The Gifts of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love

by Pastor Heath Howe 

Hope, Peace, Joy, Love. We consider these themes every year during Advent. If you are new to Holy Comforter, do not worry. You will catch on quickly. Week one of Advent we light one candle on the Advent wreath and reflect on the gift of Hope. Week two we dedicate to Peace. Week three honors Joy. Week four, Love. By the time Christmas day arrives all four candles on our wreath are lit and we celebrate the birth of our Lord, who is the only one who can teach us how to use these beautiful gifts.

If you think about it, God giving us these gifts to pretty brave and trusting of God. Each of them is incredibly powerful and life-giving in and of itself. Let's consider them one at a time.

We hope we will have enough money or time to get "things done." We hope we will be thin enough or smart enough for whatever comes next. We hope our bodies will not fail us. We hope our children will succeed. We hope the Cubs will win this year (at least once!)  We hope. We hope. We hope. When we think of Hope like this we are actually confusing hoping with wishing, and that is easy to do. But in the Bible, Hope is something different.

Hope is more than wishing because Hope is not looking for something from the outside, expecting it to fill a hole inside of us. Hope comes within, somewhere deep down, and we must be alert. I remember a four year old explaining to me, "wishing is dreaming...Hope is...waking up." So true. Hope keeps our souls attentive and present. Hope moves us into action when needed. Hope, if you will, is alive in us and, well, needs us. It needs our eyes, our ears, and our hearts in order for all that God has to give us be realized. When we Hope for something we are committing to it. Hope does not require that we know the answers to how, when, or where, but it does require our participation. Hope requires our faith and active trust in a God who promises that nothing, not even death, can keep us from the love of God. Hope is our strong guardian traveling with us each day. Hope says, "Do Not Be Afraid: I Am with You."

Peace. This gift may be the most essential. Without it our souls are not healthy. Thank God it is nothing we have to search for or create. We simply take it into our souls. Spiritual Health and Fitness Director, Jane Wolfe, teaches, "For the human spiritual system, breathing in peace is as important as breathing in oxygen is for the body. Peace is an environment of this planet just the way oxygen is. Peace blankets the earth." We do not even realize we want/need it. We simply take it into our souls, just like we take oxygen into our lungs. Wolfe explains, "As you breathe in and out with your lungs, think of peace coming in...Breathe in, out. In, out. Breathe peace in three times...Do this on and off throughout the day."

Skeptical? I was too, but try it. Try at you practice yoga or go for a run. Try it sitting up in bed first thing in the morning. Try it before a potentially stressful meeting or important conversation. Try as you toddle or teen challenges your parenting choices for the third time that day. Just try it. Why? Well our souls need it and the impact is priceless. Intentionally breathing in peace daily on a regular basis gives us the gift of patience; patience for ourselves, others, and situations. No wonder God give it to us this time of year. Advent is, after all, the "getting ready time," the time when we patiently wait and prepare for the Prince of Peace to be born.

Along with Peace our souls need another gift to stay spiritually health: Joy. Whenever I try to explain joy to children I try to help them see that it is different from happiness. They are close, kissing cousins even, but they are different. If happiness had a color it would be pink. If Joy had one it would be purple. There is a light and bright quality to happy. There is a rich, regal, earthy, deep quality to Joy. Joy is ancient, for it has been here a long time, and we are invited by God to participate in the giving and receiving of it regularly.

Water is a great tool to help us remember. Whenever we drink water or bath our bodies we can imagine taking in Joy, from our mouths and skin right into our souls. When we bathe our child or aging parent, we can imagine giving Joy to another, right into their soul. The impact of taking in Joy, that deep goodness given to all of creation by God long ago, is refreshment, just like water refreshes our bodies. Joy refreshes our souls. Think about it. When we are full of Joy we often sing praises or at least smile wide. What happens when we let out that emotion or when we take it in from another? We feel renewed, refreshed, and ready to continue on our way. What a gift! And so timely as at week three we are still in the middle of our Advent season.

The last week of Advent we acknowledge a gift we all know well: Love. We know the love of our mothers and family members as a baby. We discover what it means to love a pet as a young child. We fall in love for the first time as an adolescent. As we grow older, we notice that we can love more than just living things. We can love our country, our ideals, our progress. We love what we are able to create. We love music, food, and art. We love solitude. We love crowds. We love being alone in the presence of God. We love Christmas Eve and Easter Morning Sunday mornings when the sanctuary is packed. We love skiing in the mountains and walking on the beach. We love birds, the smell of the warm fireplace, butterflies, and the first Christmas snow. We love a deep conversation with our beloved and the giggles of our children on Saturday morning. The list goes on and on.

Wolfe writes, "Love is the food of the spirit the way peace is its oxygen and Joy is its water...there are lots of options for food, lots and lots and lots." If you think about it our souls tend to know which food we need at a given time. If a relationship is strained, a walk in the woods alone may be in order. We switch from one Love to another as needed. It is safe to assume we have Love preferences too, just like we do food. We may Love a good piece of music at the symphony the way we love a good aged wine; however, there are times when rock-n-roll and a hamburger fit the bill. It is important not to cut ourselves off from the Love variety. Our favorite may not be readily available. We do not want to starve. Plus, it is good to strengthen our spiritual taste buds. What once fed us may not now and the other way around.

What's the impact of eating Love? Kindness. Kindness toward ourselves and toward others. We are more gracious, less anxious. So eat! Take in Love and then feed another from the many varieties available. Wolfe concludes, "It is very exciting to eat the great be nourished by Love. There is lots of it out there in thousands of forms. Experiencing them all is the pleasure of a lifetime. Enjoy!"

Hope. Peace. Joy. Love. The gifts from God to us at Advent. Is a week really enough for each? No. Not at all. But it is a start. Advent is a great time of year to stop and reflect on these gifts that are available to us always. By focusing on each one we learn a little more, grow a little deeper and stronger, and get to know God a bit more. To help you and your family consider these gifts even more, use our parish Advent family devotional along with your Advent wreath. See which gift you all enjoy most.

Advent Blessings,

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