As some of you know, I recently returned from a trip to Costa Rica. I was there for a week, travelling around with my father and brother as part of a group tour.
It was a great trip. We spent time in a Cloud Forest admiring waterfalls. We came down in elevation to a rain forest with an enormous lake near a recently active volcano. Down a bit more to a tropical forest beside the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, we saw sloths, and howler monkeys, and scarlet macaws.
I enjoyed the people as much as the scenery. Probably my single favorite thing was the Costa Ricans’ use of the phrase “Pura Vida,” “Pure Life.”
In Costa Rica, as best I can tell, Pura Vida can mean just about anything. Hello, and Goodbye. How are you, and Fine. Thank you, and You’re welcome. Our guide told us that we could use Pura Vida in virtually any casual interaction with anyone at any time.
So, if a waiter refilled my water glass, I said Pura Vida. When people asked us how we liked Costa Rica, we answered Pura Vida. As I biked by someone on the road, I called out Pura Vida as a greeting. When we finished white water rafting, we high-fived and yelled Pura Vida!
Pura Vida is like the national slogan of Costa Rica. I love that. It’s a constant reminder of the blessings of life and an invitation to live life well.
While I was in Costa Rica, I was living the Pura Vida, the good life, in the worldly sense of the term. Our guides took care of everything. We had a fun group, good food, nothing to worry about, all in the midst of this incredible scenery.
But my experience of Pura Vida also got tested.
On our last full day, we had to take a Covid test, upload the results along with copies of our vaccination cards and our travel documents, and check in for our flights, all on our phones.
I am an anxious traveler under the best of circumstances. For me, these were not the best of circumstances. I couldn’t remember how to take a screen shot on my phone, which was the very first step. I couldn’t figure out any of the next thousand steps. I spent two frustrating hours battling to get it done. I made two trips to the concierge. Desperate for help, I finally called Carrie who got me through at least a few of the steps. It was pitiful. No Pura Vida for me that afternoon.
Unsurprisingly, my father was wiser. He advised me not to worry so much. He assured me, people at the airport would get us through. He was in the same situation I was, but with this important difference. He was still enjoying Pura Vida.
I never did get my travel documents straight. Thankfully, my father was right. The next day people at the airport were able to take care of everything in good time. Pura Vida, after all, despite my bad attitude.
The challenges I faced on my last full day in Costa Rica were frustrating, but nothing worse than frustrating. I was just being a baby.
I think about the Costa Rican people. There is money in Costa Rica, but there is also real poverty. And still, all the people we met called out Pura Vida with every appearance of sincerity.
Presumably people in Costa Rica don’t always say Pura Vida, or at least don’t always mean they are living it. But I admire the Costa Rican habit of affirming life, naming the Pura Vida, multiple times every day, even in sometimes difficult circumstances.
I don’t know what keeps Costa Ricans going, what sustains them in the Pura Vida.
But I have been pondering what can sustain us, as Christian people, in the Pura Vida when we encounter the challenges that inevitably come our way. What could have helped me as I tried unsuccessfully to upload travel documents on my phone? More seriously, what can help us as we face the real problems that sometimes afflict us?
Jesus answers that question in our Gospel reading for this morning. Our reading is about the Pura Vida.
It is not all sweetness and light. Jesus begins with a warning about a time of “distress among nations,” when “people will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world.”
But then Jesus offers us powerful reassurance. “When we see these things taking place,” says Jesus, these hard things, we can know “that the kingdom of God is near.” In our times of struggle, when God seems far away, in fact, the kingdom of God is near. Pura Vida, in the midst of the distress, the fear, the foreboding that we sometimes feel.
Jesus keeps going. Things pass away. Everything comes to an end eventually. Heaven and earth themselves may pass away. But Jesus’ words, Jesus’ promises, Jesus’ presence with us, will NOT pass away. Pura Vida always.
Jeremiah, the prophet in our Old Testament reading, is an example of one who got that, who knew about the Pura Vida even when times were hard.
Jeremiah was not a naturally cheerful person. Jeremiah was a great prophet, but also a little whiny. His nickname is the weeping prophet. That’s not from me! Not a lot of Pura Vida for Jeremiah, it would seem.
In Jeremiah’s defense, he lived during a tough time. Babylonian armies were besieging Jerusalem, and they would soon take the city, as Jeremiah knew. Jeremiah himself was in prison, accused of treason. Living in prison during a siege, Jeremiah was suffering. Jeremiah’s people were suffering. And things were going to get worse before they got better.
So what does the weeping prophet have to say, in that horrible time?
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promises I made.” They will be days of justice and righteousness in the land. On that day, the currently besieged city will live in safety. Pura Vida after all, thanks be to God.
The lesson of our readings is that God’s promises are sure. The promises of God, the words of Christ, will never pass away. No matter what is going on in our lives and in our world, God invites us to embrace the Advent virtues of hope and peace, love and joy. God invites us to live the Pura Vida, and God helps us to live the Pura Vida.
What does that mean for us?
Today we begin the new Christian year.
I think about where we have come from. This time last year, the pandemic was raging. Our building was closed, and we didn’t know when we would be able to reopen it. Many of our Christmas traditions were on hold.
It wasn’t Jeremiah-level bad, but it was a challenging time. Even then, like Jeremiah, we could have said Pura Vida because we know that even in the worst times, Jesus’ words endure, Christ remains with us, the Kingdom of God is near.
But I am glad we are not there now. Challenges remain. But we are worshipping together, looking forward to some Christmas fun, engaging in Christian mission. And most of all, we are still relying on God’s promises, trusting Christ’s enduring words, looking for the Kingdom come near.
I look forward in confidence and hope to this new year and beyond, to continued worship and fellowship and mission, to continued growth in our love for each other and for God, to the continued unfolding of God’s promises among us. And I say, with gratitude and thanksgiving, Pura Vida!
In Christ’s name. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan