Advent 2021: The Light of Hope


It seemed impossible to fathom that 2021 could be harder than 2020 in any way and yet…it is easy to see that it has surpassed all those non-expectations. In many ways, 2021 has proven indelibly harder on our hearts, minds, and bodies than the previous year. In that difficulty, hope has often seemed to wane. As we enter this season of Advent, of preparation and arrival, let us not allow despair and difficulty to rob us of that most blessed gift: hope. 

Hope is an everyday treasure. In Neil Gaiman’s famous series The Sandman, two characters have a contest, a seemingly simple game but with dire stakes.  It is The Oldest Game, a game of imagination with each character trying to best the other, to come up with the Final Idea.

One character claims, “I am the dark, the end of everything. The end of universes, gods, worlds…of everything.” 

Into the bleakness they painted, Dream of the Endless replied…simply, powerfully:  “I am Hope.”  

To this there can be no reply, no defeat, no destruction because hope is everywhere to be found. In every heart and mind, in every space in life. As the poet Alexander Pope wrote, hope springs eternal. No matter how we suffer, how we hurt, or how little light can be seen, our eyes will always seek out and find it–even the merest pinprick of light in the darkness, the tiniest bit of hope to cling to.

“I am Hope,” is God’s gentle whisper to worn and weary hearts at this onset of Advent. As we begin this journey into the Christmas season, Hope is at our side. As we wend towards the end of 2021, sometimes with tremulous steps, Hope is under our arm, supporting us. Even the merest mustard seed of faith that things will get better and that God will show us the way lends strength and power to Hope. Hope is in a hand outstretched to help, in celebrating a hard task done, and even in the quickest of kind notes and gentle acknowledgements from our dear ones. Hope is in the bringing-together words of “Me, too. You aren’t alone.” 

Hope is what holds us aloft and all together. Hope in life, hope in God and His love, hope in His light. As the first Advent candle glows, may we find hope in its flame and in the Word it prepares us for.

Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Advent 2020 ~ Wrapped in Love


As Advent wanes and Christmas draws nigh, we look to the pillar of love. Where does gentle love begin? Is it in the things we buy, package, and donate? The wishes we try to fulfill? Is it in the hours we give to rehearsals and practices? Is it in the presents tucked away with all the hopes for them bringing joy when opened? Is it in the moments when we let the To Do list fall by the wayside, when we just sit in the glow of the lights with the warmth of our dear ones in our arms? Is it in our voices lifted still with cries for mercy and justice?

Yes. This is where gentle love begins. In any of it. In all of it. In the small moments, the little things, in the corners of our hearts that we open up, in the generosity that we show, and in the quiet moments that we are mindful of and cherish. When we open ourselves up to let these beautiful things out, we let love and gentleness in as well. It refills us, reinforces us, and reminds us that we are dealing with very human hearts in a very humanly-flawed world.

The world, as we look at it today, is hard, uncertain, and frightening; it batters and beats and berates and bruises those who most need its mercy. We take that in day after day after day and fight not to let it make us hard in turn. We fight back with love and mercy, grace and gentleness. Let’s hold tightly to Love and hold each other gently, Friends.

As Christ showed love to the lost, the rejected, the ill, and the forgotten, let us do the same in this Advent season and on forward forever. Let us not lose that gentle love that makes humanity humane.

Let’s remember the love of our Lord who gave all He had for all of us. May we accept that fierce and gentle love, press its flame to our hearts, and share its light with those around us. May the world, and our Lord, know us by our Love.

Advent 2020 ~ Surprised by Joy


Have you been surprised by good things this year? In those moments when we laugh and smile and, for a glorious little while, things feel…normal? The word normal feels like a dangerous one these days, as though we are afraid of it because it might not be graspable, at least not the way we remember it. But, even if normal feels fleeting, joy is still here. Advent is a season of hope, of expectation. What are we expecting, though? We are expecting joy. Whether it be in the transcendent meaning of the Christmas season, the beauty of our homes, neighborhoods, or houses of worship, or the elation of children on Christmas morning, we normally expect joy to come from somewhere. This year, perhaps we are hoping rather than expecting. Perhaps we are praying, pleading, yearning for joy. Romans 15:13 blesses us, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

No matter where we are in our lives this year, joy is still here. It may not be where we expect it to be. Rather joy can be where we choose it to be, where we need it to be.

Joy can be in a child’s thoughtful prayers for others who are suffering or have less than they.

Joy can be in the belly-laugh of your partner, their face bright with a smile.

Joy can be in the wrapping of the perfect gift for a loved one, no matter how simple it may be.

No, Friends, joy may not be where we expect it this year, but it lingers where we need it.

Joy is still here.

Advent 2020 ~ Fashioning Peace Piecemeal


In the world in which we live, peace seems like a far-fetched dream. Peace in a world of sickness, fear, worry, and dread? Peace in a world of struggle, suffering, loneliness, and inequity? Yes, peace is hard to find. Yet it can be found. Jesus holds it in His hands, its tiny flame dancing and throwing just enough light to glow in our eyes. Here, His heart says to ours. Here is a bit of peace.

A bit of peace in a glorious sunrise filling the sky with painted fire and jeweled clouds.

A bit of peace in a quiet house after little ones are abed, the fireplace or the wind outside the only sounds for a few moments.

A bit of peace in an unexpected card or gift that brings a smile to our faces.

A bit of peace in that favorite comforting song coming on the radio.

A bit of peace in the right words said at the just the right time.

Here is peace built piecemeal, one bit at a time. We may not be able to see peace on a large scale, but we can find it in its bits and pieces all around. We can find the tiny dancing flames and press them warm to our heart and soul. If only we know how to look for the little bits, the hidden bits. We can cup our hands around Jesus’s hands and smile with Him over peace built piecemeal. Together all those little flames can cast light in the darkness, enough light to warm every heart.

Advent 2020 ~ The Flicker of Hope’s Flame


2020 has barreled its way through our lives like so much of a stampede, seeming to batter and crush anything in its way. Our days have often been swathed in worry, upheaval, pain, and grief. We have spent this year living in the space between breaths.

We acknowledge the losses, the pain, the change, the struggles, and the sadness of this year. We take 2020 to heart because it has affected every corner of our lives.

But there is something else that we take to heart, Friends. In all of the struggle, in all of the hard, we take Hope to heart. We grasp the Hope that we now celebrate today. We grasp the Hope of Jesus’ Coming. We grasp the Hope furnished by His birth, His life, His death, and His rising again. We take to heart the Hope that is grown and nourished by His Love, His Joy, and His Peace.

We can take that Hope to our heart and soul. There may not be much or anything that we can do on a large scale to stem the tide of struggle seemingly inherent within this year, but we can do our best to live in Hope. We can do our best to live in Peace. We can love, hold, do good unto, and care for others, for those who surround us. We can forgive. We can give grace instead of sinking into bitterness and despair.

We can hold on to Hope.

The Advent of Gentleness


As we enter the Advent season today, I have been pondering just how gentleness ties into Advent. The words normally associated with this reflective yet celebratory season are: hope, peace, love, and joy. Advent is known as a season of hope and expectation, where the long-awaited comes to pass. But where does gentleness begin? I’m not necessarily thinking of the rush of the season, though it does come to mind. All the shopping, prepping, wrapping, and decorating. I myself am full of these plans, and I know their possibility to make this season an ungentle one. But that is a whole other blog post.

Where does gentleness begin? Is it in the things we buy, package, and donate? The wishes we try to fulfill? Is it in the hours we give to rehearsals and practices? Is it in the presents tucked away with all the hopes for them bringing joy when opened? Is it in the moments when we let the To Do list fall by the wayside, when we just sit in the glow of the lights with the warmth of our dear ones in our arms? Is it in our voice lifted still with cries for mercy and justice? What about the moments spent alone in contemplation over the year as it makes ready to be consigned to oblivion?

Yes.

I believe that this is where gentleness starts. In any of it. In all of it. In the small moments, the little things, in the corners of our hearts that we open up, in the generosity that we show, and in the quiet moments that we are mindful of and cherish. When we open ourselves up to let these beautiful things out, we let beauty and gentleness in as well. It refills us, reinforces us, and reminds us that we are dealing with very human hearts in a very humanly-flawed world.

Yesterday, I watched my daughter run up to a charity worker in front of one of the entrances to our local mall. You know, one of the people ringing the bell. Now, I don’t agree with this particular charity’s stance on several things that are important to me, but I know that these people are trying their best and sacrificing comfort and warmth to do what they hope is good. Therefore, I will never begrudge them. The lady ringing the bell smiled and bent near my daughter, offering the bell to her to ring with one hand and then holding out the other to shake her free hand lovingly. I saw gentleness in that moment, in their bright “Merry Christmases”, and in their holding the doors for people coming out and going into the mall. It’s moments like these.

The world, as we look at it today, is hard and harsh and frightening; it batters and beats and berates and bruises those who most need its mercy. We take that in day after day after day and fight not to let it make us hard in turn. We fight back with love and mercy, grace and gentleness. As Winn Collier points out, gentleness is subversive; gentleness is preposterous.

God comes to us with a preposterous gentleness that will always be a scandal in this rough-and-tumble world. And God invites us to join the scandalous subterfuge. Advent, these watchful days, asks us to see [sic] the world anew, to watch the alternative possibilities. Advent invites us to become gentle people again (Collier).

As we enter the Advent season today, let us join that “scandalous subterfuge”. Let’s hold fast to gentleness, refuse to let it be torn or pushed from our hands or hearts, speak it, and spread it. Let’s check ourselves, give ourselves a 5-second timeout, before we speak or react ungently to our loved ones. Let’s be willing to let some things go in order to hold on to what is most important. Let’s be willing to bend down, offer our bell and our hand, and give a smile to someone.

Whether you celebrate (or even like) Christmas or not, let’s embrace that preposterous gentleness. That gentleness that will undercut the dark and hard and the harsh and remind us to send our spirits out into the world among our fellow men. We only get one shot at this life, dear ones. Let’s make it a good one, starting with today.

“The Gentleness of Advent” by Winn Collier – http://winncollier.com/gentle_advent/

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Holding On


My Dearest Dears,

December has dawned in darkness and pain and grief. I have honestly avoided writing on all of this darkness because, well, it’s everywhere. Everyone is writing about it and good points have already been made. Outlining and highlighting the darkness is not my job. It is there, undeniable. It is truth, the starkest, coldest truth for some people, and what may be their only truth this Christmas. The statistics are there, etched and grooved in their own stoney reality. More shootings than there are days in the year. Families torn asunder on what was supposed to be a fun night out. A quiet dinner interrupted by a hail of gunfire and shrapnel. No, no one needs me to delve deeper into the darkness.

What is my job, though, is get out of the way of the light. No, I am not suggesting that we silver line these people’s pain. No. Never. I have never experienced such utter, violent loss. I have no frame of knowledge from which to speak to their pain. But I can acknowledge it and I do, with all my heart. I acknowledge their loss, their pain, their grief, their anger, their sadness, and join it in with them. I do not know these people, any of them here or abroad, but that doesn’t mean that I cannot take their grief as much to heart as I would those close to me.

But there is something else that I take to heart along with that grief. Something that I have noticed in so much of the aftermath of these events: the voices that come out of them. The voices of those who suffer this grief and loss. Their voices that call, beg, plead for peace. Their voices that admonish us to love, hold, do good unto, and care for others. Their voices that call for forgiveness. Their voices and lives that are the living proof that grace is a better choice than bitterness.

As we begin to close out this first week of Advent, this week of Hope, I am taking those voices to heart and soul. There may not be much or anything at all that I can do on a large scale, nor would I even know where to start, honestly, but I can do my best to do as they have asked. I can do my best to live in peace. I can love, hold, do good unto, and care for others. I can forgive. I can give grace instead of sinking into bitterness.

I can hold on to hope.

 

 

 

NaBloPoMo Day 30: Advent


As I sat at my kitchen table, eating my breakfast of warmed apple dumplings and doing some research, I found myself pondering Advent. As you know, Christmas season has officially begun and this past Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent, which continues over the four Sundays before Christmas. I have refilled our chic little Starbucks Advent calendar with my toddler daughter’s new favorite “Chifee” (Christmas) candy, peppermint, and I couldn’t help thinking on how and what we will teach her about the Christmas season as she grows older.

Growing up, Advent was not made a huge deal of in my church community. I do not recall any advent candles or calendars, although that may just be a flaw in my recollection and not an absence in my experience. But, still, in our current church home, advent candles are lit, one added on each of the four Sundays before Christmas Day, with the fifth and center candle lit during the Christmas Eve service. Hope, peace, joy, and love–these are the themes of Advent, per my recent research and reading. These are themes and thoughts that lift my heart and soul. I have been researching Advent-themed devotionals, blog posts, and articles to share on our church blog and I can only pray that these posts will speak to people’s hearts and center minds and spirits for this season, bring them joy in hope.

I try to live my life with the goal and intention of living in peace, showing love, sowing hope, and (hopefully) exuding joy. I am so grateful for all that God has done for me and how He makes his presence known in my life, lifting my heart and soul in differing ways. Providence in circumstances, a perfectly-placed or timed song, or the spoken or hugged-out love of a friend or loved one. All of this has made an incalculable impact on my life and all I really desire is to live an encouraging, edifying, loving life in return, to share that peace, hope, love, and joy that has been lavished on me over the years.