Messages of Hope

Month: December 2020

Never lose hope

Published / by Sandy

A reflection by Mary Lou Kownacki:

“Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news
of great joy that will be for all the people.”
(Lk 2:10)

The promise can no longer be contained. Every day this week a messenger arrived “bearing glad tidings”.

Gabriel walked into the Holy of Holies and announced good news to Zechariah and Elizabeth: “Joy and gladness will be yours … in these days God is acting on your behalf.” An angel entered the dream of Joseph and whispered, “Do not fear … you shall call him Emmanuel … God is with us.” And Mary is greeted with words that praise and comfort: “Rejoice O highly favored daughter! Blessed are you among women.” Immediately and in haste she carried the message into the countryside inviting the entire universe to a festive procession.

One has an image of an angelic choir on its feet rushing toward earth leading the way to Bethlehem, then the poor shepherds, dressed in rough sheepskin clothes, still drowsy, still dazzled by the light, still bewildered by the music, the voices, that announced “Peace on earth.” Next the Magi, arrayed in splendid robes, faces aglow, bearing humble gifts; and behind the seekers come travelers of every nation, advancing on horseback or on foot, followed by their camels, dogs and oxen.

If you can imagine this procession of creation, you can also hear the song that envelops the earth as these pilgrims make their way toward Bethlehem. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation, and saying to Zion, ‘Your God is King’.”

Do you hear that song as you journey towards the stable? Do you believe it?

People on their feet, walking toward a promise, is revolutionary. People on their feet, walking toward a promise, can topple empires. People on their feet, walking toward a promise, can create a vision of the Promised Land. Processions are like that.

Remember Gandhi’s Salt March, the small cadre that swelled into a national nonviolent army marching for freedom. How beautiful are the feet of those who bring God’s peace. Remember the euphoria of Solidarity in Poland, Lech Walesa carried on the shoulders of the working poor, the throngs singing in the city streets. How beautiful are the feet of those who bring God’s peace. Recall the day of victory when the Berlin Wall toppled. Hear the church bells ringing, see the people embracing and dancing in the streets. How beautiful are the feet of those who bring God’s peace.

Stay in touch with the Christmas story, a wonderful mystery marking 2000 years of beautiful feet walking the Judean hillsides, walking toward the Star of Bethlehem, the promise of peace.

But, you may argue, Herod soon begins the slaughter of the innocent and the shadow of a cross looms in the distance. Or in time the “little people” are crushed again. Or despite millions of people for peace nothing changes. It only worsens.

Yes. Yet for one second in time everyone has a taste of new beginnings, new possibilities, new life. Christmas. For a moment, the Kingdom is come.

And who knows – in the 60’s Mama Cass belted out the promise, “There’s a new world coming and it’s just around the bend.” We believers in the Christmas message would have to agree around the bend is always a surprise; around the bend could be a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, whose name is PRINCE OF PEACE. And there’s only one way to find out – keep following the Star of Bethlehem.

It is this promise, this hope we call Christmas that will feed the flame within us and lighten the path for the next generation.

Mama Cass (1970) There’s a new world coming…

Burning with the anger of injustice

Published / by Sandy

“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty.
“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.
“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”
Malachi 4:1-6

Joy Connor evokes the deep grief and anger of Malachi as she reflects on the injustice that still surrounds us, as part of the ‘For the Weary’ Advent series…

Malachi is a cranky man, full of grief and anger. As God’s messenger in a culture where revenge and retribution were the answer to wrong-doing, his message brings a whole lot of Malachi with it.

After a year when three horsemen of the apocalypse: fire, flood and pestilence, have rampaged through the land, I wish I had his energy and that I wasn’t just so weary.

Malachi is incensed at hypocrisy, at the loss of reverence for the creator God. He burns with anger at the human hubris which sets the world out of kilter, ignoring the proper balance of the human presence in the light of the eternal, revealed through the ancient law and stories of his people. Hypocrisy which brings sick, useless and worthless offerings to contribute to the care of the temple. These days it is like pretending that the mining of coal seam gas will look after our fragile planet as it destroys the deep ground water. It’s like ignoring the deep wisdom of the Statement from the Heart and just fiddling around the edges, believing that this will fix the racial oppression suffered by our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Malachi hates the arrogant sense of entitlement which is deaf to another’s pain. Like inferring that people seeking asylum are illegal potential sex offenders, criminals and terrorists who deserve to lose their youth in off-shore and onshore detention. Decision making which means that people seeking asylum live with no unemployment assistance through a pandemic in order to stop the “pull factor” which causes the deaths at sea of other desperate people.

The thought of putting a bit of heat under the suits who perpetuate the lies is quite attractive after I have listened to people who have been abandoned in detention for 7 years or more. I mentioned this to my dear communist inspired friend. She was horrified. ”That’s just not OK Joy” she said, “You are a Christian, you shouldn’t even be thinking like that.”

And she is right. The “Elijah” that Malachi is longing for who “Comes with healing in his wings” doesn’t come as a vengeful militarist God but as a tiny baby born in poverty, living in the midst of the injustice and oppression of an occupied country, sharing the pain of racism and weariness. ”God with us,” as Paul says ”the hope of glory.”

Advent means that the Creator loves us and became one with us in love. The message of compassion and justice doesn’t change but following the one who has shared this pain shifts how we deal with the wrongs whose effects just don’t go away.

I try and start each day sitting or lying down when I am very tired. I shut my eyes and let the sun of God’s love soak in. Letting God love me is sometimes hard. The worries, the things to be done, the hurts of others and my own brokenness constantly interfere. But our God is just crazy about us. “We are all God’s darlings” as Lady Julian of Norwich wrote in 1492.

Joy Connor is a long term social justice activist. She is currently Chairperson of the Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group and regularly visits refugees in detention.

For the Weary is a daily email devotional series that has been crafted by a diverse group of contributors, and reflects on the lament of the Advent story and the hope that we share. Encourage your friends, family and faith community to sign up here. It’s not too late to sign up!
Promote this series in your church or faith community this weekend with PowerPoint slides and social media assets available here

Advent: when waiting is the work

Published / by Sandy

(prompted by an article by Laura Jean Truman, Advent: When Waiting Is the Work)

I’ve just spent a week with a family with young children. It was joyous. The four year old would proclaim, in the intervals between activity, ‘I’m bored’. It’s an expression she’s probably picked up from kindergarten, or Bluey, or any number of places. One time she stretched out full length on the couch to rest, assuring us she was bored again. I wondered what bored must feel like, as I adore the moments in between activity and things to do, when there is a time of gentle quiet. So the four year old philosopher and I chatted about how those moments in between activity and the way it lets the brain and body rest.

Perhaps the experience of lockdown in this strange and difficult year has meant the experience of ‘being bored’ has woven its way through many adult lives where ‘inactivity’ too easily equates with boredom. The ‘in-between activity’ moments have been difficult to manage when ‘being busy’ is often worn as a badge of honour, or at least can be an expectation.

My ‘smart watch’ tells me when to take time to breathe deeply for one minute. It pops up when you least expect it, and sometimes at inconvenient times (like in the middle of a meeting!). Making the time for deep breathing has great benefit for body health – a simple and natural tool to reduce stress and anxiety, pain, and high blood pressure. When you become stressed or anxious, the brain releases cortisol, the “stress hormone.” By taking deep breaths, your heart rate slows, more oxygen enters our blood stream and ultimately communicates with the brain to relax. Deep breathing also ups your endorphins, the “feel good” chemical. Breathing is in charge of 70% of cleansing the body of toxins (the other 30% is through bladder and bowels.) If you do not breathe fully, your body must work overtime to release these toxins.

Similarly, meditation improves mood, decreases stress, increases attention span, even increases creativity. Contemplative practices have been a staple of Christian spirituality for thousands of years, as a way to encounter God and our deep self.

Laura Jean Truman reflects: And yet it can be hard to make the time for these practices, to make space for stillness. There is always just so much to be done. Injustice is everywhere and the work is never-ending. When we look at the suffering of the world, being still feels like a sin. How can we justify stopping, resting, breathing, waiting?

Into this anxiety and restless busyness, the liturgical year invites us into the holy waiting of Advent. Into a culture that prioritizes productivity over presence, Advent invites us to believe that we have value even when we are still. Into a culture that tells us if we don’t do it, it won’t get done, Advent asks us to stop working for a season. God is going to do a new thing, and all we have to do is wait.

There is a time for everything, Ecclesiastes reminds us, and the liturgical year leads us through this sacred time that runs alongside secular time — through a time to feast, a time to fast, a time to repent, a time to be forgiven. Yes, there is time to work alongside God bringing in the redemption of the world. And there is also a time to stop working, to sit and be still. It’s tempting to say that the “sitting still” is just a preparation for the work, but it would make just as much sense to say that the work is preparation for sitting still. Neither the steady work of ‘Ordinary Time’ in the church calendar, or the patient waiting of Advent, is more important.

During Advent, the waiting is the work. 

When the earth rests in the winter, it’s not non-productive. In stillness, the earth is replenishing. In waiting, the earth works. In COVID lockdown, the earth had a chance to breathe again, to do some healing in the interval when humans were doing less driving, less travelling, less consuming.

In Advent, we acknowledge that there are forces at work beyond our own heady dreams of fixing the world. We admit that even when we stop, God still works. We put down our tools and put down our pride, and wait for the morning that God always brings in.

Waiting is hard because our culture has worked tirelessly to disciple us into the myth that life’s meaning is tied to our productivity. The world has taught us to be unsatisfied and to always strive for more – to be more, have more, get more, do more, fix more. Unlearning that is hard work, and it takes practice. 

No one has taught us that the work goes on, even when we are still. No one has ever taught us that God can break into the world even when we have stopped working.

Advent teaches us how to wait and be still. The rhythms of the church year echo the rhythms of the seasons and the rhythms of night and day. Winter always moves to spring. Night always shifts to day. The loneliness of Advent always gives way to the God with us, Immanuel, of Christmas.

Laura Jean Truman, Advent: When Waiting Is the Work (published on Church Anew blog)