“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade…” 1 Peter 1:3-4
A friend wrote to me recently that “holidays pick grief scabs.” Is this Christmas picking yours?
When my sister-in-law entered hospice care in December of 2002, our family was given an opportunity we never wanted: to celebrate Christmas facing a devastating loss. That Christmas, we celebrated in her den, around her hospital bed. My children were 4th and 1st grade. Forget did they believe in Santa; would the circumstances of this Christmas threaten their belief in Christ? Would it threaten mine?
Following Allison’s courageous example, we embraced the celebration of Christmas with all the trimmings. To my knowledge, no one quoted 1 Peter 1:2-3 to any of us that Christmas, but we knew the resurrected Christ. He was with us and with every step, we were banking on the fact that Allison had entered and would soon experience this inheritance that would not perish, spoil or fade.
Consider with me that Peter, the apostle of Jesus Christ wrote these words. After all he had personally witnessed (life, death, resurrection of Jesus and the birth of the church, and persecution for his faith to name a few), He wrote only two short letters in the New Testament. He wrote these to God’s scattered people, those who had received the gospel and his clear goal is to pour courage into them as they follow Jesus in a hostile world. He starts His first letter with these verses, praising and thanking God for what He has done through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Peter chooses to spotlight God’s mercy. Mercy is acting at great cost to yourself to relieve the suffering of another. This Christmas, do you and I stand amazed at the great mercy of God in sending Jesus? Do we discount how bad off we were? When we are grieving, we are forced to stop compartmentalizing death and pretending we can manage it. Grief is an opportunity to put the fearsome truth about death in the hands of a merciful God who longs to save us from it.
Peter explains exactly how God extended His mercy to save us: “new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” Plain and simple we were born with rebellious DNA. Sons and daughters of Adam, our spiritual DNA is dead and we are separated from the God who designed and sustains our lives. His answer? To do exactly what it took, at great cost to Himself, to give us new birth, into a new family, with new spiritual DNA – HIS! Jesus whose conception and birth we celebrate at Christmas was indeed the “first born among many brothers” for He made it possible for us to be born again into His Father’s family through faith in His work that culminated in His resurrection from the dead. (Romans 8:29) John puts it this way: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God -children born not of natural decent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:13)
And how does this new birth rescue us? It replaces the death and judgement we have inherited from our human ancestry with an inheritance (as a child of God) that will never perish, spoil or fade. Can we even get our mind around what it is like to possess something that will not ever, perish (die or completely ruin or destruct), spoil (diminish in value or quality, become unfit), or fade (dim or disappear)? Peter’s letter is all about getting our mind around this fact. I invite you to begin your 2022 reading it in full.
Peter’s phrase for our receiving of this inheritance is “living hope.” Hope that lives. Hope that lives is real hope, sustaining hope. So often we settle for wishful thinking.
After Alli went to heaven, we all had a lot of wrestling to do. I got angry with God for a time, particularly about the Christmas timing: surely a Sovereign God could have mediated that for our good! Now, looking back, I see it differently. Maybe the best way to ensure my family really knows that we know that we know the good news of Christmas is that we were challenged to embrace the living hope of Jesus’ resurrection while facing death at Christmas.
I imagine that from God’s holy and eternal perspective, we are always facing death at Christmas, even on the years when by our accounts, our family is happy and healthy. He always sees the enemy for who he is: a roaring lion seeking to devour us. He always sees our propensity to deny or delude ourselves into believing we can manage the consequences of our sin and the perishing, spoiling, fading of our bodies and this world. He always sees His creation cursed and us, His image bearers, suffering. His merciful rescue comes in the Bethlehem stable. Christmas is not a cuddly sentimental tradition; it is a proclamation of living hope to a people and a world that is at a loss to manufacture hope in the face of death and settles for denial or distraction.
Are you facing death this Christmas in a way you just cannot avoid? Are the Christmas traditions picking at the grief scabs? Even our traditions and celebrations will perish, spoil and fade. My tree is already losing needles at a rapid rate. But the One born in a manger has forever reversed the curse. He is the slaughtered yet standing Lamb on heaven’s throne, continually offering His glorious and imperishable inheritance to us. (Revelation 5:6) If He is allowing you to face death right now, could it be His merciful invitation to see the living hope He has secured with new eyes?
Note: I designed this card in 2019 as a Christmas card. In my Card of the Month Bundle, it serves as an Easter card. But often it is sent to encourage the grieving as a sympathy card. It turns out Living Hope is something we need in every season!
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Offices by Biblica, Inc.™