Sunday was a wonderful day, as we moved from Thanksgiving into Advent – a time to celebrate Jesus coming into the world and pray that he will come more deeply into our worlds…and into the world today…

We praise our Lord for uncountable reasons…including his Advent invitations to blessings, beginning with hope.

Invitations to Blessings – Hope

On Sunday, Jesus invited us to receive his gift of hope – that every person can receive New Life, no matter how dead their life may seem; and all can receive Eternal Life with him when we leave this life. (John 11:17-28,32-45)

In summary:

  1. Like many of us, many we love, Lazarus seems hopelessly dead – by fear, doubt, failures, the past, unhealthy habits, addictions…But Jesus promises that the can take away whatever stones get in the way, set us free from whatever binds us, to receive the New and Blessing-filled life he wants for us.
  1. He wants to do it now, not some day in Heaven. He can do it if we trust in him and do what he tells us. Too often we hold back, believing that our lives, relationships, those we love, are too far gone; our bad habits are life habits, our addictions our life…And if we open up to Jesus, to someone for help, “The smell will come out,” everyone will know how rotten we are, our marriage is. There is no  longer any hope for us…for them…
  1. But Jesus promises that no one, no relationship, is too far gone for him, because nothing can separate us from his love, the power of his love to set us free, to give us New life!
  1. Whether this happens depends on us doing as he tells us. Jesus called the people at Lazarus’ grave to roll away the stone, so that he could hear the call of Jesus to come out; and he called them to unbind Lazarus to “let him go.” In the same way, Jesus calls us to take away the stones that keep “dead lives” from him; to unbind them from whatever holds them captive.
  1. We do this by sharing the Good News of Jesus, how he has given us New Life; and by doing whatever it takes to take away someone’s stones, unbind them…or if that someone is us, to ask a Christian sister or brother to do this for us. Jesus promises, if we will do this, he will bring life out of living death!
  1. I have experienced this in my life; in lives here; in East Huntersville. If I ever had any doubt, it was blown away by what happened for young women in Beijing who came in from the countryside; were lured into alcohol and drugs; then to prostitution to support their habit, to live. They were the living dead.
  1. Except two Christian women believed in the power of Jesus; began the Starfish Ministry – going into the streets to convince these women to come and live in a safe place, with food, education, job training, love, hope…Our daughter Shannon began helping in that ministry because: “These women have been given a New Life because someone believed that Jesus can save lives. Over time they will come to trust me; when they do, Jesus will give me the chance to give them New Life, life forever, with him. When we trust Jesus, there is always hope; he can do anything…”
  1. Sure enough, a few months before Shannon left Beijing, one of the women started asking questions; one month later, she was baptized in Shannon and Marc’s home. Some other women came to see, to start asking questions… If this can happen for the living dead from the streets of Beijing, there is hope! It can happen for anyone of us, anyone we love.
  1. I pray that you believe that, because, if you do, you are also ready for the greatest hope of all…If we believe in Jesus, we will never die! John begins his Gospel with this promise: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but will have Eternal Life.” Jesus raises Lazarus, not only to show that New Life can happen now, but also to show that he has the power to overcome death.
  1. We know this is true, because Jesus was crucified, died, was raised from the dead for this purpose; God’s Word, written by his disciples, affirms it; the disciples staked their lives on it; and there are witnesses who have experienced it, seen Heaven, and come back to tell us.
  1. Mary Neal is one of those witnesses. She was a committed Christian, but as a scientist (a surgeon) she had doubts about Heaven, because she could not see it.  But one day in 1999 while kayaking in Chile, she was swept under a waterfall and drowned. She felt her soul peeling off from her body, lifting up to a beautiful place of light, welcomed by kind “people;” they began to show her a wonderful life…but then told her it was not time, she was going back to fulfill her purpose.
  1. Miraculously, Mary was resuscitated. Her life was changed; she offered the promise of Jesus to everyone she knew. Something moved her in 2009 to write her experience in a book; just as she was finishing, her son Willy was killed in a skiing accident. “Now I know,” she said, “why I was sent back, to offer Jesus as the way to Heaven; to offer assurance, comfort, and hope for the life that awaits us all some day. And I long for the day that I will go back, go home…”

Connection for the Week: On the first Sunday of Advent, Jesus invites us to receive his blessing of hope – no matter how dead our lives may seem, no matter how dark our fear of death may be, Jesus died on the Cross and was raised from the dead to give us that hope…with hope that we will all say “yes, I believe” with our hearts and our lives.