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Peace :: Second Sunday of Advent

Advent Series - Peace by Sarah Bessey

Luke 2:8-14

There were sheepherders camping in the neighbourhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Saviour has just been born in David’s town, a Saviour who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.” At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

John 14:25-27

“I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught.

Romans 15:13

Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!


 

It was pitch dark outside and the rain was pouring down in sheets as we drove home from the mall after our Groupon-inspired session with the Sears photographer for the Christmas photos of the tinies. I steered our grey minivan down our town’s streets, bumper to bumper with red taillights that glowed against the water droplets on the windshield, blinding me with their speed. Whump, whump, whump went the wiper blades at a fast pace. The chatter of my children filled the car – because whoever wrote Silent Night didn’t have a van-load of tinies – and I tried to tune them out in order to pay attention to the treacherous road conditions. I could barely see out of the windows. Whump, whump, whump. The final notes of the carol are barely audible through the downpour. The water drummed on the roof of the vehicle. A new song begins and I hydroplane just a bit, gently tapping my brakes and steering into the slide before righting us again.

“Wait, wait, guys, quiet down for a sec – what song is this?”

Peace on earth, good will to men,

the bells are ringing, like a choir they’re singing,

in my heart I hear them,

peace on earth, good will to men…

What is there to do when you hear those words in these days? I made a noise somewhere between a laugh and a sob, myself. This is how it feels sometimes, right now in particular. We can feel or hear the score of peace but the rain is pouring and the cars are flying past and we are gripping the steering wheel just trying to get home.

I believe that peace-making is more in step with Jesus than peace-keeping. I believe in the voices crying in the wilderness, prophesying with their lives about the Kingdom of God. I believe we will see swords beaten into ploughshares but it won’t happen by magic – poof! – but instead it will be because we realized that it’s us, and we are it, and get to the good work of following Jesus and embodying the peace we have found.

I believe that peace begins with forgiveness and conversation and reconciliation, oh, I believe in miracles, I’m so ridiculous. I believe that small acts of peace are still acts of peace.

I believe in creating peace, in disrupting for peace, in the truth that peace isn’t always polite and it certainly isn’t status quo and it isn’t always cozy with twinkle lights and it will make people uncomfortable because they’re so used to benefitting from the lack of it.

I believe peace is hard fought in the corners of our own hearts long before it’s demonstrated and enacted. I believe in a peaceful imagination that dares towards joy and hope and challenges the way it is and the way it’s always been and the way it will likely always be done. I believe that the Holy Spirit is more than enough within us. I believe that Jesus wasn’t stupid or naive or “just didn’t get what it means to be alive these days.” 

I believe that Jesus transforms us, even our desires and our thoughts, into who we were meant to be all along. I believe that evil and sin and violence and brutality of all sorts are all cancers in us, killing us all. And that only Love cures such things, only love can pull out the tentacles of these cancers.

I believe Advent reminds me that peace was announced then and peace was promised and that peace is our birthright and our endgame and our wholeness at last. I believe in singing a song of peace, declaring that God is not dead nor does God sleep, in the midst of a thunderstorms.

Because peace is what God announced at the birth of God-self among us: peace! Peace on earth!

And peace is what we are headed towards, what we believe in and what we practice. Peace is what Jesus left with us and so look, here in my hands, I am holding the steering wheel of one tiny vehicle and I am steering us all home and all the way there, watch me, I’m singing in the dark and in the storm.

Psalm 85:10-13

Love and Truth meet in the street, Right Living and Whole Living embrace and kiss! Truth sprouts green from the ground, Right Living pours down from the skies! Oh, yes! God gives Goodness and Beauty; our land responds with Bounty and Blessing. Right Living strides out before him, and clears a path for his passage.

This is the second part of a series of Advent Sunday night candle meditations. 

The Full Advent Series

Courage! Take heart! God is here, right here! :: Why Advent Matters

First Sunday: Hope

Second Sunday: Peace

Third Sunday: Joy

Fourth Sunday: Love

Christmas Eve: The Christ Candle

All Scripture quotations are from the Message paraphrase. Image source.

Continue Reading · advent, christmas, faith, peace · 7

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.

image source, aff link

Continue Reading · advent, christmas, peace · 12

In which God is transforming the world :: on hope, Iraq, and everything else

One of my tinies has a particularly sensitive spirit.  (Well, to be honest, I tend to think most kids do. Maybe some of us just get really good at dulling our sensitivity early.) One night, he couldn’t sleep and seemed very rumpled in his soul. Finally, hardly able to speak the words for how they gripped his mind, he told me about a poster he had seen at a community event. He had been out with his dad for the day. And there were booths set up at the event, not only for local businesses but also for local charities. And I guess one of them was for a charity that works to prevent child trafficking.

“It was a kid, Mum, and he had chains wrapped all around his body and he was scared.”

My son was devastated at just the memory of this poster, unable to sleep. He was too young to see such a thing perhaps, because he didn’t understand marketing materials. He was just at a little community event and was confronted there with an image that now tortured his sleep. We didn’t notice it and so couldn’t help him understand or process it at the time.

That night, I wrapped him in my arms. We prayed and talked about it and prayed more. He curled up into our strength. He slept with us all night.

But I admit that I lay awake wondering why I’m not more bothered – especially because I know the truth behind images like that. And so many others.

A religious minority chased up a mountain to starve to death in Iraq, their children being beheaded and crucified. Forced female genital mutilation. The girls still in the clutches of Boko Haram. The situation in Israel and Gaza, so many Palestinian civilians dead, their children weeping or injured or worse. There’s the Russian escalation, planes being shot out of the sky, the spectre of people littered in a field without proper care for days, 24 hours news coverage of carnage. There are the kids caught in the midst of the central American refugee crisis, pouring over borders and now being kept in detention centres. Lonely, sad-eyed children trapped in airless buildings without hope. Ferocious ebola outbreaks in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and now into Nigeria it seems. Unarmed young African-American men killed o the street or in the Walmart toy section without provocation as they move through their daily lives.

And the list goes on. and on. and on.

I scroll through Twitter and in between snippets of snark and jokes, people are posting pictures of someone else’s dead kids.

With the news coming out of Iraq, I remembered – almost against my will – every single sermon I have heard in my life around Easter, a preacher usually describing in terrible detail the crucifixion of Christ in gory nuance (why do preachers do that?) and then I found myself applying all of those same descriptions to someone else’s child in the cradle of civilization just yesterday, and my stomach heaves and then I shut down my entire mind and heart, unable to bear it.

I can’t think of it, I can’t think of it, I can’t think of it. No one could. This is evil, this is hell.

I hear of these things and then I cannot bear it so I stop thinking of them. I simply close the gates of my mind and heart to it, it’s too terrible. And yet I move through my day somehow. I sleep well. I eat meals. I am consumed with my own concerns.

But on the night one of my children came to me, utterly devastated by just the sight of marketing materials having to do with child trafficking, I knew he was more right than me.

I should be devastated. We should all be devastated. It should disturb my sleep.

Perhaps lament and anger and grief is the most godly response and posture. 

Grief and lament and anger is the beginning point of hope, it seems.

I lay in bed with my broken-hearted boy and saw the truth of this. His heart was broken by just the glimpse of injustice towards children, and I had to wonder why my heart is not more broken, why my sleep is not more disturbed when I know and have seen so much more.

My son was right in his response. I have become too callous to suffering.

It’s been a hard summer in this old world of ours. The Kingdom of God seem so far away in these days. It feels foolish to pray and hope sometimes.

The dream of turning swords into ploughshares seems laughable. Who could turn tanks and missiles into farming equipment? Who could dare speak of a day when all tears will be wiped away? Who is foolish enough to hope for the desert to burst forth into bloom, for streams of water to flow in the parched and barren places?

I turned to the words of the great Desmond Tutu, who carries both hope and sadness like an anointing. He wrote, “Dear Child of God, I write these words because we all experience sadness, we all come at times to despair, and we all lose hope that the suffering in our lives and in the world will ever end. I want to share with you my faith and my understanding that this suffering can be transformed and redeemed. There is no such thing as a totally hopeless case. Our God is an expert at dealing with chaos, with brokenness, with all the worst that we can imagine. God created order out of disorder, cosmos out of chaos, and God can do so always, can do so now–in our personal lives and in our lives as nations, globally. … Indeed, God is transforming the world now–through us–because God loves us.” 

And so I find myself hoping.

Foolishly, perhaps. But it’s a company of holy fools, spreading like yeast. Small seeds grow to mighty oaks.

We feel small in these days. And that smallness makes us feel powerless in the face of such suffering. Even stretching out our opinions from the place of disinterest and objectivity on each story is a privilege.

So how do I hold onto that hope that God is transforming the world now through us?

We can’t willfully push away the suffering of humanity and the terribleness of the world out of selfishness and discomfort with the truth.

We can listen – truly listen – to the stories that people need to tell. Maya Angelou wrote that there is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.

We can kick against the injustices and amplify the voices of those who are suffering. We can read the prophets like Isaiah and Amos and Jeremiah. We can educate ourselves and seek to understand complexity outside of our pet sources. We can light candles and, oh, we can pray.

We can write letters and advocate. We can be teachable. We can hold space for the suffering. We can both prayerfully and practically support people and organizations who are working towards peace and shalom in the front lines. We can do that work ourselves, daily small and unsexy as it is.

We can let our children lead us back to the right response – compassion and tenderness of heart again.

In the words of Isaiah, we can sweep our lives clean of evildoings, say no to wrong, learn to do good, work for justice, help the down-and-out, stand up for the homeless, go to bat for the defenseless. (Isaiah 1:12-17)

Isaiah

If we want the light of God to be the light by which we live, let that light shine in our lives and let it expose the truth. The truth shall set us free. We can give myself over to a sleepless night, holding vigil with all those who weep and watch and wait. We can create beauty. We can be what Kathy Escobar calls a “pocket of freedom and love,” setting up prophetic outposts of the Kingdom of God in our right-now lives.

And we can pray with our children and then raise them to listen, and to work, and to partner with God in the work of truth-telling and reconciliation and justice. This is God’s work, to love well.

We can be men and women who love.

Sometimes, absolutely, mountains move in a great sweep, picked up and cast out into the sea.

But these days I find that God often asks us to move a mountain one small stone a time.

Faithfulness is picking up my small stones, instead of screwing my eyes shut and denying the existence of the mountain.

Sometimes it all begins with the terrible prayer: Lord, break my heart for what breaks yours.

Be careful, because when your heart breaks, everything and everyone can tumble right in, right where they belong, right to the centre of your love and your hope.

Kyrie eléison. Lord, have mercy.

 

 

Continue Reading · faith, peace, social justice, suffering · 37

In which I get a new tattoo

On a summer afternoon, when I was 21, I went to a walk-up tattoo shop on 17th Ave in Calgary. On a whim, I picked out a little red maple leaf, surrounded by the words “Made in Canada” and walked back out with it inked on my hip.

On a summer afternoon, when I was 33, I went to a small suburban tattoo shop, next to a grocery store, in Abbotsford. I had carefully researched and selected a deeply symbolic tattoo I wanted, a small dove, and I walked back out with it inked on my slim white wrist.

243964_10151018971367124_941268875_o

This little dove is for peace, for my search for peace, for my peace-making heart, for the peace that Jesus gives, for my committment to peace and wholeness in my own life, and in the world God created, and called good.

It’s for the Holy Spirit, for my reliance on living a spirit-filled life, for my reliance on the breath of God, the infilling, it’s even for my tongue-talking mysticism.

It’s for a fearless life. It’s for the soaring truth that love wins, and perfect love casts out fear, and I will spread my small wings a bit further, lean a little further into the wind, take flight even, perhaps.

And it’s for motherhood, for how these tinies have given me a new birth, a reinvention, a whole new life, and I carry them now, tattooed on my skin.

An inch of my blue-veined skin to mark my new beginnings, I want to carry these things forward into the days ahead, I’ve been changed by it all. Even the sting of it feels right.

 

 

Continue Reading · faith, fearless, journey, peace · 36

In which I don’t understand Syria

This week, Egypt is figuring out their first election, and, you, Syria, you are burying your babies in Houla.

I don’t know you very well, Syria, but today, my heart is with you. I can hardly bear to look at the images, to read the news trickling from your borders, in a smuggled and anguished whisper? It’s been more than a year, we all rallied on Twitter and cheered the Arab Spring, now it’s months and months later, I watch the news and almost the only thing I can say, almost the only thing any of us have been able to say for more than a year, is what the hell is going on in Syria? How is this happening?

You’re at a tipping point now, the UN tells us, since the massacre at Houla. The peace plan has not been implemented. There is no humanitarian corridor. Refugees are trapped. The massacres, the torture, the bombings, the systematic rape of your women and your young men, the bloodshed, it continues, and somehow, still, you are hopeful that you will be free.

Or so I hear.

Image via BBC News

Today my government expelled the regime’s diplomats from our country. This step of isolation is a necessary diplomatic one, probably long overdue, but it doesn’t feel like enough, when I see the mass graves, when the grieving men lift up the bodies of their children to shove their lifeless and crippled bodies at the television cameras, here, here, here, you are keening and begging us all to look at your children, look at them, there, dead in your arms.

I had to turn away, I could not bear the sight of your loss and grief.

I don’t understand you very well, Syria, we’re so far away from each other in so many ways. I don’t understand the politics, I don’t understand the religion, I don’t understand the nuances and the sides, I don’t understand the history, I don’t understand how and why and who. I want to understand, I want to know more, but I don’t think I ever could truly understand, how could I?

But here, in my safe and secure home, in free and democratic Canada, I want to understand you, I want to stand with you for peace. I understand grief, I understand fear, I understand love, I understand justice, I understand the yearning for freedom, I understand courage, I understand the human spirit, and I see those beautiful and tragic truths in your people.  I am weeping for your children, for you my Syrian sisters and brothers, and I am praying for peace, praying for strength, I am praying like it matters.

Be strong. We are with you.

To donate towards humanitarian relief, check out the International Committee of the Red Cross (working with Syria’s Arab Red Crescent.)

 

 

Continue Reading · peace, politics, social justice · 12