirit we pray. Amen.
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
by Linda Rex
One of the great themes of Jesus’ preaching and life was death and resurrection. Normally we think of these things in terms of having our life come to an end and then being raised to live eternally with Christ. The apostle Paul wrote about this in his epistles (1 Thess 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:20-58).
But Paul also emphasized the reality that we participate even today in Christ’s death and resurrection. He said “I die daily.” (1 Cor 15:31) We have a connection with Christ’s death and resurrection that impacts much more than just our future in eternity with God. It also impacts how we live each moment of each day.
There was a young man who was very wealthy. He ran up to Jesus and asked him what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. He had done all the requirements the Jews understood to be in the law, and yet he was thinking there was still something else he needed to do. Jesus went to the core of the issue by addressing the one thing this young man was drawing his life and self-worth from—his wealth.
Jesus told him to sell all he owned, to give the proceeds to the poor and to begin following him. He touched him at the very core of his self-reliance, self-absorption and told him to die to what mattered most to him—himself—and to trust fully in Jesus Christ for all the essentials of his life. And the young man turned and walked away. (Mark 10:17-22)
Death and resurrection. God never stops calling each of us away from drawing our life and value and meaning from our physical existence, material substance and self-effort. He keeps drawing us away from all this into a personal relationship with himself in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.
At no time did Jesus call this young man to follow a certain list of do’s and don’t’s, although he did acknowledge his efforts to live according to the law. What he did call him into was a relationship in which the man would follow and obey Jesus, sharing life with Jesus day by day, drawing his sustenance, worth and value from outside of himself in God and pouring it out in service to others as Jesus ministered to the poor, sick and needy.
What he called the young man into was a sharing in the perichoretic life of self-giving. God created us in his image to share in the circle of self-giving between the Father, Son, and Spirit. But from the beginning, humans have been and have become self-absorbed and self-centered. The feeding and protecting of the black hole of self is the way of death not the way of eternal life.
Jesus died our death, rose again and ascended, sending the Spirit of the Father to us so that we could and would be free from our broken sinful selves. He gives us his life, the perichoretic other-centered life of God, pouring it out into us so we have a new Source and Center for our existence. We no longer depend upon our efforts, our strength, our faith, our goodness, but depend solely upon Jesus Christ. He is and becomes our life.
God gives us a new life, a new body, and a new way of thinking and being. Through the Spirit he gives us a sharing in his life. We can continue our frantic efforts to live on our own under our own power. We can continue the path that leads to death—death of relationships, death of our dreams and hopes, death of people and possibilities. Or we can turn away from all these things, put our trust in Jesus, and begin to live a new life in him, living and walking in the Spirit.
Through Jesus Christ God sets us free to be this new person. He gives us a new life. We can participate in this new life that is ours, living in fellowship or communion with God in Christ, or we can continue in our old ways of being. But our old way of being is not who we really are—it is a lie. That life, that being died when Christ died and rose when Christ rose. God calls us to give up the old and live in the new because that is who we are.
We are people who are held in the midst of God’s love and life. We are—as Jesus is—loving, giving, caring, serving people. We are—as Jesus is—humble, honest, gentle people. We are—as Jesus is—faithful, sincere, kind people. Jesus Christ lived the life we are to live, and he lives in us through the Holy Spirit. We can resist the Spirit’s work of transformation, or we can participate in Christ’s death and resurrection by responding to what the Spirit is doing to make us into the people God has declared us to be. We quit our efforts at being ethical people under our own power and allow God by his Spirit to make us into Christlike people. We participate in Christ.
This is all God asks of us—to live in relationship with him, participating in Jesus’ perfect response to the Father of filial obedience and love. We awaken by the Spirit to the reality that God is at work in us and all around us, bringing this dead world and our dead selves into a new way of living and being—bringing in his kingdom in its fullness each and every moment. And we get to be a part of that process. What more could we ask for? For this is eternal life.
Our loving God, thank you for this precious gift of life in the midst of our death and dying. Grant each of us the grace to receive and live out this perfect gift of your Son in the Spirit, so we may reflect and participate in your perfect self-giving nature and love as you desire us to. We trust and praise you that you will not quit until this is so for all of us. Through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’” Mark 10:21 NASB