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
When my children were little, I was looking for a way to guide them into healthy ways of thinking and being without being punitive or constantly having to scream at them. I began to read about parenting with grace and found lots of different ideas on how to go about participating with Christ in my children’s growth and maturity.
It was a struggle because I was a single mom. I didn’t have the luxury of saying, “Just wait till your father gets home!” I was the one who had to call the shots and draw the lines in my home if I wanted my children to have the benefits of living in unity with who they are in Christ. I have two strong-willed children who are very intelligent and gifted in their own way. It was a challenge to keep ahead of them on so many levels.
I’ve tried a lot of different tactics over the years, but for a while one of the practices I came upon was that of a family charter. I sat my children down and together we came up with a list of rules for the house that had to do with respect. It was important to me that my children learn to respect God, themselves, each other, the authorities in the world around them, and their belongings.
These house rules were pretty simple and had consequences that the children picked out themselves. Once we had agreed on the important things to bring peace, kindness and harmony to the family, we would each sign the charter.
If I felt things were getting out of hand at home, we would meet again to discuss the charter. Occasionally we might make some changes. The consequences might very from one family meeting to the next, but most just stayed the same.
One of the things we agreed upon was that we would guard our tongues. We agreed that we would not use foul language in our home, or say things that were nasty and hurtful to each other. My children decided the appropriate consequence for violating another family member’s ears and heart with unkind words or foul language was to clean the toilet. My children would take great delight in catching me using a mild expletive because then I would have to do toilet duty. Of course, they didn’t have equal delight in being caught themselves.
After a while my children became frustrated with the family charter and no longer seemed to need it to guide their everyday behavior. So I did not use it in the same way, though I left it up for a while as a way of reminding us of what we valued as a family.
But I have often reflected on the whole idea of joining together as a family to agree to live together in harmony, peace and kindness. Is not this the definition of “koinonia”—of the “perichoresis” that God calls us to live in with the Father, Son and Spirit?
To teach my children to live in harmony with others in a way that involves love in unity, diversity and equality is to teach them to live within the truth of who they are as children of God. This is to teach them to live in agreement with who they are as God’s children, made in his image, redeemed by Christ, and filled with the Holy Spirit. To live in harmony with who we are as God’s children is to live in the truth of God’s kingdom here on earth even now through Christ and in the Spirit.
So when we begin to turn the air blue around us with foul expletives, or we begin to slide into some other form of hurtful behavior, we need to reconsider just who we are affecting with our words and behavior. Jesus said that what we do to one another, we do to him.
If indeed we sit in heavenly places in Christ right now, as Paul said, and we already have been brought out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light, then everything we say and do is somehow bound up in Christ. For in God, through Christ and in the Spirit, we live and move and have our being.
Changing the way we act and talk is not a simple thing we can do if we just try hard enough. It is much more effective to begin to grow in awareness of Christ in us and in others, and to come to realize and live in accordance with the reality of the Spirit’s constant presence in us and with us. This is the spiritual discipline some people call “practicing the presence.”
This discipline involves being sensitive to God’s real, abiding presence with us each and every moment of every day, and engaging God in constant conversation as we go about our daily activities. The mundane activities of life begin to have a different tone when we do them in God’s presence, knowing he is aware of every nuance of thought, feeling and desire.
We also become more and more aware of the real presence of God in one another. We begin to see Christ in our neighbor and the Spirit of God at work in people we didn’t used to consider being “good” people. We begin to experience the real presence of God in everyday experiences and conversations. This is the kingdom life.
This is living in the reality that we are already participants in the kingdom of God. We already share in God’s kingdom life with one another—unless we choose to continue to participate in the kingdom of darkness. And we all know the consequences of continuing to live in the darkness of sin and death—because we see them being realized all around us, and even in our own lives. And we know the pain and horror that goes with them.
Jesus Christ is the gate to the kingdom of God, and his Spirit of life flows through us all. May we all live in this truth of our being, in grace, peace and harmony with one another. May God’s kingdom be fully realized here on earth as it is in heaven. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
Thank you, Holy Father, for binding us together with you in love through Jesus and by your Spirit. Grant us the grace to live in the truth of our being, in the harmony, grace and peace you bought for us in your Son. May we live in warm fellowship and love with you and one another forever, through Jesus Christ our brother and by your precious Holy Spirit. Amen.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:4–7 NASB
By Linda Rex
This morning my pastor friend Carrie and I were driving up I-65 as the sun was coming up. As the sky turned glorious colors of gold, orange and blue streaked with purple and gray clouds, I felt God’s presence and peace in the wonder of a new day dawning.
I thought about the conversations I had had recently with Mom when we talked about what it would be like to live in the new world God has for us beyond death. We talked about how Mom would be able to garden to her heart’s content and not have to worry about the weather and the weeds.
For me, saying goodbye to her these past few days was so much like saying, “See you in the morning!” There is the momentary sense of the loss of immediate companionship. But then there is this delightful sense of expectancy, as the mind and heart begin to look forward to a renewal of the relationship and the opportunity to spend more time together doing things we love.
There is an assurance of a future time when we will share sweet companionship together again. This is what the apostle Paul meant when he said that we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Indeed, we have a great hope through Jesus Christ. He has purchased eternity for us, establishing a new humanity through his life, death, resurrection and ascension.
But what about the loss? Doesn’t it hurt?
Yes, actually it does. And how much it hurts and how we deal with that hurt is unique to each of us. For we each grieve our losses and experience our relationships in our own particular ways. Grief is not a one-size-fits-all process.
And how our losses occur and what those losses actually are in our lives is specific to each person in each situation. That means that for some people grieving a significant loss may be a simple and easy process, where others may grieve in a very complex and difficult way because of grief over unresolved losses in the past, or because of complications in the relationship in the past. To compare oneself to another person in how we are affected by our losses is not a wise thing to do.
Sometimes complications in our lives hinder the grieving process. There may be difficult circumstances surrounding our loss of a dear one that may prevent us from being able to deal with our feelings about the loss right away. It may be much later—days or weeks or even years—before we are able to come to the place where we can face the truth of the pain and begin to allow ourselves to feel it, grieve our loss and begin to heal.
As friends and families of those who have experienced a great loss, it is important for us not to be afraid to engage the suffering one in a healthy relationship of comfort, compassion and companionship. What a person who is grieving needs is not instruction, criticism or indifference. The one who has suffered a loss needs to know that they are loved, and that others are sharing in their grief and loss with them. It is important to come alongside them and to offer them our love and support, even if it means just sitting silently with them in the midst of their pain.
I have been very blessed to have family and friends join me and my children in the midst of our loss. I am grateful God brought my mother and me back together after life had taken us away from each other. He redeemed the difficult situations in our home and now I have happy memories to carry with me until I see Mom again. There is much reason for gratitude in the midst of this loss.
So rather than having a great sorrow about losing Mom, right now I am feeling comfort and peace. Perhaps that will change later when life slows down and I can truly grieve the loss of the mother who invested so much in my life. Meanwhile I am looking forward to that new morning when the sky will be even more glorious than anything I saw today. May it come soon!
Heavenly Dad, I am grateful that we are not alone in the midst of our losses, but we have you and each other to carry us through. Thank you that in the Spirit, you and Jesus join with us in our suffering, offering us comfort, peace and hope. Lord, lift us up. Enable us to find and live out the new life you have in mind for us as we let go of the past and our loved ones, and move on into the future. Through Jesus and by your Spirit we pray. Amen.
“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” 1 Corinthians 15:22 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
On top of the two wardrobes opposite my mom’s bed are a group of family pictures. Periodically my mom will lie quietly and gaze at the portraits of the people who are dearest to her. After a while she may remark on how well my dad looked that day in his dark gray suit. And she will ask again whether I have everything ready for when she goes.
All the complications of life have been sifted through and brought down into the simplicity of breathing in and breathing out, of eating and sleeping. There isn’t much to say or do any more that hasn’t already been considered and tossed out as being unimportant or unnecessary to her present existence.
Through her eyes I can see that when it comes down to it, there isn’t anything that really is of earth-shattering importance now when life is down to the basics.
With the little energy that she has left, my mother struggles to make another phone call. Calling her sister to say some last words to her is of paramount importance. She tries to talk to the few people she has left in her life. And cherishes the last moments she has with her family members.
Isn’t it interesting that what matters most to her now is her relationships? It made me think about how often in our lives we give ourselves over to pursuing some dream while our important relationships end up in shambles. We take our spouses for granted and neglect our children because we are caught up in the daily grind of working out the plan of our lives. We forget how transient these opportunities to share God’s love are until one day they are taken from us.
It is good to cling to life, but I’m beginning to ask myself, what is the life I’m clinging to? And what am I doing to seek out that life?
When Jesus prayed to his Father that last night before his death, he said that eternal life was intricately bound up in our knowing of God and of his Son Jesus Christ. He had earlier told his disciples that life comes through our partaking of the body and blood of Christ. There is something very central in Jesus Christ that is integral to our finding and living out true, lasting life.
It’s in the midst of our union with God in Christ that we find life that is meaningful and lasting. In sending his Spirit to us, Christ shared with us his very life and being. We are reminded of this reality when we share with one another during communion in our Eucharistic thanksgiving as we eat the bread and drink the fruit of the vine.
In Christ we are brought near to God and near to one another. There is a connection that goes deeper than even our connections by blood or by community or organization. This union is something than can never be severed, however much we may ignore, deny or neglect it.
It is worthwhile, I am seeing, to pause in the midst of our daily experiences to reflect on how all of us are joined together with God and one another in Christ and by the Holy Spirit. When we make the effort to do this, we may begin to see that some things just don’t really matter in the long run. And we may begin to value the people God has placed in our lives in new ways.
The apostle Paul stressed the importance of setting our minds and hearts on things above rather than on things on the earth. We can focus on temporary belongings and activities that in the end will come to nothing. We can value importance, power, money, and a million other things that will not follow us beyond death. Preoccupied with all this, we can miss the very things that give life its depth and meaning, and that will last on into eternity.
As another day draws to a close, I am comforted by the thought that even though there are a lot of things in my life I would like to have and don’t, I have a lot of the things that really matter. And for that reason, I find that my best response is simply gratitude. And that’s enough.
We thank and praise you God for life, breath and our human existence, but most especially for all the relationships you have placed in our lives in which we share your love with one another. Grant us the grace to appreciate and cherish them while we can, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” John 17:1–3 NASB
“So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.’” John 6:53–54 NASB