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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

In which all is calm, all is bright

Sarah Bessey Xmas Card

Just a quick note to say happy Christmas, friends.

I’m taking a week or two off from blogging for Christmas holidays and won’t be as available on email or social media so thank you for your grace in those areas.

To every thing there is a season, and right now I’m feeling like my season is for Christmas cookies, reading, old movies, long walks in the sloppy snow, and a bit of slowing down in the online spaces.

As a family, we pray that this Christmas is a season of love, rest, generosity, and joy for you and your loved ones.

Love to you, my friends.

S.

 

 

 

Continue Reading · christmas · 9

In which there is joy in enough

It seems that we always need to get through the details, the mundane daily stuff, of who is doing what and when and why before we can get to the really good heart stuff. My mother’s blue eyes are the same as my youngest daughter’s blue eyes.  She laughs too loud (so do I) and she’s an incredibly beautiful woman, even more so as she ages. Her lines are falling in pleasant places and she looks so much like her Dad, it’s uncanny sometimes. I can see the grey at her temples and the bones in her hands are tiny like a bird’s. We talked a mile a minute, cramming a lot of laughter and weirdness into a short amount of time, diving straight in.

She listened to me (Isn’t it such a gift to just be listened to?) as everything in my heart spilled out about how tired I am sometimes, about how physically and emotionally exhausting this mothering thing can be with its sheer constancy. I jumped from yammering about homeschooling and my many thoughts on true education and spirituality and then I was telling her that we kind of want to sell everything and move to Africa or India to make some sort of a difference—maybe I could be a midwife!—and have you heard about this, that and the other thing? How this person did this thing and I thought it was awesome or terrible or hurtful, and everything that I want for myself and all the time I want back and money concerns and how I kind of need a minivan because three car seats don’t fit well in our car  but if I have to drive an ugly vehicle, then I want it to be weird-ugly not boring-ugly and on and on and on.

I made a bit of a fool of myself, to be honest.

When I was little, the primary emotion in our house was joy. My mother was happy and we knew it (clap your hands!). She loved us and loved my dad and loved her life and we all knew it. We weren’t rich. We didn’t have a lot of stuff. We didn’t “change the world” and no one knew about us, but we were really, really happy together.

I looked at her and remembered her joy, and was hit by the knowledge that my own tinies perhaps wouldn’t describe me (yet) as a person of joy.

“So what did you do, Mum?”  I was really, truly asking her because I didn’t feel simple or restful or joyful. (One of her favourite things to tell me is that a woman can definitely have it all—just not all at once. Most of the time, she thinks I need to chill out.)

“How do you calm down your mind and heart of all the mundane daily things that somehow sap the energy and time when there is all this world to save, all this difference to make, all this stuff to do and become? How do you have the joy in all of this? It always feels like I’m not enough. I’m not doing enough or being enough for the tinies, for my husband, for my home, for my community, for my world, let alone for myself. I just never feel like I’m enough.”

Read the rest of this post at SheLoves Magazine...

This month, we’re talking about joy. There’s a link-up for you to add your voice.

Continue Reading · christmas, enough, family, gratitude, Mum · 0

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