The Day That Hope Was Born

cross-and-manger-16-12-19Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ 27Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ 29A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  (John 19: 25b-30)

Those midday hours on that day were merciless.  I stood there feeling so helpless, wanting to hold him to cradle him like I did when he was a baby.  At that point, I didn’t know what the outcome would be.  I just knew that he was in pain.  And I needed to get to him.  But the guards were holding us back.  There was nothing that I could do but pray, pray that this would end, pray that God would release him, pray that this would all turn out for some good. Little did I know how good it would be.

In that moment, the memories flooded back.  I thought about that night when the angel came to me.  At first I did not understand. I was afraid.  But something in me compelled me to say yes, to say yes to something that I had no idea how to do.  I thought about that long trip to Bethlehem.  And then when we arrived, the city was packed with people and we had nowhere to go.  It was so scary.  But I never felt like we were alone.  Someone traveled with Joseph and I.  Now I understand.  We were never alone.  And I knew that I was not alone now.  There, there on the cross was God.  But in that moment, I prayed that it still all had a purpose.

None of it seemed real.  At that point, I was questioning why.  Why did all this happen?  Why was I allowed to love him, to look into his eyes and love him if this was how it was going to end?  I wondered if these people standing here with me even thought about the manger, even thought about that holy night.  In hindsight, I know that God was holding ME—when I was holding him and even now.

I wondered if the world would ever understand what it did.  And it began to rain and the wind began to blow.  The skies turned appropriately dark and angry.  And the world began to shake.  Rocks and debris began to slide down the mountain behind us and the wind blew the temple curtain that separated the holy and the ordinary.  In that moment, I thought hope was dying there on the cross.  I realize now that that child I held that Bethlehem night so long ago was hope, a hope that would never die, a hope that would literally spill into the ordinary parts of our lives.  At that point, I thought it had ended.  I know now that our eternity itself was spilling in to our lives.  I know now that that birth so long ago was never for naught.  It was for this—to give hope to a world that could never give it to itself, to give hope to a world that sadly over and over destroys itself, to give hope to a world that doesn’t really understand that it has never been alone.  I know now that hope was born in that manger.  But hope came to be on that cross.  I know now that I was pulled into a story that would have no end, that would birth newness and hope at every turn.  How blessed I truly am!

At the center of the Christian faith is the history of Christ’s passion.  At the center of this passion is the experience of God endured by the godforsaken, God-cursed Christ.  Is this the end of all human and religious hope?  Or is it the beginning of the true hope, which has been born again and can no longer be shaken?  For me it is the beginning of true hope, because it is the beginning of a life which has death behind it and for which hell is no longer to be feared…Beneath the cross of Christ hope is born again out of the depths. (Jurgen Moltmann)

FOR TODAY:  Dare to hope…in spite of everything else.  Dare to hope for that which you cannot know.  Dare to hope beyond what you can see.

Peace to you in this often-hectic week,

Shelli

Hope Despite Evidence to the Contrary

2016-12-02-hope(Advent 2A) 4For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.  5May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”; 10and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; 11and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; 12and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.” 13May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.   (Romans 15: 4-13)

So why do we have these Scriptures?  There are those that will tell you that you need to memorize as many as you can, amassing sort of a mental collection of passages to pull up as we need them.  Well, good luck with that!  I can’t even remember my grocery list unless it’s written down.  There are some that depict that Bible as having all the answers.  Oh come now!  Have you read the accounts of the canonical Gospel writers?  (Not to mention the non-canonical ones—yeah, there ARE more of those writers!)  They can’t even agree on the order in which things happened much less why.  And then there are those that assume that the Bible is the moral code, the list of things you should do and should not do.  How boring would THAT be?  (Yeah, behavior lists also make for profound and exciting reading!)  But, here, the writer Paul says that the Scriptures were written that we might have hope.

For Paul, this hope comes through an awareness and acknowledgment of our shared story.  Hope, then, is realized in community.  None of us have a lock on the truth by ourselves.  Truth comes as we journey through life with others experiencing and balancing our story together.  Think of those that came before us 2,000 years ago.  For generations upon generations they had hoped for a Messiah, hoped for the One who would lead them home.  And their hope was part of their community, it was who they were.  That hope provided the very foundations on which they built their faith.  As each generation learned the stories and practices of their faith tradition, they also learned hope.

So hope is more than just a wish for the future.  It is more than an awkward dream that things will work out, that things will turn out all right.  Hope is found in the very depths of who we are.  Hope springs from the well-worn words of the pages of Scripture that we read and carries us into the future.  It is hope that takes us beyond where we are, that belies our fears and our need for the comforts and security of what we know.  It is hope that reminds us that we are called to be more.  It is hope that gives us life.  That is the promise.  The sign above Dante’s hell reads “Abandon hope all you who enter here.”  Regardless of what your image of hell may be (Dante notwithstanding), as long as we have hope, we have life.

Advent is the season that teaches us to hope, that teaches us to let go of certainty and let go of that need to know exactly where we are going.  Advent reminds us that even in the wilderness, even on those days when we do not think we can possibly go on, even when we forget who we are and feel a little alone, even when we momentarily lose our way or when we think the world has somehow slipped from our grasp and gone into a place that we do not want to follow, there is hope.  To have hope means that we dare to get out of our own way.  To hope is to open ourselves to God, to open ourselves to the God who leads us home.  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Hope is what sits by a window and waits for one more dawn, despite the fact that there is not one ounce of proof in tonight’s black, black sky that it can possibly come. (Joan Chittister)

 

FOR TODAY:  In what way is God calling you to open yourselves to hope?  What’s in the way?

 

Advent Peace,

Shelli

And a short programming note…Apparently some (or all–I don’t know) of the emails for the 11/30 (Wednesday) blog post did not go for some reason unknown to me and unknown to WordPress.  If you did not get it, it IS there on the website.  Sorry about the confusion!  S.

Coming Out of the Dark

Mystery Forest8For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— 9for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. (Ephesians 5: 8-9)

It doesn’t seem right to talk about darkness in the middle of Advent, does it? Maybe we could deal with it during the season of Lent, but not Advent. Advent is the season where we look toward the Light. And yet, much of Advent is about darkness, about the unknown, about the Light that has yet to come. And so we wait, in darkness.

We have a sort of aversion to darkness. We have somewhere along the way convinced ourselves that darkness is bad, “anti-light” if you will. And so we do everything we can to stay away from it. We fill our lives with light—the 75 watt variety. And we push the darkness away. But what else are we pushing away with our artificial light? After all, when you live in a city with street lights and porch lights and motion detector lights, how many stars do you see? Darkness is not bad; darkness is needed to see light. Light on light lets us see things, those things that the light illuminates. And we find ourselves lost in things. But darkness…in darkness we see the Light.

Remember the darkness of our beginnings. Creation began in darkness…and then there was light. Creation is found in darkness. Birth is found in darkness. Hope is found in darkness. Faith is found in darkness. Darkness gives us what we need to begin again. Darkness enables us to see the Light as it breaks into the world. In the darkness, we are able to see the Dawn.

So in this Advent darkness, be content. Embrace the present. Be content to wait—to wait in hope, to wait in faith, to wait for the Light that will soon dawn. Perhaps our places of darkness are where we come to be because they compel us to look for the Light and it is then that we will finally know how to see our way out of the dark.

 Too many of us panic in the dark. We don’t understand that it’s a holy dark and that the idea is to surrender to it and journey through to real light. (Sue Monk Kidd)

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli

Expectant Hope

cropped-dreamstimefree_2365100.jpgScripture Text: Hebrews 11:1

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

I remember when I was little, going to bed on Christmas Eve was the hardest and the most amazing thing to do.  I would lay there so excited about the next morning that I couldn’t sleep.  There were things that I hoped against hope would be under the tree when I awoke.  But, the main thing, is that I knew deep down that, regardless of what I hoped would be there, there was always something wonderful there.  I knew that.  I thought sure that there was no way I would ever go to sleep but at some point, I would drift off.  Then in the morning, I would lay there for a little awhile.  Even at a young age, I understood that there was this moment–this wonderful glorious moment when I would get my first look at the Christmas tree (post-Santa’s visit) and I would savor it, push it until I could not stand it anymore.  Then, there it was–this moment filled with beauty and wonder and hopes fulfilled before the tree stood a short time later in a barren wasteland of discarded wrapping paper.  But in that moment was hope alive.

 

I think we have lost the meaning of the word hope.  We’ve become like that young child, attaching it to a list of needs or wants that we have somehow conjured up in our head.  We have gotten hope confused with wishing.  I think, though, that hope is more.  It is not what we want to happen or what we wish would happen; hope is what we expect will happen.  The young me had somehow gotten that part of it too–that understanding that hope was not merely wanting something, but daring to expect it, daring to imagine that it would actually come to be.

 

As Christians, we are given hope.  Oh, hope was always there.  We just believe that it became more tangible that night in the manger and that it could no longer even be denied as we stood before an empty tomb.  But what we do with that hope is up to us.  Living with hope is not about merely wishing things were different and it’s certainly not about wanting things to be better for us.  Living with hope is living with the conviction that somehow, some way, even though it doesn’t make sense to us and even though we don’t understand it, we dare to expect that that moment will come to be–filled with beauty and wonder and hopes fulfilled.

 

This season of Advent gives us hope.  In our waiting, in this season in which we have to let go of our need to control what is going to happen, our need to plan, our need to jump ahead to the next season, we find hope.  And as the passage implies, hope feeds our faith, gives it life.  Hope is not wishing; hope is expecting.  Dare to expect what seems to be beyond hope and there you will find hope.  Hope is alive.  It is more than a dream; it is the story into which we live.  Living with hope is daring to live as if what you are expecting has already come to be.

 

Hope holds with it the promise that God always answers our questions by showing up, not necessarily with what we ask for but with remarkable gifts that change our lives and the world. (Mary Lou Redding, “While We Wait”)

 

FOR TODAY:  For what do you hope?  What do you expect?  What would it mean to live with expectant hope?

Grace and Peace and Advent Blessings,

Shelli