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

Introducing the Jesus Feminist Collection!
I needed to see her
thank you for sharing...
  • Pin this page8
  • 62
  • Rita

    So beautifully said, this made me cry. A weary world indeed! But how great is our hope that is in Christ Jesus. Blessings to you and your family, Sarah.

  • Amy C

    Gorgeously said. This whole embodying thing – oh how I struggle. It is so much easier to hole myself up in a world of books and busyness and endless overthinking, than to allow myself to move vulnerably into the darkness of the world, to light myself like a candle and burn bright, with all my crackling imperfections. I am grateful for the advent season, it brings me face to face with these thoughts, with this grappling.

  • Cassandra

    Dear Lord, this is exactly what my heart needed right now. Thank you.

  • sethhaines

    “I tried to sing O Holy Night the other day. I broke down into tears…”
    Last night, I was sharing the readings with a few friend–Isaiah 40 and Mark 1. I began to speak of repentance, of not being ready, of being too wrapped up in my own very many violences, and I broke, too. It’s the thing about this time of the year. It’s so revealing. Sometimes, it’s almost too much. And I’m glad for its too-muchness.

  • Stephanie Relf

    It Came Upon a Midnight Clear always gets me. “And man at war with man hears not, the love song which they bring, oh hush the noise ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing”. Wonderful piece Sarah.

  • Great reminder that nothing is too much for our God. The words to O Holy Night came to my mind a couple weeks ago. I jotted down some thoughts here: http://www.planbeautiful.com/the-weary-world/. Grateful for your transparency.

  • This is so beautiful Sarah, I’ve missed your writing, and your poetic insights into the divine. Blessings to you and your family this season Sarah.

  • ThatOne

    O Holy Night has had me in tears since the day after Thanksgiving. Thank you for sharing.

  • Truly He taught us to love one another

    His law is love and His gospel is peace

    Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother

    And in His name all oppression shall cease

    I have sung this song a hundred times and never really heard the lyrics. *tears*

  • Oh, Sarah! This is so beautiful. This part especially resonated with me.

    “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’ve been dealing with a lot of really difficult stuff this year, but it’s amazing how much God has used this time to remind me of Her. Just like you said in Jesus Feminist, God uses people to move mountains bit by bit. I’ve recognized the people God is using in my life to help me with the mountains I can’t move alone.

  • Words by Angela

    Thank you Sarah for these beautiful words. I’ve been trying to find a way to articulate something similar. How can we as a family enjoy a peaceful Christmas season when there is so much strife and turmoil determined to ensure I have no peace.
    It is a “risky thing” to dare to embrace joy, peace, hope, love when the opposite reactions to life are being summoned by the angry. Blessings to all who are angry and also to those who make the choice of leaning into peace. Merry Christmas.

  • Pingback: :: Presence :: | Holy Compost()