image “Christmas Cactus” by Barbara Barnes
reflection by Pat MayPsalms 20, 21: 1-7, 110: 1-5, 116, 117 Isaiah 4: 2-6 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18 Luke 21: 5-19
It was December 19, 1995, and I was 50 miles off the coast of Naples, Italy, onboard the USS Scott, a U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer. We had been on deployment about a month when my friend, Steve, got a call from home that his 10-year-old son, Joshua, had died after battling leukemia for a little over a year. It wasn’t right. A parent should never have to bury his child. We grieved for Steve and with him. What I remember vividly was Steve’s faith. Steve believed his son was in a better place—that Joshua was with Jesus. Indeed, before he went on leave to be with his family, Steve walked with a sense of peace. He grieved, but he grieved differently. I didn’t understand it then, but now I’m closer to that point than I’ve ever been. You see, our world is still broken. Death still looms over us all and St. Paul had something to say about that:
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command… And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ESV)
Yes, we live in a world that is broken where we’re surrounded by death, natural disasters, disease, violence, and wars. Jesus warned us of these. However, what we discover when we read St. Paul from 1 Thess. 4:13-18 is that there is hope. And when you read this in light of Romans 8 you will find that there is hope for all of creation. The world will be set right, and one could rightly say this process of the world being made right has already begun with the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus our Lord. Advent reminds us of this promise. Jesus died and rose again, and we also will be raised from the dead. Indeed, when Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead, all those who are “in Christ” (Romans 8) will be with the Lord. Death will be destroyed for us all, and we will live eternally with God. This is a promise that brings life-giving hope. Indeed, as the Church, the body of Christ, we are called to proclaim this hope to one another. This is what my friend Steve understood and knew with the core of his being. There is hope, and the one who came in the first advent–born in Bethlehem, rescuing us from sin, our Lord Jesus–will come again a second time for our salvation—not as an escape from this world, but for redemption and restoration of this broken world.
“Holy and gracious God, may we trust in the promise that you will come again to redeem all of your creation through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who was crucified, died and was buried, and then rose from the dead on the third day. We thank you for hope in eternal life that comes to us through this good news. Redeem this broken world, Lord, for your glory; and may those who know your Name proclaim that Name to all the nations. May this season of Advent serve as a reminder of the wonderful life-giving hope we have in Jesus. We ask this through your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.”