Shifting into Advent Mode

We are living in a time of upheaval and struggle.  Fires and floods and famines are not new, neither is war, nor corruption.  But right now, the veneer is being stripped off of everything, and ugliness and pain is being revealed at every turn. Suffering and struggle is exposed, our hypocrisy and sin is right in front of us, and it feels maybe like everything is breaking down.  It’s a strange time, a tense and wearying time.  We’re all on edge, reactive, exhausted and short-fused. 

But here comes Advent, right out in front of Christmas, bringing its on-purpose darkness like a blanket, gently laying it over us no matter what else is going on around us or within us. Advent doesn’t hold off to make sure we’re ready for it before it begins, and it doesn’t demand our attention with loud, frowning and urgency.  Instead, it comes steady and sure, rolling over us like a soft fog and inviting us into a different kind of being for a spell.

I once asked a Benedictine Monk about evil. Real, terrible evil that afflicts people and causes genuine suffering and terror in the world.  What is the best way to fight it? I asked. 
He looked at me and then said simply, There are two ways to fight evil. One is to go directly after evil. Study it, learn all about it, become adept at recognizing it and dedicate yourself to eradicating it. That is one way to fight evil. 
The other way is to go directly after God. Immerse yourself in love and kindness, prayer and gratitude, generosity and gentleness, search for points of connection and glimpses of redemption and opportunities to forgive.  Dedicate yourself to the things of life, seek God’s presence there. That is the other way to fight evil. 
Both ways work.  But one way will wear you out and tear you down. The other will fill you with joy and peace and make you into a person of courage and hope. 

Advent is an invitation to immerse ourselves in the other way. To seek God’s presence and watch for glimpses of redemption and opportunities to forgive.  Advent is the whisper in the darkness, showing and telling us something that is real but hard to see or hear in the glare of LED light and the non-stop noise of our televisions and smart phones, breaking news, speeding traffic, neon geopolitics, florescent distractions, and 24-7 insistent commentary.

So to us this day, the darkness of Advent is a gift. 
A desperately needed pause.  To wait on purpose for Jesus to come.
 Advent speaks tenderly and offers Comfort. Truth. Honesty. Hope. 

It’s a hiatus that takes in reality as we know it, but turns our gaze to another reality too, a deeper one, a realer one, the one that lasts from the beginning to the end and holds us in between, even when we are not seeing it. 
Advent immerses us in this reality, prompting us to seek the God who comes in.

Advent is the night shift nurse after the painful surgery, the quiet, turned-down sheets of healing sleep.  There is nothing here in the darkness that isn’t out there in the light – the wounds remain and the recovery continues.  But here, in the shelter of Advent, waiting for God, we can talk about the hard things and the sad things and the confusing and frustrating things, where they don’t get to make us afraid.  
And where fear is banished, hope is born. 
And peace grows stronger, and joy is tangible. 
When Love casts out fear, we are brought back to God’s reality, which looks so different from the red-faced blustering and flippant annihilation of the world.

Advent slows the pulse, pulls down the shades, and gently shushes us still.  It readies us for a God who comes in in a ridiculously weak and vulnerable way – a senseless and undermining and eternal way. Not to rescue us out, but to share this life with us, to weave redemption right in the midst of it all and keep it all moving toward love. 
God’s coming has happened, it is happening, it will happen.  Underneath and behind everything, drawing us into this plot of love, God is always bringing life out of death and hope from despair. God is doing this already and always.
So in Advent we stop, and breathe, and remember this, so we can look forward to the glory Alleluia of celebrating it when Christmas comes. 

Comfort my defeated people, God says. Tell them I see them.  And they’ve paid way more in suffering than they ever deserved for whatever they’ve done. Speak tenderly, though, they’ve been through a lot.  And they’re pretty hard on themselves. Gently, let them know they are free. Lead them into the way of hope.

While we rest in Advent’s embrace, we know that the words Advent speaks over us are protection and confidence. They name the things we wait for, and say they are coming, and assert that even now we see and feel them and know them to be real.   Advent gently and firmly proclaims over us, over the whole world, the sovereignty of the God of love, unrelenting and full of surprises, and invites us to affirm this truth and welcome this God.

God is our refuge and strength. Everything else will crumble and fade and wither and disappear. God’s future is coming, even now breaking in. It’s God’s future. It is not our own. It is not our job to make it come; it is our privilege to watch for it and welcome it each day. 
It is not our responsibility to bring it about; it is our invitation to notice it and join in as it unfolds. And to trust that it will never cease.

Our prayer stations tonight invite our imagination to shift into Advent mode. To sink into the reality we long for, and trust that it is coming, that even now it comes, and to join it as it arrives.

We will pray by letting ourselves feel, and sense, and welcome God’s peace.

Peace is true relationship with God and one another made concrete and experienced. Instead of division and striving, self-protection and fear– peace is the whole world and all its inhabitants in connection, interdependence, fully and trustingly living out their authentic purpose alongside all else doing the same. Peace is life as God intended.  It is the quality of everyone belonging to God and belonging to each other.

So as you create a tiny home with a light inside, you are invited to imagine peace beginning in your home and shining out into the world.  The Holy Spirit’s work of making peace within and between us at work through you.  Let your work with your fingers and quiet mind be a prayer for peace.
May you seek and receive peace tonight.

And we will pray by letting ourselves recognize and welcome God’s Love.

Love is our source and purpose.  In love God makes us, and claims us, and binds us to God and each other, to belong and to care for each other.  Love is the core of our belonging to God, and it is the action and practice of belonging to each other.  It is the substance of it all.

So as you cut out a heart and place it on the collage, alongside the hearts of these others here, who are connected to others, who are connected to others, all different, all carrying stories and pain and joy and dreams, you are invited to imagine being held in this giant quilt of love that God has made of the world.  And you might even in your head name those who hold you in love, and those to whom you’ve been given, as you let God’s love meet you here tonight.
May God hold you in love tonight.

And we will pray by letting ourselves release the things that keep us from joy, and welcome God’s joy in our hearts.

Joy is when our very innermost selves reverberate with God’s touch. It’s silly, and wonderful, and defiant, and a surprisingly formidable way to remember whose we are and who we are. Joy is peace outloud, a powerful antidote to fear.  It is when we know with momentary, buoyant sureness that we belong to God, and that we belong to each other, and that knowing fills us with delight that overflows.

As you journey to the center of the labyrinth, you are invited to acknowledge and greet all the burdens and barriers to joy that you carry with you. Holding a rock, let it symbolize all those things, and name them as you walk.
When you reach the center, let those things go by dropping the rock in the pot.  Take a jingle bell as an invitation from God’s Spirit to joy.  Let it symbolize the prompting to open your heart to moments of wonder and awe, outloud peace and spilling over life in the coming days.
May you taste joy tonight.

And we will pray by letting ourselves reach toward and trust in God’s hope for the world.

Hope is peace’s messenger and transport.  Where Peace IS God’s future, Hope says, There! That’s where we’re headed!  God will do this!
Hope propels us forward with unflinching honesty, dogged longing for what is wrong to be made right, and gutsy trust in the goodness and love of God. Hope looks at how we’ve forgotten we belong to God and to each other, and trusts that in Christ, peace and love will triumph, even over our amnesia and evil.

As you place candles on the world map, you are invited to imagine hope, flooding each place you lift up on prayer, each life and circumstance there. And you are invited to let Advent courage flood your own heart, filling you with hope that God’s reality will prevail, even when you cannot see a way.
When you are finished praying, stamp “hope” on a piece of paper to bring home and put somewhere prominent, as a reminder of the hope we live in and into, and a prompt to pray for hope.
May God fill you with hope tonight.

As always, we have a place to light candles to name specific prayer needs, and a prayer station for babies and those who wish to pray by hanging out with babies.  And simply sitting in rest and letting the music surround you is a lovely way to pray as well.

Empires rise and fall. The grass withers and the flower fades.  The earth groans and shifts and dies and is reborn. Tragedy comes and goes.  We can focus on all of that and fight evil, and be depleted.  Or we can turn our gaze to the God who began it all, who is here with us now, and who comes incognito into everything, insisting that love is where it is all irreversibly and forever headed.

Now let us shift our hearts and minds, imaginations and bodies, into the gentle darkness of Advent’s care.  However each of us will pray tonight, together we welcome the comfort of honest darkness that anticipates, watches for, and welcomes in, the true eternal light of the world.
Make no mistake, resting in God’s peace tonight is a powerful and subversive move. 
Let us pray.

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(PRAYER STATIONS for 30 minutes).

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As you go into your week, may you find moments to shut off the noise and enter the darkness of Advent that tells the truth about the darkness of the world, and tends you with the silence of rest. 
And then, may you be ready when Advent hands you the match and says, Now honey, light these candles in the darkness, because no matter how dark the darkness gets, it cannot put out the light.

So get you up to a high mountain, 
O herald of good tidings; 
lift up your voice with strength, 
O herald of good tidings, 
lift it up, do not fear; 
say to a weary and wary world, 
"Here is your God!"

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