With the start of Advent, December, 3, 2017, our church, like many, gives attention to the Lectionary texts and to the themes of Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. The Lectionary is a series of prescribed readings that cover a three-year span. Each week there is a Gospel, a Psalm, an additional Old Testament reading, and an additional New Testament reading. There are several lectionaries. I typically refer to the Revised Common Lectionary.
Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. Jesus brought each of these ideals to the world. In him these words are realities that we live as we live our lives in Christ. These came with his birth and in Advent we remember. These come as we walk with Christ in our lives. In Advent, we long for these things and anticipate.
Us anticipating the story of Jesus’ birth is not exactly like the way the creation anticipated his coming prior to when Joseph and Mary made their way to that stable. We know the story. But, it becomes new in our lives each year. So Advent, for Christ followers, is really the start of rebirth as we once again reach for God even as God reaches to us in Christ and in the Holy Spirit.
Additionally, we anticipate the Second Coming of Christ. When Jesus returns, as it is promised he will (Acts 1:11b), then we will see these value, these dreams – hope, love, joy and peace – in ways we have never seen them. The qualities will be fulfilled as all things will be. Thus our Advent is remembering and living into life in Christ and anticipating the fullness to come with his return.
The first week is hope. One of the reading is 1 Corinthians 1:3-9. Verse 8 says, “God will strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This verse and the longing for hope and the assurance of hope has hit me in a most unwelcome way this week. One of my dearest friends, Rev. Kevin Ly, died suddenly while doing a morning weightlifting routine.
Kevin was a high school senior when I began as a pastor. I was 27. I stayed at that church long enough to see him go through school and he became our youth minister. He was the first person I mentored in ministry. We were linked at the heart – linked because we both heard God’s call so clearly. Over the years, I have encouraged certain people in churches I’ve served to consider ministry. It rarely leads to them becoming pastors. I never had to encourage Kevin. He was called, driven to serve the Lord. I just had to give him opportunities, to stay out of his way, and to help if he needed it.
Earlier this year, he got his first senior pastorate. Then, October 21, 2017, he married his beloved Jackie. I don’t understand his death, just one month and six days after his wedding. It doesn’t make any sense. For my own sadness, I have needed that promised Advent hope – that Jesus fulfills everything. I have needed the 1 Corinthians promise, “that God will strengthen you.” I don’t feel strong. I cannot imagine how Jackie feels and how Kevin’s parents and siblings and church members feel.
For Kevin, I trust that 1 Corinthians Advent Hope promise. In Christ, he will meet God blameless. When Kevin sees God face to face, all of Kevin’s sins will be gone, covered and removed by Christ. God will, smiling, look at Kevin and see Christ’s righteousness. I am steadfast in my confidence of this hope for Kevin. It doesn’t reduce my sadness. But it does mean sadness is not the only thing I have. There is sadness. There is also joy. Yes, it is possible to hold both at once.
Do you have troubles, losses, pain that you carry as Christmas approaches? Let the Advent hope extend beyond Sunday morning to your heart and your mind and your life. If you have sadness, it’s OK to sit in it. In fact, that’s the right thing to do. I don’t ask why because I don’t think there’s a good answer. I don’t console myself with platitudes such as “Now Kevin is singing with the angels.” I’m sad. But, in my sadness, I have turned my eyes upon Jesus. His hope washes over me. His Holy Spirit sits with me in my sadness as long as I need him to be there.
Are you sad or hurt or lost? There is hope – real hope for you today. It began with the child in the manger, grew through his life and teachings, and spread worldwide with the coming of his Holy Spirit and the growth of his church. It grows as you grow in relationship with God’s Holy Spirit. Turn your eyes upon Jesus. He will strengthen you now and make you blameless when you meet God on the day of his return.