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Too Much to Ask: Lighting the Peace Candle for Advent

advent peace :: sarah bessey

I woke up early with the tinies this morning. A cold has been steadily passed around since we travelled to visit my husband’s family for American Thanksgiving so we’ll likely be staying home from church to spare everyone else a miserable week or two. Instead, I brewed the tea and made porridge, we settled into the couch with books and Doc McStuffins. Soothing small wounds, feeding hungry bellies, setting the house to right again, running fingers through their hair, this is ministry, too.

Sundays are ‘candle days’ as the tinies call them because it’s another Sunday before Christmas. They will probably bicker about whose turn it is to blow the candle out but whatever we’ll get there. They asked which candle is for today: “Peace,” I said. “We’re lighting the Peace candle tonight.”

Talk about a radical act of faith.

The world’s relationship with peace feels complicated right now, I know. The prophet Jeremiah cries out from the Old Testament like so many – too many – of us around the world right now,

They offer superficial treatments
    for my people’s mortal wound.
They give assurances of peace
    when there is no peace.

Or as the old King James version says, we are ones who say “Peace, peace; when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 8:11)I tried to sing O Holy Night the other day. I broke down into tears: “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” Weary, yes, that’s the word for it.

In his name, all oppression shall cease.

O Holy Night, like so many of our advent songs, is beautiful, yes, but it’s also prophetic and subversive, protesting with what C.S. Lewis called “biblical imagination.” It’s a speaking-out-ahead of the truth, it’s a declaration. The very thing that makes it holy is the thing that most of us want to forget in this season: the presence of oppression and grief, weariness and weakness, how desperately we need his law – love, and his gospel – peace.

I’ve learned by now that faith isn’t pretending that the mountain isn’t there. It isn’t denial of the truth, or the facts, or the grief, or the anger. It’s not the lie of speaking “peace, peace” when there is no peace. It’s faith because it is hope declared, it is living into those things that are not yet as they will be.

I hold space for the righteous anger and the grief, I join in the lamentations of the weary world.

And at the same time, I will light a candle tonight and declare that the Prince of Peace is among us again.

Lighting candles is fitting for Advent. We live in an electric light world. At Christmas, we are overwhelmed with the bright lights, the sparkle is never-ending. We dazzle and distract ourselves with glitter until we leave no room for the longing and the waiting that still resides within the grief of being human. I love the sparkle of Christmas but I also need the quiet light of a candle on my old kitchen table to illuminate my faith. Here is the darkness, here is the truth, and so we light a candle.

I was reminded of a poem by my one of my favourite poets, Luci Shaw, this morning. I went to my rickety Ikea bookshelf, swaying with the weight of books, and pulled out the slim volume of poems for the Incarnation called “Accompanied by Angels.” This book has been my companion for eight years of Advent now, for some reason I find more solace in poetry during times of longing than in any well-delivered sermon or point-by-point systematic theology argument.

The poem I was thinking about is called “Too Much To Ask” – the pages are dog-eared and so I found it easily.

It seemed too much to ask
of one small virgin
that she should stake shame
against the will of God.
All she had to hold to, later, 
were those soft, inward 
flutterings
and the remembered surprise
of a brief encounter – spirit
with flesh.
Who would think it
more than a dream wish?
An implausible, laughable 
defense.
 
And it may seem much
too much to ask me
to be part of the 
risky thing – 
God’s shocking, unconventional,
unheard-of Thing
- to further heaven’s hopes
and summon God’s glory.

 

I’ll light the candle tonight and I’ll pray for peace with the Church worldwide, even if I have to do it here with a bunch of sick kids wiping noses on their sleeves in the darkness, even if it feels too small of an act.

And then I will seek ways to embody those very prayers, to incarnate them, to further heaven’s hopes and summon God’s glory in ways big and small, seen and unseen, mundane and holy.

Skeptics, each of us, when it comes to the thought of peace. It’s too much to ask and it is that very thing that makes it worth doing, the very impossibility of living into our Advent songs and declarations. His law is love and his gospel is peace.

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Continue Reading · advent, christmas, peace · 10

Advent: for the ones who know longing

adventlonging

This past Sunday, my two little nieces performed in their church Christmas pageant. I love to watch Christmas pageants and so few churches do them anymore (for good reason: that amount of work is no joke). One little red-haired lamb and one angel with tinsel-trimmed wings stole the show for me. But our littlest girl isn’t known for her meek and quiet spirit: she’s a ferocious mover-and-shaker, none of this silent night, holy night business for her. So I found myself out in the lobby, watching Christmas through a glass partition. When she settled down into a calm heart and listening ears again, we sneaked into the back of the darkened room to finish watching. The children sang at the top of their lungs, beautiful in their simple costumes, surrounded by hay bales and iPhone screens, and in that moment, the grief of longing nearly overwhelmed me.

Advent simply means “coming” – so for me, it is about the waiting. When people talk about “living in the tension” I think of Advent. It’s the time when we prepare to celebrate his birth and we also acknowledge that we are waiting here still for every tear to be wiped away. I think of the waiting for the Christ child, yes, and I think of the still-waiting for all things to be made right, for our longing for Shalom.

Would we be so filled with joy at his arrival if we weren’t so filled with longing already?

If Christmas is for the joy, then Advent is for the longing.

As I learned in particular through our lost babies, one after another after another, the joy born out of suffering and longing is more beautiful for its very complexity. I am learning it again in these days in particular when so many are grieving and angry, sad and wounded from the pain of living in this world as it stands right now. The joy doesn’t erase the longing and the sadness that came before but it does redeem it, it may even stain backwards changing how we look at those days or years. But the joy is made more real, richer and deeper perhaps, because we longed for it with all our hearts for so many days.

I’m not one for crafts for Advent, I admit. I’m rather simple because I know that Advent is more for me than for little ones, and that’s okay. Light the candles, say the prayers, read the Scriptures, let them learn to sit in that quiet tension, we are preparing for the joy that comes only after the longing. This year, as a family, we’re reading through Ann Voskamp’s new book, “Unwrapping the Greatest Gift,” too.

We begin tomorrow night with the entire worldwide Church, we’re waiting together.

I’m waiting for all things to be made right.

Aren’t we all?

I’ll be honest, I’m not feeling the joy much these days. I’m learning to be okay with that. I’m learning to be okay with the sadness that rises, with the frustration of a broken world, with longings still unfulfilled, with the profound ache in my human heart for all things to be restored, to be redeemed, to be whole. I’m learning to turn towards a third way: the one that holds both the joy and the sorrow, the one that picks up a small stone to move the mountain in small acts of faithfulness. Advent is one small stone.

People I love are struggling financially or emotionally or spiritually: real honest pain. I’m frustrated with divisions in the Church, with conversations that miss the point. I often feel distracted and fragmented, caught in the thicket of other people’s priorities and pet-issues and dysfunctions. Ferguson. Aboriginal women in Canada who are targeted for abuse and attacks in such devastating numbers. Syria. Ebola in west Africa. Shooting in our capital city of Ottawa, right in the heart of our government. One of our oldest and best friends lost his beautiful wife to cancer this year, it’s his first Christmas alone with their two little girls.

I need my Saviour who suffers with us, my God who weeps, who longs to gather us to himself as a mother hen gathers her chicks.

Advent has become more important to me as I’ve gotten older.

When I was young, I couldn’t understand this emphasis on waiting – let’s get to the Christmas joy!

Now that I have wept, now that I have grieved, now that I have lost, now that I have learned to hold space with and for the ones who are hurting, now I have a place for Advent.

Now that I have fallen in step with the man from Nazareth, I want to walk where he walked into the brokenness of this life, and see the Kingdom of God at hand. Now that I have learned how much I need him, I have learned to watch for him.

Advent is for the ones who know longing.

So during the Christmas pageant, the tears were sliding down my face as the beautiful children sang their innocent Christmas songs, they were illuminated angels to my eyes, and I was standing on the edges in the darkness in my sadness.

“Where are you?” I whispered to heaven. “The weary world is still waiting.”

Evelynn began to dance. She raised her hands over her head, and twirled slowly, watching her hands move in the darkness. She sang along, off key without words but quietly now. I picked her up and crushed her to my breast. She wrapped her pudgy arms around my neck, “my mumma” she said.

I began to turn slowly with her in my arms, swaying, both of us quietly singing a little off-key. I buried my face into her ringlets and held on.

Sometimes the only thing left to do is simply hold on to each other, pray, and dance in the darkness, waiting for the light.

Marantha.

image credit; updated from the archives

Continue Reading · advent · 33

In which heaven breaks through

We lit the candles after supper on Sunday, the table covered with the remnants of spaghetti and meatballs. The tinies bickered over who gets to blow out the candles at the end, and we were all “BLOWING OUT CANDLES IS NOT THE POINT OF ADVENT” and I read our devotional off the laptop screen. Evelynn kept interrupting, wanting to talk, too, and so we shushed and quieted and started over and over and over. Moment of peace and reverence, indeed, I huffed. But then Brian asked a few questions, and their eyes were big as they answered: this candle is peace! this one is hope! this one is joy! it’s because Jesus came to give us those things! Yes, indeed, I guess we’re getting it together, heaven forgive me for not noticing it. God, the mess and the reverence all gathered together is so beautiful.

Earlier that day, I had pulled up the school gymnasium and flung open the car doors: run! run! go to the music room! you’re late! Anne and Joe were off like a shot, galloping in their boots for the last kid choir rehearsal before their performance at 10:30 that morning. I parked the car and followed them into the dark gym. It was filled with empty chairs and Christmas lights, and there in one far corner, a gathering of parents stood smack right in front of the risers filled with children in their Christmas best. We bundled like penguins, shuffling shoulder to shoulder, iPhones up to record the actions, DSLRs set on automatic settings clicking away, our feet tapping with the songs we had memorized along with our tinies. I stood in the dark, hugged a few friends, snapped blurry pictures with my iPod because I’d forgotten my camera, sang along “doo-doot-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo it’s Christmas” and became the full sense of sight, drinking the sight of them standing on the risers right into my frazzled soul. God, they’re so beautiful.

We sang for nearly an hour and a half. Oh, there was other stuff, too – a spoken word poem, a dance, a choir, the kids singing, but we sang and sang and sang in the darkness, packed in beside each other with all of the grandmothers and grandfathers and in-laws who came to witness this moment. God, we were so beautiful.

Near the end of the service, a loud hum kicked in right above our heads. We looked up and fake snow began to fall through the blue lights while the girl on stage danced and twirled. The machine kept humming and spilling fake snow onto the low stage. The last song was a loud and boisterous celebration and all of a sudden all the kids, as one, without prompting, just began to head for the scaffolded stage, climbing the step and they began to dance. Joe and his buddies stomping and jerking, trying to imitate the break-dancers, Anne and her friends twirling and leaping in the back, Evelynn and all the toddlers flapping their arms and grinning. It was chaos and it was beautiful, the blue light illuminating the children, the grown-ups clapping along and singing at the top of their lungs while the snow drifted down through the darkness inside to gather in our hair. God, that moment was so beautiful.

My friend’s husband negotiated freedom for wrongfully imprisoned women this week. We talked about it, about the real tangible moment of Jubilee happening right this blessed second – captives! released! exiles returning home! – and we cried together for these women. God, my friend and her husband are so beautiful.

Someone told me about their church holding a Blue Christmas service for those in their community who are grieving and longing at Christmas, unable to fathom the joy perhaps, and so they make space for prayer, for communion, for quiet, to hold each other, to light candles for their grief together for just an evening in the midst of the shopping and the wrapping and the bright tinsel. God, what a beautiful way to minister to each other.

Our Legacy Project in Haiti is still going strong. We’re filling backpacks with hope for a Haitian community and even right now at a busy Christmas season, people are clicking and giving their money away, sowing seeds that will last for generations. We’re already at 50% of our goal. God, generous people of hope are so beautiful.

A hundred times a week, in the small daily moments of my life and the big borderless world of believers, one lighted candle after another, here are the moments when heaven breaks through.

Sometimes every one can see it, sometimes no one sees it but you: the light is breaking through.

I love the phrase “heaven breaks through.”

I love it because it means that we’ve set up an outpost for the Kingdom of God, it means that the God-way-of-life has been established for even just a moment here on earth, it means that for just a while there we saw the way we were always meant to live. Redemption, wholeness, beauty, love, peace, goodness.

It means that for a second everything fit into wholeness and we caught a glimpse of true intended humanity. It means that something rises up in our soul when we see it, and we offer the only response: God, that is so beautiful.

***

I’d love to hear about a moment or two when you found heaven breaking through in your life. Look forward to reading about it in the comments.

Oh, and to donate to Backpacks of Hope, which is part of the Legacy Project in Haiti that we helped to fund last year, you can click here for info.

 

Continue Reading · advent, christmas, church, community, family, Haiti · 27

In which Advent is for the ones who know longing

This past Sunday, my two little nieces performed in their church Christmas pageant. I love to watch Christmas pageants and so few churches do them anymore (for good reason: that amount of work is no joke). One little red-haired lamb and one angel with tinsel-trimmed wings stole the show for me. But our littlest girl isn’t known for her meek and quiet spirit: she’s a ferocious mover-and-shaker, none of this silent night, holy night business for her. So I found myself out in the lobby, watching Christmas through a glass partition. When she settled down into a calm heart and listening ears again, we sneaked into the back of the darkened room to finish watching. The children sang at the top of their lungs, beautiful in their simple costumes, surrounded by hay bales and iPhone screens, and in that moment, the grief of longing nearly overwhelmed me.

Advent simply means “coming” – so for me, it is about the waiting. When people talk about “living in the tension” I think of Advent. It’s the time when we prepare to celebrate his birth and we also acknowledge that we are waiting here still for every tear to be wiped away. I think of the waiting for the Christ child, yes, and I think of the still-waiting for all things to be made right, for our longing for Shalom.

Would we be so filled with joy at his arrival if we weren’t so filled with longing already?

If Christmas is for the joy, then Advent is for the longing. As I learned in particular through our lost babies, one after another after another, the joy born out of suffering and longing is more beautiful for its very complexity. The joy doesn’t erase the longing and the sadness that came before but it does redeem it, it may even stain backwards changing how we look at those days or years. But the joy is made more real, richer and deeper perhaps, because we longed for it with all our hearts for so many days.

I’m not one for crafts for Advent, I admit. I’m rather simple because I know that Advent is more for me than for little ones, and that’s okay. Light the candles, say the prayers, read the Scriptures, let them learn to sit in that quiet tension, we are preparing for the joy that comes only after the longing.

I’m waiting for all things to be made right.

I’ll be honest, I’m not feeling the joy much these days. I’m learning to be okay with that. I’m learning to be okay with the sadness that rises, with the frustration of a broken world, with longings still unfulfilled, with the profound ache in my human heart for all things to be restored, to be redeemed, to be whole. I’m learning to turn towards the third way: the one that holds both the joy and the sorrow.

People I love are struggling financially or emotionally or spiritually: real honest pain. I’m frustrated with divisions in the Church, with conversations that miss the point. I feel distracted and fragmented, caught in the thicket of other people’s priorities and pet-issues and dysfunctions. A hurricane in the Philippines slipped from my consciousness too quickly. My friend’s son is sick, no one knows what to do.  My other friend’s little nephew is in hospice. There is nothing more wrong than a child who suffers and a parent who feels helpless to make it stop – I need my Saviour who suffers with us, my God who weeps, who longs to gather us to himself as a mother hen gathers her chicks.

Advent has become more important to me as I’ve gotten older. When I was young, I couldn’t understand this emphasis on waiting – let’s get to the Christmas joy! Now that I have wept, now that I have grieved, now that I have lost, now that I have learned to hold space with and for the ones who are hurting, now I have a place for Advent. Now that I have fallen in step with the man from Nazareth, I want to walk where he walked into the brokenness of this life, and see the Kingdom of God at hand. Now that I have learned how much I need him, I have learned to watch for him.

Advent is perhaps for the ones who know longing.

So during the Christmas pageant, the tears were sliding down my face as the beautiful children sang their innocent Christmas songs, they were illuminated angels to my eyes, and I was standing on the edges in the darkness in my sadness.

“Where are you?” I whispered to heaven. “The weary world is still waiting.”

Evelynn began to dance. She raised her hands over her head, and twirled slowly, watching her hands move in the darkness. She sang along, off key without words but quietly now. I picked her up and crushed her to my breast. She wrapped her pudgy arms around my neck, “my mumma” she said.  I began to turn slowly with her in my arms, swaying, both of us quietly singing a little off-key. I buried my face into her ringlets and held on.

Sometimes the only thing left to do is simply hold on to each other and dance in the darkness, waiting for the light.

Marantha.

 

Continue Reading · advent · 66