HOPE MAKES THE DIFFERENCE IN OUR OUTLOOK
Friday, December 2nd
Fear: to be afraid of; expect with alarm; to have a reverential awe of
Find: to come upon often accidentally, encounter; to come upon by searching or effort; to attain, reach; to discover by the intellect or the feelings; experience; to bring oneself to a realization of one’s powers…
On this particular day, the shower stall had become my private confessional booth. Behind the curtain and under the cleansing waters, I quietly confessed to God that I was afraid. Cancer had intruded my body – but also my every thought. Most of the time I could sense God’s peace, but not this time; I worried and prayed aloud about my treatments as well as my outcome. Fear seemed to be winning the day…
I dressed and went to the kitchen to look through the dinner basket our friends Becky and Doy had brought for us. Their kindness truly helped us in our time of illness. As I eagerly pulled out the delicious items, I was surprised to also find a bracelet Becky had made for me. The bracelet displayed one word.
Through the timing of my honest prayer and Becky’s gift, God was able to surprise and assure me that I was not alone, and I did not need to fear. My outlook became brighter and more hopeful.
In our times of fear, Advent Hope comes to surround us.
Our Advent Hope is the awareness that God is always, always working, moving, awakening, guiding, encouraging, revealing. The word find has many definitions, and we can find God’s presence in all these ways. I have found God surprising me through unexpected encounters, and I have found God through active searching. But when I am mindful – when I am prayerfully watching and seeking – I open myself to notice more of the ways God is already actively moving. I begin to find holy connections in what would normally be regarded as ordinary coincidences.
God is here. God is moving. We only need to pay attention.
Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. (Matthew 7:7, NRSVUE)
Advent Hope increases each time we seek and find God in our times of fear. I love that the definition of fear also includes reverential awe. We can replace our fear with the better fear – the awe of God’s incredible goodness and love. I treasure this passage from the prophet Isaiah:
For I, the Lord your God,
hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Do not fear,
I will help you.”
Isaiah 41:13 (NRSVUE)
May Advent Hope open our hearts to find God already with us, encouraging us and easing our fears. May Advent Hope uplift and encourage our outlook upon all the days ahead. God has promised to hold and help us.
We only need to reach out our hands.
(There will not be a reflection tomorrow – Saturday. We will begin the week of Advent Peace on Sunday.)
HOPE MAKES THE DIFFERENCE IN OUR GRIEF
Thursday, December 1st
Mourning: the act of sorrowing
Morning: dawn; the time from sunrise to noon; a period of first development; beginning
This year, several of our friends will be spending their first holidays without a loved one. Many of us will continue to miss someone special every year. Our grief would be even more unbearable without the hope of an eternal reunion one day! This is another gift of our Advent Hope: through the words and resurrection of Jesus, God promises that we will one day live together in love and joy for all of eternity.
In the days before his death, Jesus tells his disciples,
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:1-3 NRSVUE)
Our mourning will one day turn into morning, the dawning of a new day, a new beginning!
But while we wait in hope for that glorious time, what else might we do to honor our loved ones and ease our grief?
We look to the Advent Hope we find in the way we have experienced Jesus.
~ We are able to know and love Jesus today because his stories have been shared with us, and especially because his spirit remains with us.
We can do the same with the dear ones we are missing. We can recognize and pass along their gifts and stories that remain with us. How did these loved ones forever change our hearts? What lessons did they teach us, what insights did they give us? What are our favorite memories, our tales to recall and reshare? How do we feel their presence with us today? We can cherish and hold their eternal presence with fond gratitude.
~ We can remember, honor, and exemplify Jesus today through our lives of loving service.
And we can do the same for our beloved saints. Today can be a new morning, a new beginning, as we choose to embrace the endearing qualities of our loved ones, carry their spirit with us, and live each day fully and gratefully. In our love for Jesus, we try to live as he would have us live; how would our loved ones want us to live? How might we continue their goodness through our own loving service? Which of their qualities do we want to embrace and emulate? The lives of our loved ones are now eternally new, and we can honor them by living ours in their light.
There will always be a resurrection. There will always be the dawning of a new day. The Advent Hope given to us through Jesus – gifts of eternal presence and fresh beginnings – can gently transform our grief from mourning into morning.
HOPE MAKES THE DIFFERENCE IN OUR SELF-REGARD
Wednesday, November 30th
Merit: to be worthy of or entitled or liable to; earn; deserve
Mercy: lenient or compassionate treatment; a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion
As people of faith, we are called to regard ourselves with humility. Jesus exemplified humility, and the Bible includes several passages encouraging us to do the same. For example, we read about humility in Romans 12:3: For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
Oh, this challenge of “sober judgment”! I know I am not perfect. I just hate to be reminded. 😉
But the good news of our Advent Hope today is found in God’s tender, loving, generous mercy, a mercy beyond our human capacity. In Christ, we now understand how God’s love for us came first – before we could even attempt to merit it.
…God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, 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 immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:4-9 NRSVUE)
I want my life to be worthy of God’s love and abundant blessings. I feel an inner joy when I try to live obediently, when I hope to please God by living and serving well. My gratitude toward God seems to foster my desire to merit God’s goodness.
But when I feel broken, lacking, and unlovable, I feel God ever drawing me closer. My love for God deepens in gratitude through my unworthiness, in humility through my guilt, in tenderness through my regret, and in trust through my need. I can bring my sorry self to rest in God’s unwavering love, a love that understands, corrects, forgives, uplifts, and guides me into new life.
Advent Hope can make the difference in our self-regard. The Hope revealed to us in Christ – the gracious, initiating love of God – can replace our need to merit with our trust in God’s mercy.
We are to regard ourselves as humble – but also as dearly loved.
The Advent Hope that transforms merit into mercy not only changes the way we regard ourselves, but also the way we regard and treat one another. God’s initiating love has come for every one of us; we are invited to initiate love, too. We are all part of God’s beautiful creation, made in love but also for love. And so, this Ephesians passage then closes with these words:
For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we may walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10 NRSVUE)
Amen. May it be so this Advent season.
HOPE MAKES THE DIFFERENCE IN OUR ANTICIPATION
Tuesday, November 29th
Dread: to fear greatly, to feel extreme reluctance to meet or face
Dream: to have a dream of (a desired goal or purpose); to consider a possibility, imagine
During my time with cancer, each additional chemotherapy infusion became more difficult as the side effects worsened and my appetite, stamina, and immunity waned. My veins became rubbery, so the nurses were increasingly challenged to find a good vein for the infusion. Each week, I became worried about my worsening side effects and doubtful that my veins would cooperate.
I began to dread each next infusion.
But one day, the thought came to me that each infusion would mean I had one less remaining. I then named my new countdown, “One Day Closer to Better!” as I began dreaming of the day when I would have no more infusions. I envisioned a future when I would feel healthy and strong again, when I would regain my appetite and stamina as well as my enjoyment of life. With the better end in mind, I could persevere. My dreaming helped to counteract my dreading.
This sense of dread can come over us each time we feel anxious about our future. When we become concerned by distressing global or national news, threats of potential difficulties, or challenging personal trials, any of these worrisome issues can contribute to a feeling of dread. We then begin to anticipate the future with fear and reluctance.
Advent Hope can make the difference in our anticipation; the Hope we have in Christ can turn our dreading into dreaming.
Our Advent Hope arises because, in Jesus, we have seen how God always works to bring about resurrection: the new life, the happy ending, and one day, the ideal vision and purpose for all humanity.
Advent Hope not only helps us to envision God’s beautiful purposes, but also inspires us to participate in these purposes. We can dream of a better world and a better day, then place our focus and energy toward these ideal dreams instead of our reasons for dread. Our dread will dissipate with every small step we take toward our dream.
We can anticipate our future with the Advent Hope given to us through this promise of new life and resurrection, the Hope that replaces our dread with God’s dream. Advent Hope can then inspire us to pursue and contribute to God’s good and sacred purposes, as our dreading turns into dreaming.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 NRSVUE)
Definitions are from https://www.merriam-webster.com/
Bible verse found at https://www.biblegateway.com/
Photo by Karen
HOPE MAKES THE DIFFERENCE IN OUR WAITING
Monday, November 28th
Languishing: to be or live in a state of depression or decreasing vitality; to become dispirited
Lingering: to be slow in parting or quitting something; to move slowly
Advent can be a festive season of waiting with happy expectation for our Christmas celebrations! We enjoy lingering in the tender moments of preparation, as we lovingly prepare our homes or make travel arrangements to gather with loved ones, plan worship celebrations and holiday parties, and anticipate blessing others with gifts of hospitality and generosity.
But Advent can also be a season of waiting with pain, sorrow, or worry. We find ourselves languishing in long and dreary days as we wait for a better outcome, yearn for a moment of comfort, search for a relief from struggle. As we endure these trying times, the usual joys of Advent waiting are set aside.
How might Advent Hope make the difference in our waiting?
The hope we have in Christ can move us from languishing into lingering.
Oh, we might still lament, grieve, rant, anguish. God does not expect us to put on a brave face, pretend all is well, or smile away our sadness. But we are invited to linger in the Advent Hope that was revealed long ago with the birth of Jesus: God in Christ has come to us and remains with us. This Advent Hope is here to comfort us, heal us, and help us. This Advent Hope is hearing our prayers, sustaining our souls, carrying us forward to better days.
The gift of Advent Hope is here for us now; God in Christ still lingers among us. And we can linger with God – in prayer, in silence, in worship, in song. We can linger by lighting a candle, reading a passage, writing our thoughts. We can linger with the hope of Christ tucked in our hearts as we face the day and all that it may bring.
When we are languishing in life, we can linger in Love.
While we wait for Christmas, we can wait with the Advent Hope given to us through the promised presence of Christ, the Hope that will transform our languishing into lingering.
Our soul waits for the Lord;
he is our help and shield.
Our heart is glad in him
because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
even as we hope in you.
(Psalm 33:20-22 NRSVUE)
I was also inspired by the article, https://healthyspirituality.org/languishing-and-lingering-lessons for this post.
WHAT IS HOPE?
Sunday, November 27th
(This is the first meditation of Advent: The Difference Between…
Each day this week, we will be focusing on the difference Hope makes in our lives.)
If you have an Advent wreath, you may wish to light the first candle as the candle of HOPE.
We will be including many definitions in our daily reflections this Advent season! As we begin this week of hope, we find that the Merriam Webster online dictionary gives us several definitions of hope to contemplate. These definitions illustrate three different aspects of hope on which we can build our own increasing hope:
The definition of HOPE includes:
~ something desired or hoped for
This is where our hope begins, as our desire for a certain outcome. We are longing for a brighter day, a new beginning, a dream realized, an answer to prayer. Longing is our initial hope.
~ desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment
Our hope then deepens through faith. Our desire, our longing, is buoyed by our understanding that we are beloved, by our expectation that good will come – and by our trust that prayers are fulfilled in God’s good way and time. Expectation is our faithful hope.
~ someone or something on which hopes are centered
Finally, our hope ultimately rests in Christ, in whom we center our hope, and from whom we have received our hope in the first place! God in Christ is both our source and our center of all hope. God in Christ is our confident hope.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:26-28 NRSVUE)
This story is a story for all of us.
The angel is about to tell Mary some incredible, unbelievable news – that she would become the mother of God’s son, Jesus. We can imagine that this news would be both exciting and terrifying for Mary! Perhaps this is the reason the angel prefaces his announcement with “The Lord is with you.” Mary would first need to know that God would be with her in all that was to come, through everything she would face. For every uncertainty, she could be certain of God’s loving, unwavering presence. Mary could place her hope in the certainty of God.
And we can, too.
The Lord is with you. God is with us in all things. We are never alone, never abandoned. In Christ, God has lived our lives, shared our heartaches, faced our fears. God grieves with us, hurts for us, and understands us. And God promises us a brighter day, a happier ending, a new life, and always, a glorious resurrection.
We can place our hope in God with faithful certainty – and find our serenity.
Advent Hope makes the better difference in the living of our days.
A THANKSGIVING REFLECTION
Dear Grandpa Bob has always said, “If you are thankful every day, you will have a happy life.” As the years pass, I have found his words to be true and beneficial. Even on my difficult days, if I can seek the hidden gifts, appreciate the deeper gifts, or anticipate the future gifts, I am uplifted and peaceful. We may intend our prayers of thanksgiving to honor and praise God, but when we genuinely thank God for all of life, we are blessing ourselves, too.
Thank you, God…
for every gift
that comes to mind today.
Accept our heartfelt gratitude
in the humble words we say.
Thank you, God…
for all the joys
you’ve given us this year,
for every celebration,
every moment of good cheer.
Thank you, God…
for keeping us
within your tender care,
for closely holding onto us
and the burdens that we bear.
Thank you, God…
for each success
in goals we have pursued,
and that even in our failure
we remain secure in you.
Thank you, God…
for every journey
in which we found a smile
and for your steadfast presence
as we walk each future mile.
Thank you, God…
that through our grief
your tender love is known,
that in those times when we must cry
we do not cry alone.
Thank you, God…
for each new day
and for the gift of living,
for we can see that life itself
comes from your joy in giving.
(Photo by Karen)
Advent, my favorite season, begins next Sunday, November 27th!
Advent is our time to anticipate the birth of Jesus – and to invite his rebirth within us. In these weeks of waiting, reflecting, and preparing for Christ’s birth, we will look to four gifts that his presence among us has brought: the gifts of hope, peace, joy, and love. How will these gifts make a difference in us this season?
I will be offering daily reflections under the theme, Advent: The Difference Between…
Each day, we will consider the difference in meaning of two similar sounding words, and how the gifts of Advent can bring about the better difference in our lives. How might Advent Hope turn our dreading into dreaming? How will Advent Joy move us from finishing to fulfilling? If you love words – and “the Word (who) became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14) – I hope you will join me for this time of contemplation.
May these four gifts of Advent touch our lives with grace, make a holy difference within us, and most of all, transform us into genuine examples of God’s hope, peace, joy, and love for others.
I wish you every blessing of the season.
~ Karen 🙂
(Our Sunday reflection will be an overview of the gift of each week – Hope, Peace, Joy, or Love – followed by our daily weekday words. Saturday will be a day of rest.)
I was waiting for my booster vaccine at the pharmacy last week when I heard Christmas music playing throughout the store. My initial go-to reaction was to question, “Already?” But soon a delightful joy came over me. I sat quietly, absorbing the festive music, feeling the joy of the season, and dreaming of the preparations I love to do. When I later went on my way, I thought, “I needed this today.”
Oh, I know that there is a time and a season for everything. I am one who appreciates the quiet reflection, the Advent preparation, the patient restraint before the actual celebration of the Christmas season. I am comforted and steadied by my liturgical tradition of Advent waiting and then Christmas celebrating. For my own soul, the waiting is a treasured practice.
But since my experience at the pharmacy, I am questioning the protests against rushing the season, the assertions about waiting until the proper time to celebrate. I wonder if the focus on rules or reasons or rituals might distract us from the deeper, truer gifts that Christmas brings.
How much joy are we missing – or even rejecting – while we are waiting for the “proper” season?
Perhaps those of us who celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus can keep in mind that Christ is with us for all time (not just from December 25th to January 6th)… that Jesus came so we might experience his peace, hope, joy, and love in every day… that when people are living in the joy of celebration – even in November – the “reason for the season” is there, too… that the early seasonal displays also foster the spirit of giving, the desire to bring joy to others…
and that when we insist everyone should follow our tradition, use our holiday greeting, or adhere to our liturgical timing, we are imposing customs – not exhibiting Christ.
Wouldn’t we best exemplify God’s gracious love if we could honor and uphold all people, respect all diverse celebrations and premature festivities, and humbly keep our own practices and schedules? Wouldn’t our hearts expand if we could release our tendency toward criticism or correction, and instead, emulate the ever-present, welcoming love of Christ? Wouldn’t our world become softer and kinder if we could hold the spirit of the holiday all year long?
And wouldn’t our souls brighten if we could pause from defending our own faith practices or cultural traditions – and freely delight in the joy, hope, peace, and love that we encounter in a variety of beautiful ways?
Love has come for all of us.
Love has come unexpectedly, undeservedly.
Love has come for all time.
We can celebrate that every day!
At the start of the new year, I made a resolution to hike the 15.3-mile Hiking Trail at Oak Openings Metropark near Toledo. Jim and I began working toward that goal, increasing our miles and trying more difficult terrains throughout the summer. But as the months passed, I realized that coordinating the logistics of good weather, available weekends, and travel time might not be easy. Still determined to hike the fifteen miles, I mapped out a local route that I could do on any day with good weather, an open schedule, and a ready spirit.
Last week, that day came! I hiked the fifteen miles in about six hours. I circled our neighborhood, ventured down the city streets to the park, hiked the park trail, and returned home, weary but so very happy!
The next day I shared the story of my accomplishment with my mom. She responded with all the wisdom of her 97 years: “Why would you do that?”
Her question inspired additional reflections on the purpose for my journey…
My hike was part of a spiritual pilgrimage. For several months, I have been walking more prayerfully and attentively to discern how and where my spiritual community is to be found (I may write about my pilgrimage in future posts). On this recent hike, I prayed for our community and for friends who came to mind; I walked a mile for a dear one who recently passed from cancer; I watched and listened for insights from God about how to live a life of faith in these days without a church home.
But I also pursued my resolution simply for the joy of the challenge.
During an interview in the podcast, Sinner Saint Sister (JOY, episode 74), Kathryn Whitaker recalled a memorable message she had heard in a recent mass. Father Greg had said, “Great stories are not written about easy things.” Kathryn added, “Some of the best stories in the Bible, in our lives, are written about challenges. We are a people who yearn to be challenged.”
Life seems to “oblige” this yearning by giving us challenges we never expected or wanted, doesn’t it? We often do not get to choose our challenges.
But in the times when life is going fairly smoothly, when I feel myself becoming stagnant or complacent, my spirit is uplifted when I set new goals that will motivate and challenge me. My purpose is clarified, my determination is renewed. There is joy in the anticipation. And there is such a sense of gratitude, relief, and accomplishment when those goals are reached!
But there’s more.
…that the practice of setting new and challenging goals will prepare me for other greater, perhaps holier challenges that come from beyond myself
…that I recognize how much I need God in every challenge – those I set for myself and those I do not choose
…that every challenge increases my faith and trust as God continues to lead, guide, and uphold me all the way
…that every experience brings a tangible awareness of the nearness of God
…that I find more of God revealed within me each time I answer the question, “Why would I do that?”
And I hope the same for you.
(Photos by Karen on her pilgrimage hike)