Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Gift of Hope and New LIfe

We are made to be happy, and as Christians we find this easy to say and believe, but there are many without our beliefs who exclaim in the same way. An older priest writing in the Joy and Hope Bulletin quotes Herman Hesse, "The reason for existence is nothing else but to be happy."

During the season of Advent, we contemplate the happiness of living in God in God's presence and look forward to its fulfillment in God's time. This is the attitude of a person of faith. Our whole life of prayer has this hope deep down in our hearts. Christmas forces us to make a choice. When we look at the crib, we have to ask ourselves: Will it be the joy and hope of God's kingdom or will it be the kingdom of sadness and despair? Whether we experience joy and hope or sadness and despair will depend on us. We cannot rely on or blame others for that choice. As we have been told, in Deut. 30:19: "I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life that you and your descendents may live." Advent, being a time for self-examination and for opening ourselves to change, is the time to make sure we have made the right choice.

A teacher who was near death was asked by one of his students how was it that he was always with a happy face. The student knew that the teacher must have had in life, as does everyone, many difficult problems to deal with, but he never saw him express anything but joy. And even now, as death drew near, he could laugh.

The teacher quietly responded that at the age of 17 he had already known the reality of  unhappiness and pain. But his own teacher at that time taught him an important truth by always being in a good mood. Finding that strange, he asked him how he managed to do that. He said that though he had experienced much sadness in life, he realized that whether we are sad or happy is the consequence of a choice we have made. From that time on, every morning on waking up he would ask himself: What will it be today joy or sadness?

We are not saddened when we meditate on the last things during this time of the year. We are not afraid. Emanuel, God, is always with us. We are always waiting for Jesus to come into our lives. God has overcome the injustice, intimidation and fear rampant in the world, for we believe that God continues to build his kingdom here in this world, and we have the choice of choosing joy or sadness.

This kind of talk may seem like the pie-in-the-sky understanding of religion, not foreign to many in our society. And yet without believing in the meaningfulness of life, without the sustaining hope and joy that can be experienced even in the face of death, our lives become meaningless. Pope Benedict, in his encyclical on hope (Spei Salvi #2) says, "Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well. So now we can say: Christianity was not only 'good news'—the communication of a hitherto unknown content. In our language, we would say: the Christian message was not only 'informative' but 'performative.' That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known, it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life."

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