December 5, 2016
By:  Jane Bishop Halteman

Kindling God embers as we share the warmth of the season...

Joan Chittister offers thoughts on Advent in her most recent weekly e-mail:  “Advent is the season of waiting. Its function is to remind us what we’re waiting for as we go through life too busy with things that do not matter to remember the things that do.  When year after year we hear the same scriptures and the same hymns of longing for the life to come, of which this is only its shadow, it becomes impossible to forget the refrains of the soul.”

Still awash in post-election news that besieges us on a daily basis, it may seem difficult to focus on the refrains of our souls in order to answer the questions that Chittister claims Advent requires of us:  “Advent asks the question, what is it for which you are spending your life? What is the star you are following now? And where is that star in its present radiance in your life leading you? Is it a place that is really comprehensive enough to equal the breadth of the human soul?”

On Day 8 in The Mennonite’s 2016 Advent blog post, Marlene Kropf, professor emerita at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, suggests that “during the dark days and nights of Advent, we open our hearts to our deepest longings:  we want everyone to be free, to be safe, to be welcome at the table and to have enough to share. Even though our earthly rulers regularly and thoroughly disappoint us, we can’t forget Isaiah’s dream-like vision of a world where justice and compassion are everyday virtues, lived not only by rulers but by everyone, great or small.”

Two days earlier in the same Advent blog series Amy Gingerich, MennoMedia editorial director, observes that “Advent is a time of living in tension, a time between celebrating God’s presence now and awaiting God’s peace in the future. A time of knowing that God’s peace is at hand and God’s peace is still on the way.  It’s a time for us not to wait and see what policies incoming political leaders will enact but to get ourselves into action:  our neighbors and neighborhoods are hurting now.”

My prayer for us at Kern Road during Advent is this one with which Gingerich closes her December 2 blog post:  “In this season of Advent, I pray that each of us be given God’s heart for righteousness, that we would defend the cause of the poor, that we would give deliverance to the needy….Let’s not throw away our hopes and dreams for God’s peace to reign.”

And I love this blessing from the Grand Rapids Dominicans which arrived in my inbox on Friday:  “May the God of Passion bless you. May God fire in you an eagerness for the Kingdom, an enthusiasm for the good news of salvation. May you be energized by faith with an intense awareness of God’s presence and activity in your life. May the divine energy in you kindle the God embers in each one you meet. May the God of Passion be with you.”  (© Maxine Shonk, OP) 

I notice that some of my friends are beginning to respond to Gingerich’s call on the local, micro level with the passion Shonk suggests; friend Molly reports that “I am hosting a tiny Christmas party for several little guys who have been displaced recently...the elementary school teacher in me has surfaced! We’ll be listening to The Chipmunk’s Christmas CD, watching a vintage kid’s Christmas movie, baking cookies, making marshmallow snowmen, etc.”

Sometimes, in preparation for reaching out to others, we benefit by tending to self-care and rebuilding our own fortitude first.  I spent the weekend discharging November despair by going to three holiday concerts (at Goshen College, Kern Road, and Saint Mary’s College) and listening to The King’s Singers A Cappella Christmas Songbook.  (Many thanks to friend Jeremy for the latter prompt.)

Reading about a gratitude jar (see this Pinterest link for more info) reminds me of how taking time to give thanks helps rebuild a semblance of joy where a sense of hopelessness threatens to overwhelm.  And beginning to post photos in the December Reflections 2016 challenge offers restoration in two ways…both in the process of creating my own photos and as I find space for solace and reflection in the photos of others.  

I noticed myself taking fresh courage as I decorated our Christmas tree, reminiscing about where each ornament originated (some reminding me of family and friends, others of special occasions or bygone eras) and which phase of our family life it represents.  What opportunities for a personal reboot will you allow Advent to offer this season so that you might be enlivened to listen well to the refrains of your own soul, to take action in hurting neighborhoods, to kindle the God embers in others?