"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

 

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!