Advent: Praying for Peace

December 8th will be the second Sunday in Advent, the Sunday of Peace. As we light two candles on our Advent wreath, we will give thanks for God’s gifts of Hope and Peace.

It would be understandable if someone in the congregation raised a hand to ask the obvious question, “What peace are we celebrating? Where do you see peace in our world today?”

Certainly not in New Orleans, where 10 people were shot this week.

Not in Hong Kong where rioters demand free speech and increased self-determination.

Not in too many homes where incidences of domestic violence are on the rise.

Addiction, racism, prejudice, misogyny, and bullying are all forms of violence which are prevalent in our society and across the globe. 

It is enough to make one hesitate about lighting a candle of Peace.

As I pondered these troubling truths, I came across this beautiful prayer:

God of life,

Every act of violence in our world, between myself and another destroys a part of your creation.

Stir in my heart a renewed sense of reverence for all life.

Give me the vision to recognize your spirit in every human being, however they behave towards me.

Make possible the impossible by cultivating in me the fertile seed of healing love.

May I play my part in breaking the cycle of violence by realizing that peace begins with me.

The painful honesty of this prayer touched me. Then I discovered that this prayer had been written in the 7th century. It was oddly reassuring to me to be reminded that people of faith have prayed for peace across the centuries and through great tribulation. They have offered themselves up, as Saint Francis did, as instruments of God’s peace and asked to be used as messengers of God’s vision for our world.  

 This prayer was written by Saint Ethelburga who, I learned, was the founder and abbess of a double monastery (a monastery that housed both men and women) in England.  The abbey existed for 900 years until it was destroyed (ironically) by the violence of King Henry VIII who oversaw the disillusion of all the monasteries and abbeys in England, Wales, and Ireland.

Yet despite the efforts of a powerful king, this eloquent prayer has survived. On the second Sunday of Advent we will join our prayers with hers as we celebrate the Sunday of Peace. The Season of Advent does not celebrate accomplishments but rather voices God’s intention for God’s people.

God desires that we live in peace.

God desires that we treat one another with kindness and respect.

God desires justice and equality for all of God’s people.

So on Sunday we will light our candle of peace and together with Saint Ethelburga remember that peace begins with each one of us.

Advent: A New Beginning

Whenever I hear people talk about Christmas, I hear the word “stress.” Even enthusiastic holiday-celebraters admit to a certain amount of dread this time of year. And with good reason – our society depicts Christmas as a set goal with pre-determined outcomes. There seem to be a lot of “shoulds” connected with Christmas. There “should” be a perfectly decorated tree with beautifully wrapped gifts. There “should” be delicious food for happy guests (who all get along) around a creatively decorated table. Carefully decorated cookies “should” be baked with happy, well-rested, non-whiny children. And everything “should” be perfectly prepared by this unmovable deadline.  Is it any wonder that Christmas can feel like an overwhelming burden?

 The season of Advent, which begins on December 1st, is very different. While Christmas can feel like a marathon march to an exhausted finish line, Advent is the gift of a journey with an unknown destination. Christmas is about completion; Advent is discover and wondering. Christmas might feel proscribed; Advent is surprise and discovery.

Advent has a sense of mystery about it as we follow, search, wonder, and venture out in faith. It is an opportunity to trust as God leads us into an unknown future. The possibilities are as unlimited as our Creator.

During Advent we remember those who said “yes” to invitations in the past.  The shepherds hear Good News of great joy and go on a journey of discovery to “go and see” what God has done. The wise men respond to the flickering light of a star and place their faith in God out of the familiar and into the unknown. Mary begins her life-changing journey with an unshakeable faith. Joseph trusts that these incomprehensible events will reveal God’s love and purpose.

Into each journey is interwoven the theme of “do not be afraid.”

This Advent, do not be afraid…

 although you venture into the unknown.

although you feel very alone.

although the end result is not clear.

The season of Advent reminds us that God is “Emmanuel,” which means “always with us.” What new thing do you imagine or dream of? Where might God be inviting you to go? What unknown is placed before you and where is God in that? What do you need to leave behind in order to discover this new thing that God is doing?

 Advent is about mystery and possibility and wonder. A candle glows to provide just enough light to take the next step. The promise of Advent is filled with possibility and new life.

Where will your Advent journey take you?

I wish you the joy and blessings of Advent.

Do-it-yourself Advent

Long before Thanksgiving Day, it was Christmas in all the stores. My husband shopped in vain for harvest-colored candles and autumn napkins for our Thanksgiving celebration. That unfortunate holiday of gratitude had been relegated to a meager shelf in the corner of the store. In every aisle, as far as the eye could see, the displays proudly proclaimed CHRISTMAS.

But wait. It isn’t Christmas yet. It is Advent, a season that is all about waiting. Advent is about transition and change. It is about waiting for what will be, but is not yet. Advent is a very human, unsettled season when things have not yet fallen into place. You have probably experienced Advent without ever naming it. If you have

  • Anxiously searched for a job
  • Moved
  • Cared for a sick loved one
  • Prayed for someone in recovery
  • Or even (like Mary) been pregnant

then you know about Advent. Advent invites us to remember God’s promise to be with us exactly when God is needed most.

Like Thanksgiving, Advent is also not being sold in any store. Fortunately, Advent is easily celebrated in the comfort of our own homes. Think of it as a gift to yourself in this busy season; Advent can offer an antidote to the frenetic pace of endless Christmas. We can pause, light a candle, and reflect on God’s hope and presence.

I would like to encourage you to rest your weary spirit this Advent season by creating your own Advent ritual. You don’t even need a traditional “wreath.” Any five candles will do. Size, shape, and color don’t matter. Electric candles are fine. Arrange them any way you like – in a wreath, a square, vertically – it’s up to you.

I went to our local Goodwill store to find ways to create my Advent display. Everything pictured here cost $10.

Advent begins on December 2nd. On that first Sunday of Advent, light one candle and reflect on how even the smallest light can entirely change the reality of darkness. During the week, find opportunities to light that candle again. Whether you celebrate Advent as you eat your breakfast cereal or just before you go to bed doesn’t matter. What is important is intentionally making time to pause and remember that God promises to be “Emmanuel,” which means “always with us.”

During the first week of Advent, you are invited to

LIGHT a candle. Consider how you can be a messenger of hope.

READ Scripture: Isaiah 9: 2-7, Luke 1: 5-25, Matthew 1: 18-26.  Don’t have a Bible?  You can read any Scripture here.

PRAY for those who need hope today.

LISTEN  to a favorite Advent or Christmas song (and try to sit down while you do this; don’t multi-task. Cherish a few moments and fill your spirit with beauty).

I wish you the hope and joy of Advent.