Living with Advent Vision

Elizabeth Glass Turner

Elizabeth Glass Turner

By Elizabeth Glass Turner –

Vision for the future is not the same as planning for the future. Vision has nothing to do with retirement plans or funeral homes. The purpose of the kind of vision I am talking about is not to make sure that we leave a legacy or a mark that will not be forgotten. Instead, the purpose of spiritual vision is to help us do our part in helping usher in the Kingdom of God in the midst of the Body of Christ.

This kind of vision is bigger than we are. It is not the same as naïve optimism or pessimistic uncertainty. Both of these masquerade as wisdom. They are not. Spiritual vision calls us to dwell in the reality of God’s Triune presence – even if we’re sitting in a physician’s waiting room.

Vision begins and ends with God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When we engage this vision, we are swept up in God’s activities, in God’s presence, in the inbreaking Kingdom of God – we receive vision, and we witness to that vision.

So, let me ask about your vision. Do you feel like you have spiritual cataracts? Be confident: the Spirit of God can ignite a new work at any age.

Inbreaking

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah” (Luke 2:25-26).

In this passage, we get to take a peek at two very old people who got the blessing of their lives when they saw a young Jewish couple bring in a very special baby – an infant who was the consolation of Israel and the hope, in fact, of the world. Can you picture it?

“Simeon took him in his arms and praised God.” Meanwhile, “there was also a prophet, Anna…she was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Innkeepers, shepherds, wise men … and two senior citizens – creaky in the joints – witnessing the coming of the Messiah in the temple. Simeon and Anna are two of my favorite people who pop up in the entire New Testament. They kept the covenant faithfully – they were “righteous and devout,” worshipping with “fasting and prayer night and day.” And they see prophecy fulfilled before their eyes – the Messiah. What a “Hallelujah Chorus” must have played in their hearts. What sweet words from Simeon: “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation…”

The Kingdom of God came crashing in and they were there to witness it. In similar fashion, we live in the age of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit brings the Kingdom of God crashing into our midst and we are here to witness it. Do you have Kingdom goggles on? Do you see how God is working all around you? Do you have the vision to see how things might be, through the power of the Holy Spirit?

Some of the oldest people I’ve known who have seemed the youngest at heart are people who have a strongly developed vision to imagine what God might do – not just today, but tomorrow as well. This vision keeps them lively, creative, and hopeful because what defines the scope of their vision is not the latest political election or the results of an MRI but the sure and certain hope they have in the power of the Holy Spirit to restore the years the locusts have eaten, even as the universe quakes with the declaration, “See, I am making all things new!”

“The ministry of the Church is to reflect the ministry of Jesus. The Spirit delivers the not yet into the already,” observes Dr. Timothy Tennent, president of Asbury Theological Seminary. “That means that the future realities that we normally associate only with Heaven (healing, reconciliation, deliverance, etc.) are already breaking into the world through the Spirit. Men and women are healed by the power of God. They experience reconciliation with one another. The poor and downtrodden receive hope. Sin is brought under conviction. Redemption is wrought.”

Our eyes naturally see so much of the immediate: carpet stains, grandkids’ baseball games, and healthcare costs. Being people of vision doesn’t mean ignoring the practical rhythms of daily life. But it does mean looking for where the Spirit is working within those rhythms of daily life.

Vision

“Your old men will dream dreams…even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” The Holy Spirit, reports the prophet Joel, is not just working with the young. Nor does the Holy Spirit primarily anoint young leaders. If you are in your retirement years, God still has a vibrant and unique ministry for you.

“Your old men will dream dreams…” – and these dreams may be unusual visions direct from the Holy Spirit, or general dreams or ideas inspired by the Holy Spirit.  Vision may be a dream you have when you sleep that’s different from all your other mundane dreams of going to the store or talking to a purple monster. Vision may also be a persistent notion or idea that won’t go away.

One of the most important things that mature and seasoned believers can contribute to the Church is a vision of God’s love, power, holiness and justice. Why? Because mature believers have lived a lot of life. Life catapults us to success and happiness and drags us to frustration and sorrow. Meditating on who God is can renew your perspective, heal your hurts, and charge you forward into a season ripe with purpose. Whether you are busy working in your retirement years or dependent on a Hoyer lift to move you in and out of a nursing home bed, you are a child of God, and God wants to pour out his Spirit on you and renew your vision of who He is.

But where is your place? What is your role in this big picture? Do you have a vision for it? Do you serve, here and there, in pre-existing places in a patchwork fashion, participating in men’s work groups or taking the odd dessert to a funeral dinner? How do you see yourself and what you are doing, and how does that reflect the vision you have of what the Holy Spirit may be doing in your world, your country, your community?

It’s possible you may evaluate those questions and continue your activities, but with a new sense of purpose or direction. I know one woman, sidelined by disability, who has a powerful ministry of prayer, often specifically for at least one minister. (Perhaps she is not so sidelined as she or others would think? Maybe being on the “front lines” would be a better description?) She sees the challenges of clergy today in the North American church, and prays for people she knows who are in ministry. She exercises vision and discernment and gives a powerful gift that no one will ever know the full impact of until the Last Day – all from her living room.

When I met a woman named Marilyn, she was already a “senior” – whose picture was on a friend’s refrigerator as a reminder to pray for her on the frequent mission trips she went on. At this time already in her 70s, she traveled regularly to one place in Africa where she used her sewing skills to make school clothes for impoverished children. Somehow, she’d gotten a vision of the global church, a vision of the difference education can make, and she left her retired husband at home for a couple of weeks a year while she made herself available as one of the many quiet servants of God who unknowingly usher in the inbreaking Kingdom just a little bit more. (I even have the impression she left a freezer full of premade meals for her husband before she left on her trip!)

What might the Holy Spirit have for you? Do you have the vision yet to see it? Sometimes vision comes as a revelation of what already is; other times, vision partners with your natural aptitudes and life experiences to produce a passion in you that naturally leads to your involvement in one thing or another. Yet other times, circumstances beyond your control may confine your location or the activities in which you can participate. Which of these is true for you? How might you live out your role wherever you are?

Many of the “surprises” of aging don’t go in the pleasant category, which may be part of why seniors take such joy in spoiling grandchildren. Kids still have the enjoyment of pleasant surprises, and sometimes share that enjoyment with their aged loved ones. Whether or not you have grandchildren, the Holy Spirit delights more than we realize in surprising us in good ways. Sometimes we miss out simply because we weren’t looking for it.

Maintaining vision

For seasoned believers, prayer and fasting can become complicated. Some may be grieving the loss of the use of their knees after a lifetime of kneeling to pray; others have dietary restrictions and medicinal routines that govern when and what they eat. Nonetheless, prayer and fasting are valuable practices in cultivating discernment and vision. What, then, can you do?

If you walk or swim regularly, use those times deliberately as times to turn your attention to prayer. Talk to God. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your life and give you a vision in and for your season in life.

Consider fasting things for a short time that are a part of your diet that you enjoy: maybe you habitually drink one cup of black decaf coffee every morning. Abstain from it for a week simply to draw your attention towards the disruption in routine in order to remind yourself to pray for one specific thing. Or consider fasting from a habit for a week and replacing it with reading one Scripture passage during that time – abstain from watching the nightly news and read from the Psalms. If reading is out of the question for your eyes, ask a family member to read it aloud to you or to rig a technological gadget to play an audio version.

Above all, remember this: the Holy Spirit is for the young and the old – and every age in between! God knows you, and your physical disabilities and limitations are not a measure of your spiritual strength. Anna and Simeon got to see Jesus! And that’s all any of us really want.

This Advent, may the Christ Child empower your eyes to see the Kingdom of God!

Elizabeth Glass Turner relished her time ministering to the aging in both long-term care and local church environments. As a United Methodist clergyperson, she currently serves as campus minister at the Wesley Foundation of Wichita Falls, Texas, and as the managing editor of Wesleyan Accent, an online venue featuring Wesleyan voices at www.wesleyanaccent.com. She enjoys baking, the BBC, and unsticking toys from the ceiling as part of her life with her husband and two young children.

 

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