"Are we there yet?" - an Advent reflection from Rachel Sawatzky

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 It is early on Saturday morning, the last Saturday in November. Noah is still in bed, so I whisper in his ear, "It's time to roll croissants, Noah." My words to wake him work like magic, and this tired twelve year old in the middle of a growth spurt gets up with joy and enthusiasm. It is bread baking time.  

Winter finds me in the kitchen. If I am awake, I will be in my kitchen at work or my kitchen at home, making chocolate or baking or cooking or just assembling gifts. The work is intense in December: I used to despair that if I ever had children I would not be able to stop to enjoy the season, that come Christmas day I would be too tired to enjoy anything. I feel strung out and tired; I forget to shower, I forget to eat. Most importantly, I forget to stop and think about what Christmas is, what Advent is. I know that many people feel this way. But this is my second Christmas as a kid-raiser, and Noah is teaching me how to stop. 

In the last week of November he asked if we could bake croissants. Always eager for a food related project, Noah wanted to learn to bake 'French stuff.' So on Friday night we rolled the dough and let it set over night. In the morning we rolled again, cut and shaped crescents of dough. Noah's a bit of a science consumer: he wants to know how yeast makes the bread rise, why we put butter in the croissants but not in the baguette. On week two we made baguette, and on week three, challah. I decided, right after the first week that baking bread with Noah on Saturday mornings will be my Advent practice. As the dough rises in the oven I will take time to wait: I will drink a cup of tea, and wait. When the smell of warm yeast drifts through the house, I will think about the anticipation of the season: Christ is coming. My mind will turn over the places in scripture where the bread becomes a key to the story and my mind will turn inevitably to Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. 

When I was a child visits to my grandparents house were not complete without the perusal of their books of Bible Stories for Children, and this story was one of my favourites. The illustrations showed a smiling and healthy looking woman in possession of a beautiful, tiny metal pitcher of oil, and a small handful of flour. I always pictured the widow mixing the oil with the flour, feeding the dough to the oven, pulling out a hot, small loaf. I felt the satiation of their hunger by those mouthfuls of bread. While I read this story, lying on the carpeted floor of my grandmother's dining room there would be bread baking in her oven - it seemed my grandma always had buns on the go. My own belly would rumble: the smells and tastes of the bread of Elijah and the widow came alive to me. 

What was not real to me then was the desperation and grace of this story. Before Elijah came along, the widow was near death. She was preparing to eat her last meal and then die from long term starvation and thirst. She would not have looked healthy and beautiful, she would have been starving, emaciated. As a child I couldn't know what this meant, and I probably still can't, but I can feel and know the power of that mouth full of bread. For me, bread was unlimited, rich and hot from the oven. The widow, her son, and Elijah began to have enough - just - to stay alive. The flour jar was never quite empty, the pitcher of oil replenished by miracles every morning. The daily act of making bread became a time of waiting for the drought to end, and waiting on God, waiting for the provision of His grace. 

I find myself now in the kitchen, waiting for the bread to rise, waiting for the time to celebrate the resurrection of the Savior, the Bread of Life, whose body will be broken for us. I have always been well fed, but my soul keens for the renewal of my soul as the widow must have yearned for the renewal of her body. I am hungry for the peace of the season. And as Noah asks me, "Rachel, is it ready yet?" it becomes another kind of asking, an anticipation. Has the bread risen? Has Christ yet come?

The year passing now was a hard year for so many. I don't know anyone who went through it in peace. My own circles of connection were rife with illness, business failures, heartbreak, and grief, so much that I could hardly stand to look past my tiny neighbourhood into the wide world where typhoons ravaged the Phillipines and war raged in Syria. In Advent we acknowledge this deep and earthly grief and wait for the joy of the coming of Christ.

Perhaps penitential, last week I chose a flat bread seasoned with olive oil and salt, the closest we will come this month to the food of the widow and Elijah, but this weekend coming we will make stollen. We will prepare for celebration, of joy, light, and hope, and the bread itself will be a celebration: risen and studded with fruits and nuts, it will be beautiful, sweet and hopeful. For this is the promise: to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

He will come, just as the yeast will cause the bread to rise.

- Rachel Sawatzky

Week #4: "Are we there yet?" - an Advent reflection by Rina Carbol

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If you are a parent this phrase is all too familiar. If you cannot relate from a parental perspective, certainly you were once a child yourself and you might recall uttering this phrase every now and again. At face value, we see this question as a child’s way of expressing a feeling of impatience that stems from boredom. However, I am learning that there is much more to it than the obvious. When I look beyond the superficial I begin to see the profound emotions that hide behind this simple sentence.

Allow me to explain…In the last several months I have heard from a number of people, some close friends, some neighbors and some strangers, that life is “too hard.” Some are facing the loss of a loved one- through mental illness, sickness, disease, or an accident that took a life too soon. Some have received news that death will come sooner for them than they had anticipated. They have been told they have cancer. Nothing can be done. Still others are struggling through daily life as they deal with the limitations brought on by chronic medical conditions. In my own life, I seek relief from a deep sorrow that I wrestle with each day. I think it is when we are in the midst of this suffering that we are tempted to ask “Why Lord? How can such evil be allowed on this earth when you are the victor? Why do you allow us to hurt so much sometimes? Don’t you see the suffering of your children?”

I am wondering if the need to inquire of the Lord as to the “why” of it all, simply sums up that singular childhood question, “are we there yet?” In our impatience, do we see the suffering as only something we must endure? Or is it possible that suffering has a greater purpose? Perhaps, from the Lord’s perspective, it is actually a blessing.

Like the farmer presented in James 5:7-10, we sow seed and we find ourselves waiting, praying and hoping for the seasons to change and the rains to come. But sometimes it seems the rain will never come and our hunger and thirst threatens to overwhelm us. I am learning that it is only during these times of being burdened by the heaviness of life, that I sense the Lord moving me away from an impatient questioning to a place of complete trust in Him. When I fully surrender to Jesus; that place of truly knowing that I cannot change my circumstance, that I have no more control and my only hope comes from the Lord: this is when the love of the Father releases me from my personal circumstance and opens my heart to find full confidence in Him and his goodness.

"I wait for the Lord my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen wait for the morning…” This is where you will experience the blessing of suffering because you will find your hunger and thirst satisfied. O the joy that brings!

Just as Mary and Joseph trusted the Lord during their difficult journey on the road to Bethlehem and parenting, I encourage you to take refuge in Him so that you too can know His faithfulness. I think you will discover that you are no longer asking the question, “Are we there yet?”

- Rina Carbol

 

Week #3: Is There Room?

 Image by Krystal Renschler:  http://intheordinary.weebly.com/

Image by Krystal Renschler: http://intheordinary.weebly.com/

Christmas is often a time to be nostalgic, to come back home and enjoy the memories and relive traditions that make that place the very nature of home: comfortable and established.

 For the last three Christmases, I trekked from one side of the globe to the other one that was home. I spent 38 hours cramping and uncramping on airplanes, then pawing through duty free counters in airport lounges to complete my Christmas shopping. All this just to be home for the holidays. I was a walking Bing Crosby song. The feeling of pathetic homesickness would start as soon as I stepped off the first flight (of four) at the Johannesburg airport, where the sight of English signage decked in lights and littered with brightly beaded ornaments gave me comfort and cheer.  I remember two Christmases ago choking back tears at the Montreal airport when a Canada customs officer neatly closed my passport, looked me in the eye and said warmly, “Welcome home miss.”

 But it strikes me that while today we take heart in the dead of winter from going home, it is very unlike the first Christmas. Each January, I’d do the trip in reverse, each leg putting more miles between home and me. It was this return journey to an unknown, distant country that was more in solidarity with Mary and Joseph. I’d inevitably arrive at a place that I had been brought to for a purpose and pleasure not well understood at the time. Then, the place terrified me by its difference and distance from home. I can put myself in the shoes of a very pregnant Mary, looking at a long and uncomfortable journey to a place that is not home, where those familiar and friendly to her will not be and where the lovelight will not likely be gleaming. More than anything, there’s just no knowing what crazy thing is to come next.

 Jesus is many things, including consistent. Even at his birth, there was ‘no hole or nest in which to lay his head.’ He came to Bethlehem, as predicted, but he turned even that expectation upside down – arriving not at some ostentatious palace as might befit, but at a dark, confusing and unfamiliar hovel.

 Now, as then, we as a church mark the arrival of the King in uncertain territory. Advent is a time of expectant waiting – a pregnant pause from the ordinary, if you’ll pardon the pun. Knowing not what is ahead, but that we are called to move forward, we take heart in the example of Mary, who faced with walking into the unfamiliar territory of motherhood, of her physical surroundings, of the expectations of those around her, walked faithfully into the dimly lit path set before her.

 - Kiki Tegelberg

Scriptures to meditate on this week: Matthew 8:20 & Luke 1:26-38

Week #2: How do we travel?

 Image created by Krystal Renchlser

Image created by Krystal Renchlser

As we journey forward together as a church body celebrating all that has been provided in the past, living daily in the midst of the many changes in the present, while eagerly anticipating all of what is to come in the future…how will we travel?

Will we walk each day in a spirit of gratitude? We might be tempted to answer this question with a resounding yes! Of course we will praise the Lord in thankfulness. But that response would mean that we have the ability to make a decision in the matter. I believe gratitude is not an intellectual choice; rather it comes entirely from the heart.

How do we truly arrive at a genuine thankfulness no matter the circumstance? I find there is one decision I can make, one choice I do have control over; it is to take time to be in the Lord’s presence where I give permission to the Holy Spirit to speak and where I elect to listen. It is in these moments, when I lay bare before our great and mighty God, that the Lord reveals who I really am and in contrast, who He really is. He is the God who “determines the number of the stars and calls each by name. He covers the sky with clouds. He supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills. He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call.”

In light of this revelation I discover afresh that I am a sinner. I am the brokenhearted of whom the scriptures speak, the one whose wounds can only be bound up by the living God. I am nothing and He is everything. It is here, where the honesty of my humanity sits exposed before me, that I truly experience the revelation of God’s grace and mercy and love, and therein a seed of gratitude is planted in the depth of my soul. It begins to well up inside me to a place where I am no longer satisfied with a routine “thank you Lord.” No, I find I want to stand on the mountaintops and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ! He is my Lord, my savior and He calls me friend. 

So how will you travel? Will your heart respond in gratitude as Elizabeth’s did? 

“The Lord has done this for me. ” Or like Mary? “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.”

Let us celebrate His precious birth together, journeying through each day’s triumphs and struggles as one body in Christ:

“Lord, we are thankful for the blessings you bestow upon us, whether they come wrapped in the pleasant packages we enjoy, or whether they come in the form of trials and tribulations that we must overcome in your strength alone. Jesus, thank you for the body you have put together in this church. Help us to accept one another as you have accepted us, that you might be praised! And God, our Father in heaven, who gives endurance and encouragement, give us a spirit of unity as we follow you so that with one heart and mouth you may be glorified.” 

- Rina Carbol

On the Road...

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Advent is a season in the church calendar that we share by telling and celebrating the story of Jesus coming to earth, and participate in some Sunday morning practices like lighting the Advent candles, reading scripture and praying together.

This year, our Advent themes have taken shape around the following themes:

- travelling 

- no room at the inn

- journeying in faith

- waiting on the Lord for salvation

- making space for those travelling far from home/the displaced in our society and community looking for a place to call home/looking for Christ

It's interesting to note that, like our church, all the principle characters in the Advent story are on the move: the wise men trekking far from home, Mary & Joseph in a hostile country and without advance hotel reservations; the shepherds outside in the fields then led to leave their area of comfort and work and travel somewhere else to discover Jesus. 

Each week of Advent, watch this space for new art, questions to meditate on, scriptures to read and reflections written by members of our community.  If you feel inspired to contribute through writing, art or speaking on a theme, please contact Lian Lister (lianlister@hotmail.com) to get involved!