Peace be with You

The second Sunday of Advent is traditionally a time to attend to the theme of Peace.  During that week leading up to this occasion, I had opportunities to think about what we mean when use that word.

One of my children went on a class field trip to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton, and learned about the work of Canadian military aviators in peace-making. He heard about times in which men and women place themselves in harm’s way, to intervene in situations where differences and conflict have escalated to violence and bloodshed.

I presided this past week at a renewal of vows ceremony for a couple celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary. He is in business, and she is a justice of the peace. It was interesting to hear about her daily work. One of her duties is to preside over hearings in which a person may be “committed” to a psychiatric ward for mandatory mental health care. She routinely issues search warrants that are used by the police in their efforts to enforce laws, and to investigate crimes. She also has the legal authority to preside over marriage ceremonies, and she tells me that she only does so if she believes the couple is seriously committed to living up to their promises! (Interesting to think about this as proactive peacemaking)

There are so many aspects to the meaning of Peace. What does the word mean to you? We may think of: An end to armed conflict. Resolving political tensions. Cooperation and dialogue amongst religious groups. Healing of relationships. Safety and well-being. The establishment of equality and fairness in economic, social, and political terms. Inner peace.

Is inner peace possible without peace in the world? Is peace in the world possible if we do not have peace inside ourselves?

Our English word peace is a translation of the word “pax”, from the Vulgate- the latin version of the Bible. Pax was the latin translation of the Hebrew word “shalom”. “Pax” is the same word that was used to refer to a treaty to end a war.

The Hebrew word shalom is very similar to the Arabic word “salaam”. In modern Hebrew, Shalom means peace, completeness, and hello or goodbye. In many languages the word for peace is used as a greeting, and a farewell.  Shalom, Salaam, and Aloha are used that way. So is the Sanskrit word Namaste’, which is what my yoga teacher says at the end of every class, as she bows to us, and we bow to her.

At the end of a yoga class, especially when we have spent the last few minutes resting in quiet meditation, allowing the effects of all the breathing, and stretching and posing we have done to work in our bodies, there is often a feeling in the room that I would describe as a shared desire for well-being. When my body feels well treated, and relaxed, and my mind is at ease, I can more easily recall that I want only good for those around me.

 When the Bible writers used the word Shalom, they were drawing on a deep well of meaning. In Middle Eastern culture, Shalom and the words related to it meant to be safe and secure, and complete. This was understood on an individual level, but also in terms of how people related in a society, and how countries got along. It is connected to working concepts of justice, and truth, equality, and basic fairness.

A Japanese Buddhist teacher named Daisaku Ikeda said, “peace cannot be a mere stillness, a great interlude between wars. It must be a vital and energetic arena of life-activity, won through our own volitional, proactive efforts. Peace must be a living drama.”

 

Shalom is about much more than just the absence of dispute or conflict. It is about an active presence- a movement towards fullness, rightness, completeness, for all people, for all of creation. It is a commitment to help things be as God would have them be.

 I realized the other day, as I sat on the yoga mat, that I was not feeling “peace”, or “namaste’”, or “shalom” at that moment only because the teacher had bowed to us, and offered her blessing. It was not just the speaking of the word that was making it come true. Any sense of peace I felt at that moment was also related to the work I and the other students had been doing. In our own small ways, in that place, we were engaged in making, or being peace.

I mentioned that Shalom is related to the Arabic word Salaam. In a number of middle eastern languages, there are words built around the S L M consonant sounds that express personal commitment to these universal concepts of peace, safety, wholeness, and well-being.  These are not just nouns, but they are action words- things we are supposed to be working towards.

Salaam is the root of the words Moslem, and Islam. Literally, a Moslem is one who has committed, or submitted themselves to God. They find their wholeness, their completeness, their peace, in God.

At Christmas time we remember the angels singing, “Peace on Earth, Good will to all of God’s people.” Later in the Gospels, we often read of Jesus saying to his followers “Peace be with you”. This is our translation of “Shalom Aleichem”, which can also be read as “Well-being be upon you” or “may you be well”.

We can hear that as a kind greeting. We can also hear it as a promise, that God’s dream of peace is possible. As followers of Jesus, I believe we can also hear it as our job description. Peace.

Peaceful Steps

The first reading we heard this morning from Luke’s Gospel contains words coming from the mouth of a father, about the birth of his son, who grows up to be John the Baptist. Like Jesus, John is a Biblical character with an interesting birth story.

John’s parents were Elizabeth, a cousin to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Zechariah, a temple priest in the Jewish religion. The story says that Zechariah and Elizabeth were quite old- at least old enough to be past the child-bearing years.

Like Joseph, Zechariah learned the news of Elizabeth’s pregnancy from an angel. But Zechariah’s reaction seems more realistic than Joseph’s. While Joseph seems to easily accept the odd news, Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

Zechariah was struck mute. He did not speak again until the day of John’s bris, or circumcision ceremony. The people gathered for this occasion, which was also a naming ritual, assumed that the baby would be named after his father, “but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”
They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”

Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. 63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.”

At that moment Zechariah is said to have regained his power of speech, and Luke’s Gospel then records a lengthy monologue. It seems like Zechariah the preacher had many months of sermonizing stored up. When the tap was opened, a lot flowed out, all at once. Zechariah praised God, and went on to offer a prophecy, spirit-filled words about the hope, and the promise that he saw in his new-born son. The essence was that this special child John, born to an elderly couple not expected to ever have children, would grow up to be a special man, with holy work to do. He would be a leader and a prophet like Elijah, and be part of God’s ongoing plan for Israel, the chosen people of God. Near the end of Zechariah’s speech, he says this about his son:

“And you, my child, “Prophet of the Highest,” will go ahead of the Master to prepare his ways,
Present the offer of salvation to his people, the forgiveness of their sins.
Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us,
Shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death,
Then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace. “

My attention was caught by that last line. “showing us the way, one foot at a time,
down the path of peace.” That was the inspiration for the spiritual practice I offered for this week of Advent, in the Trinity Branches newsletter. I made the suggestion that you make an appointment with yourself (and perhaps with a friend) to go for an early morning prayer walk. Think about this line of scripture as you walk. (Although I offered the scripture in a slightly different translation)

“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)

Whichever translation I turn to, I get a sense of God’s peace being something that happens in a kind of simple, plodding way, one step, one person at a time. I also get the sense that peace is something is for each of us to do. It is not a big thing that will be done to us, with the press of a cosmic button, or the explosion of bombs, or the building of walls. Peace is something grows slowly, like a baby, and takes the needed time before it is born.

I have a true story for you, that I heard this week. I have changed the names, and some details. Lorenzo and Maria moved into a modest, older neighbourhood 23 years ago. The neighbourhood is changing now, but it used to be the kind of place where you were thought of as the new people until you’d been there at least 10 years, or the next new people moved in after you.

Lorenzo and Maria mostly kept to themselves, which was good, because most of the time, if they spoke to you, they only had nasty things to say. They were particularly hard on the people in the house to the right of theirs, Norma and Thelma, a retired woman and her aging mother.

Lorenzo and Maria hated the old garage behind Norma and Thelma’s house. They said it was unsafe and falling down. They said it was an eyesore. They said that it was too close to their property line. They threatened to tear it down. When repairs needed to be done, they refused to allow the workers to step in their yard, to fix the eavestroughing on that side of the garage. They threatened to bring in a surveyor to mark the property line, and document the violation, even though the garage had been there for decades before they moved in.

One day, Norma looked out her back window and saw Lorenzo piling garbage in front of her garage door. When she went out to talk to him about it, he actually took a swing at her, and his punch left a bruise, and a red welt on her shoulder that was there for days.

Through all of this, Norma and her aging mother Thelma did their best to hold their tongues, and be civil. They also prayed for Lorenzo and Maria, convinced that if they could be that irritated and bitter about a garage, there must be other issues in their lives. They tried to rise above the provocations, and not let themselves be bothered by the angry stares they experienced if they ventured out the door at the same time as Lorenzo or Maria.

A few years ago Maria became very sick. Talk in the neighbourhood was that she had cancer. Lorenzo, long ago retired, spent his days at the hospital, and stayed until visiting hours were over. He brought food each day, because he knew his wife did not like the meals she was served.

People on the street organized themselves to help. When they went shopping, they’d pick up a few groceries for Lorenzo. If it snowed while he was at the hospital, they would have his walk cleared before he came home.

Norma went over one day after Lorenzo got home from the hospital, and brought a covered dish containing a small roast, and potatoes and carrots. She figured with his focus on feeding his wife, Lorenzo might not be feeding himself. Lorenzo refused to accept the meal, but did invite Norma into his front hallway, which was a first. He talked at length about his wife’s condition, and his worries for her. Norma told Lorenzo she understood about caring for a sick loved one, because she was living it with her mother Thelma.

A few days later Lorenzo came over to Norma’s house, and said, “Let’s put the past behind us.” From then on, things were different.

How does peace happen? Time, and patience, and grace, and prayer. God at work with us step by step. Compassion seeping through the cracks in our shells, and healing hard hearts, one at a time.

I read some great words this week from Jean Vanier, the Canadian known around the world as the founder of the L’Arche communities. In 1964, through Vanier’s friendship with a priest named Father Thomas Philippe, he became aware of the plight of thousands of people institutionalized with developmental disabilities. Vanier’s response to the situation was to prayerfully take the steps he was able to take. He invited two men who had lived their lives in institutions to come and live with him. Today, L’Arche is an international organization with active communities in 40 countries, and on every continent.

Decades of living in L’Arche communities has shaped and influenced the way that Vanier approaches the big questions, like what is life all about, and how do we help peace be born in our world. Here are two good quotes from Vanier’s book “Community and Growth”:

“ Today as never before, we need communities of welcome; communities that are a sign of peace in a world of war. There is no point in praying for peace in the Middle East, for example, if we are not peace-makers in our own community; if we are not forgiving those in our community who have hurt us or with whom we find it difficult to live.”

“When we begin to discover and to drop the barriers and fears which prevent us from being ourselves and which prevent the life of the Holy Spirit from flowing through us, we become more simple. Simplicity is no more and no less than being ourselves, knowing that we are loved. It is knowing that we are accepted, with our qualities, our flaws and as we are in the depths of our being. Simplicity is letting the love and the light of God flow and shine through us.” Amen

The Hope Connection

spider and web

There is a story of a spider that dropped a single strand down from the top rafter of an old barn and began to weave his web. Days, weeks, months went by, and the web grew. It regularly provided the spider food as flies, mosquitoes and other small insects were caught in its elaborate maze. The spider built his web larger and larger until it was the envy of all the other barn spiders. One day, as this productive spider was traveling across his beautifully woven web, he noticed a single strand going up into the darkness of the rafters. I wonder why this is here, he thought. It doesn’t serve to catch me any dinner. And with that, the spider climbed as high as he could and severed the single strand that was his sustenance. When he did, the entire web slowly began to tumble to the floor of the barn, taking the spider down with it.

It is easy to believe about ourselves that we are self-sufficient. We receive the benefit of our own web-weaving. Woven into the middle-class North American ideal of self-sufficiency can be the venomous, dangerous ideas that not only are we responsible for our own success, we do not actually “need” anyone else. That way of seeing life can be challenged when something happens to upset the carefully constructed web of our lives. Illness. Accident. Downsizing. Broken relationships. The death of a loved one.

If we have been in the mental and emotional, and spiritual habit of self-reliance, what do we do when circumstances change, and self-reliance is no longer enough? Where does our hope come from?

Sometimes a minor crisis in life is enough to wake a person up to the reality that they need more than their own cleverness and hard work to live. For others, when the crisis hits, they crave hope, and at first can only see it in the hopefulness of others, because they have not developed their own “hope connection”.

In the story, the spider seems to have forgotten that the single strand of web upon which it had descended from the rafter was a necessary connection. That single strand was holding everything in place. The analogy is not perfect, but it seems to me that in the story, the rafter is God, and that single strand had kept the spider’s web connected. When the spider chose to tear out that supporting strand, everything fell apart.

The spider was not in an obvious crisis until the web collapsed. The spider thought everything they had made was enough.

One of the important gifts, and important functions of a faith community is to offer a place for, and to encourage the practice of acknowledging our needed connection to God. Congregations get together to pray, to offer thanksgiving, to sing, and to praise God. It’s not that God needs to be praised. It is more that we need to do the praising, to remind ourselves, and all our fellow spiders that we are not actually self-sufficient. It is good for us to keep up the holy habit of connecting to the source of all life, and meaning, and hope.

I have noticed in almost 25 years as a pastor that people who have lived through hard times are more likely to feel hopeful that they can endure, when they face further hardship. I have also noticed that people who have retained a holy humility, and know that their lives are held by God, and are not held together only by their own efforts, are more likely to feel sustained by hope in the hard times.

Wishing and Hoping

We have begun the season of Advent. Advent is the English version of the latin word adventus, which means “coming”. If we know something is coming, we are in some sense waiting for it to arrive.

Over the millennia, Advent developed as a time of waiting for a new coming of Christ in the world. On one level, it may mean that we are moving towards the celebration of the birth of Jesus. But that is not the original meaning of the season.

Originally, the season of Adventus, was a time to prepare for, and wait upon the second coming of Jesus. That is why some of the scripture readings at this time of year are so dark and scary. They are drawn from the apocalyptic parts of the Bible which discuss a time in the near future, when Christ would return, and it would be the end of human history. That is definitely the tone of the Gospel lesson we just heard:

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.  People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.”

Not very Christmassy! But understandable, especially for us who live in the Northern Hemisphere. The December weeks leading up to the winter solstice are the darkest time of the year. The days are shorter, the nights are longer. It is as if the sun, the source of light and life in our world is withdrawing. What if it did not come back?

There are always stories and predictions about the end of the world. The latest doomsday scare involves the end of the Mayan Calendar. What all the end of the world stories have in common is that they connect very deeply to our human sense of frailty. We don’t like to dwell on it all the time, because we like to feel strong and independent- but we know in our hearts that our very lives depend upon factors and forces that we do not control. We are as vulnerable as a homeless new born babe on a cold dark night.

Speaking of newborns, no one actually knows Jesus’ real birthday. The bible offers no clues. Actually, for the first 3 centuries of Christianity, there was no celebration of Jesus’ birth. The big Christian days were Easter and Epiphany. The Easter story was celebrated every Sunday.  Epiphany was a big holiday, celebrated early in the new year, and marked not the birth of Jesus, but the visit of the Magi, or Wise Men to the infant Jesus. This was considered vitally important, because the Magi were not Jewish. This meant that the message of Jesus was not just for Jews, but for people of all nations.

Some scholars think the date, and the tradition of celebrating Christmas, was introduced as the church made its way into the more northerly climes of Europe. The missionaries encountered pre-Christian religions that had festivals of light in the last month of the year. These festivals in the cold of winter were about praying to the sun, pleading with it to not abandon the world, but to return, and bless us with another year of life. The missionaries failed miserably in their campaign to get the people to stop these so-called pagan festivals of light. An alternative was to baptize the ancient holiday and turn it into a Christian celebration. The scholarly term is syncretism, which is another way of saying, if you can’t beat it, absorb it.

Whether we call it the Winter Solstice, or Advent, the season still carries the sense of waiting for something big. We wait for a sign that God is still with us, and we hope will not be abandoned, and left in the dark.

Hope is our word for today. Each week in Advent we are offered a different theme. If you get the chance, take a look at the Trinity Branches newsletter. I wrote an article for you that suggests a different spiritual exercise for each week’s theme.

All of these words, Hope and Joy and Peace and Love get used so much, and in such a variety of ways, that their meaning and power can get lost, watered down, washed away.

When I listen for how the word hope gets used, I hear at least two basic trends. One goes like this, “I sure hope it’s not busy at the mall today! “ To me this sounds more like wishing for something, than actual hope. It is also probably not the end of the world, if the wish does not come true.

Here is another way I hear the word hope being used. “Life can be hard. But I know that God is  with us. I have hope that whatever happens, it will all somehow be okay.” That sounds like hope born of living through tough times, and coming out the other side. Hope that comes through living through enough dark Decembers to know the days do eventually get longer, the sun never really leaves us, and there will be brighter, warmer times ahead. Amen

A project I dove into this spring….

diving deeply cover I am one of the contributors to a new book just released by the United Church Publishing House. Diving Deeply is a daily devotional resource for the season of Lent.

http://www.ucrdstore.ca/catalog/product/view/id/12134/s/diving-deeply-daily-devotions-for-lent/

 

Here is a review of the book:

Touching Review by Wendy Jean MacLean

Price
Value
Quality

As I read through these daily reflections, I am touched by the depth of intimacy the writers share. They struggle and bless as they navigate the gap between “yes” and “no,” fear and confidence, pride and humility, death and resurrection. I recommend these readings as a way to “plough a furrow through our busyness” (Day 9) and to take time in the day to meet the followers of Jesus—in these stories of grace.
“Being with the Holy is surely a deeper adventure than our mind or imagination can conceive,” writes editor, Betty Lynn Schwab, in the introduction. This is an adventure we can take each day of Lent. Across the churches, others meet us as we dip and dive to the depths in spirit, and in prayer.  “Read them as if each word held a treasure,” is the introduction’s invitation; a study guide lays out ways of sharing the treasure with a small group in a weekly gathering.
The stories are drawn from the daily ministries of chaplains and spiritual directors across the country. In their reflections we meet in hospitals as the end of life invites us to holy ground; on university campuses where students and their chaplain share the “sacred ecology” and “with new language and fresh ideas they express the ancient religious vision: that all human beings are called to a transformation of awareness” (Day 25). We meet in ministers’ studies and in prisons.
The season of Lent “might be viewed as a plunge into the depths of our own lives to find our soul,” writes Darrow Woods on Day 36. During Lent, let the stories in Diving Deeply help you risk the “fierce grace” and the “hidden mysteries” of Christ’s presence in study, prayer, and trust.

Contemplative Advent Project 2012

 

Advent is a season of waiting.

Waiting for what God has promised (remembering the past).

Waiting in the midst of what is in progress (awareness of the present).

Waiting for what is to come (anticipating the future).

We encourage you to allow your worship to have times of waiting in it.

Take your time.

Breathe.

Enjoy the silence…

 

Larry Doyle, Bob Root and Darrow Woods have met to form a Contemplative Liturgy Group. They share a desire to develop liturgy that inspires and makes space in congregational worship for the contemplative spirit. This initiative grew out of an April 2012 Worship Matters event that gathered worship leaders who share an interest in “diving deeper” into spiritual waters.

Please use this liturgy as you wish for worship.

May God bless you with a rich and holy contemplative Advent!

 

Calls to Worship

Advent 1

Advent is a season of waiting.

But we do not wait alone.

God is with us.

We gather with those who have seen the signs,

heard the whispers, felt the tugs in their hearts.

God is birthing Hope into this waiting world.

Let us worship with hearts open to Hope.

 

Advent 2

Advent is a season of waiting.

But we do not wait alone.

God is with us.

We gather with those who have seen the signs,

heard the whispers, felt the tugs in their hearts.

God is birthing Peace into this waiting world.

Let us worship with hearts open to Peace.

 

Advent 3

Advent is a season of waiting.

But we do not wait alone.

God is with us.

We gather with those who have seen the signs,

heard the whispers, felt the tugs in their hearts.

God is birthing Joy into this waiting world.

Let us worship with hearts open to Joy.

 

Advent 4

Advent is a season of waiting.

But we do not wait alone.

God is with us.

We gather with those who have seen the signs,

heard the whispers, felt the tugs in their hearts.

God is birthing Love into this waiting world.

Let us worship with hearts open to Love.

 

Christmas Eve

How long we have been waiting.

But we have not been alone.

God is with us. God has always been with us.

We gather with those who have seen the signs,

heard the whispers, felt the tugs in their hearts.

We gather with those who have seen the glimmers of light.

The light of love is born into our world.

Prayers of Invocation

Advent 1 – Hope

We enter, O God, into this season of preparation and anticipation, longing to skip ahead and celebrate the coming of your light into our darkness – but you would have us first slow down, breathe deeply, and prepare ourselves to receive your gift. We know that your Holy Spirit comes in powerful and unexpected ways, and so we pray we might recognize you moving in and through the season. In Christ’s name and in Christ’s way we pray in hope…

(a moment of contemplation)

 

Advent 2 – Peace

We live in a world where peace seems like just a distant dream, O God.  And so we pray – not just for the absence of violence and conflict but for the deep peace of knowing and trusting your will and your way.  As the darkness and coldness of December set in we trust that the light and the warmth of your Holy Spirit will enfold us and remind us of the Shalom that is to come, and the Shalom that is already within us…

(a moment of contemplation)

 

Advent 3 – Joy

God of light and love, this morning we rejoice and celebrate in your reign and seek to participate in it through our acts of faithful living.  We celebrate justice and righteousness, and with joy we accept your Christmas presence, as we strive to give you our presence.  In the name of Jesus our Christ we pray that you might bless us with an audacious, daring, and joyful faith – just like his…

(a moment of contemplation)

 

Advent 4 – Love

Our waiting has brought us to Christmas week, O God of Light and Love, and our hearts are brimming with anticipation.  In a few short days we’ll celebrate once again the coming of the Light of the World.  Open our hearts and minds to hear this old story in new ways, and fill us with the kind of faith that Mary had as she made her Advent journey.  In Christ’s name, and in Christ’s Way, we pray…

(a moment of contemplation)

 

Christmas Eve

Holy One, born anew each Christmas Eve, be born anew in us this night. This is the sacred moment we have waited for. These are the open hearts we have prepared. Come, Holy Child, and transform our living. Come, Holy Light, and kindle our spirits. Come, Holy Love, and fill us. This is what we have been waiting for. Come…

(a moment of contemplation)


Candle Lighting

 

Advent 1 – Hope

One: The days are surely coming, says the Lord.

All:    We are waiting in hope. (brief silence)

One: Make me to know your ways, O Lord.

All:    We are waiting in hope. (brief silence)

One: Strengthen our hearts in holiness, Lord.

All:    We are waiting in hope.

 

(longer silence – light candle after)

Sing: “While We Are Waiting, Come”  

(Gathering A/C/E 2012/13 Year C, p.83)

1st verse as written

2nd verse: While we are hopeful come…

 

 

Advent 2 – Peace

One: Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low.

All:    We are waiting in peace. (brief silence)

One: The One who began a good work among you will bring it to completion.

All:    We are waiting in peace. (brief silence)

One: God lights the darkness and guides our feet.

All:    We are waiting in peace.

 

(longer silence – light candle after)

Sing: “While We Are Waiting, Come”

1st verse as written

2nd verse: While we are peaceful come…

 

 

Advent 3 – Joy

One: We will trust, and will not be afraid.

All:    We are waiting in joy. (brief silence)

One: We do not worry; we pray.

All:    We are waiting in joy. (brief silence)

One: The Lord is near.

All:    We are waiting in joy.

 

(longer silence – light candle after)

Sing: “While We Are Waiting, Come”

1st verse as written

2nd verse: While we are joyful come…

 

 

Advent 4 – Love

One: O God of hosts; let your face shine.

All:    We are waiting in love. (brief silence)

One: The Mighty One has done great things for us.

All:    We are waiting in love. (brief silence)

One: Our spirits rejoice in God.

All:    We are waiting in love.

 

(longer silence – light candle after)

Sing: “While We Are Waiting, Come”

1st verse as written

2nd verse: While we are loving come…

 

 

Christmas Eve

One: People who walk in darkness have seen a great light.

All:    Jesus the light has come. (brief silence)

One: See this thing that has taken place.

All:    Jesus the light has come. (brief silence)

One: Declare his glory among the nations.

All:    Jesus the light has come.

 

(longer silence – light candle after)

Sing: “While We Are Waiting, Come”

1st verse: Jesus the light has come…

 

 

 

 

Commissionings

 

Commissioning for Advent 1

 

Let us go out into the world in hope.

We are not alone.

God is with us.

Hope is promised in these advent days.

Hope is known deeply in these advent days.

God bless you as you wait.

God bless you as you work for hope.

God bless you as you live the life that is yours.

Your hope is blessed.

Go in hope.

 

Commissioning for Advent 2

 

Let us go out into the world in peace.

We are not alone.

God is with us.

Peace is promised in these advent days.

Peace is known deeply in these advent days.

God bless you as you wait.

God bless you as you work for peace.

God bless you as you live the life that is yours.

Your peace is blessed.

Go in peace.

 

Commissioning for Advent 3

 

Let us go out into the world in joy.

We are not alone.

God is with us.

Joy is promised in these advent days.

Joy is known deeply in these advent days.

God bless you as you wait.

God bless you as you work for joy.

God bless you as you live the life that is yours.

Your joy is blessed.

Go in joy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commissioning for Advent 4

 

Let us go out into the world in love.

We are not alone.

God is with us.

Love is promised in these advent days.

Love is known deeply in these advent days.

God bless you as you wait.

God bless you as you love.

God bless you as you live the life that is yours.

Your love is blessed.

Go in love.

 

Commissioning for Christmas Eve

 

The child is born.

Our hearts are filled

with hope, peace, joy and love.

Hear in your heart the news of the angels.

Ponder the miracle of this night.

Live in the world

as people of the light.

We are not alone.

God is with us.

Thanks be to God!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Open Table

I read an article in the online version of The Christian Century in which an Episcopalian (American Anglican) theologian named Charles Hefling discussed the meaning of “open communion”. http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2012-11/who-communion
 
 
Based on Hefling’s thoughts, I would say that my own theology with regard to this sacrament is summed up in the term “open table”, which means that when I issue the invitation, it is totally inclusive, and usually goes something like this:
 
“At Trinity United Church we believe that this table, and what we share here does not belong to us. It all belongs to God, and is for God’s people. It does not matter to us if you belong to this church or any other church. You do not have to believe the same things we do, or even know exactly what you believe. The only qualification, if that is the right word, for sharing in the food and drink that comes from this table is that you have a hunger, a thirst in your life for God. At the same time, you are absolutely free to not receive communion. “
 
I wrote this quick comment on The Christian Century blog page after reading the article:
 
I looked out from an 8th floor balcony this afternoon, at a mist-kissed canopy of trees over a creek valley that runs through the neighbourhood near my church. I was visiting with the two wonderful women, sisters who share that apartment, and who shared the view with me. It was a brilliant sunny fall afternoon, and the beauty I was gifted with had for me, a deeply sacramental nature. God the creator is present in this world. The Spirit is present in this world, and is alive. Christ was present in the visit I had with these two strong, faithful women. I noted that the only fences limiting access to the trees, to the creek valley I was looking at, are human made. As the pastor, and celebrant at Trinity United Church in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, I am grateful that we have a totally open table.

Hope Peace Joy Love

                      Hope Peace Joy Love

Traditionally there is a “theme” for each of the four weeks of the Advent season. We often hear the themes mentioned as the candles of the Advent Wreath are lit.  A few weeks ago I sat with two other United Church ministers for the first meeting of our Contemplative Liturgy Project.  Our hope is to create new worship materials that encourage and make space for awe, and wonder, and silence.  Together we prayerfully read the scriptures for the weeks of Advent. We crafted calls to worship based on the readings. 

 

As I reflected on the scripture selections, seeking ways to connect them to the candle-lighting themes, it occurred to me that the biblical understanding of these words is more nuanced, and has greater depth than the ways these words are used outside a faith context. These are powerful words, worthy of us slowing down, and taking time to reflect on their spiritual meaning. For this Advent season, I offer you the following spiritual exercises, intended to help us to live more fully into the meaning of each week’s theme.

 

Hope  (December 2-8 ) This week, commit a hopeful piece of scripture to memory, and say it to yourself during the day as an ongoing prayer.  Here are two possible scriptures, from the Sunday readings:

“To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.” (Psalm 25:1)

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Luke 21:33)

 

Peace (December 9-15 ) Make an appointment with yourself (and perhaps with a friend)  to go for an early morning prayer walk, outside if you can manage it!  Think about this line of scripture as you walk:

“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)

 

Joy (December 9-15 ) The children’s song Magic Penny  says “Joy is something if you give it away, you end up having more.” Gratitude for life, and generosity towards others are signs that joy is flowing through us. Here are two things to do this week, to prime the pump of spiritual joy:

“Give thanks to the Lord” (Isaiah 12:4) Make a list each day of three things for which you are grateful to God.

“Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” (Luke 3:11)

Each day this week choose one of your possessions that would be of use to someone else, and give it away.

 

Love (December 16-22) “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (Luke 1:41-42)

 

Elizabeth’s response to the arrival of her younger cousin is visceral- she is moved from the core of her being. The scripture describes her as being filled with the Holy Spirit. Love is an animating, life-giving flow of energy from God. Take time to remember the people in your life that you love dearly. Remember especially those who have died, and are now safely held by God. Imagine God’s love flowing through you, towards them. Imagine God’s love flowing through their hearts, towards you. Let the feeling of love flowing be your prayer for those most dear to you. Give thanks for these people who mean, and have meant so much to you. Ask God to bless them.

 

The season of Advent offers us an opportunity to grow as faithful people. As we anticipate the celebration of the birth of Jesus, we can also take time in our days and weeks to allow something new to be born in us. We can actively seek to make of our heart a place for the Holy One to be born.