Lighten Up! An Advent Resource for 2017 – Martin Stewart

Lighten Up!
An Advent Resource for 2017
Prepared by Martin Stewart

Advent in New Zealand is celebrated in summer – the season of light.

The days are at their longest, the night has to find its way in whatever gaps are left.  Summertime is also holiday time for many people thus there is a horizon through December of lighter days, less pressure, family get-togethers, and time and space to relax.

But there is a lot to get through until that space arrives, thus Advent in New Zealand is fraught with busyness, work deadlines, and pressure to get everything done, including all of the Christmas arrangements.

For most, the weeks that lead up to Christmas can have an element of being burdensome.
To what degree do we end up walking towards Christmas too heavily?
Can we make something of this season of light and more intentionally let the light in?
Is there also an invitation to the church to relax a little, to enjoy this time that reminds us of why we do what we do?

The light has come.  It has come already!  We are pointing to what the world has already been graced with.  God is with us!
It really is time to lighten up and join in with what God is doing!

Thus the theme, Lighten Up!  On Tuesday of each week through Advent I will post a resource on Candour for you to use, borrow, adapt (or ignore) the following Sunday.  It will include a bible passage, a photograph, some words, and a question for quiet reflection.
The idea is that you might invite people into a gentle reflective space at the start of weekly worship so that even our worship is entered into lightly!

Advent 1

Psalm 60:1 proclaims words of release from all that burdens us: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”

Advent 2
John’s Gospel has the Baptist telling us of the one who is ‘the true light, which enlightens everyone, [and] was coming into the world.’

Advent 3
Jesus invites us into the light saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’

Advent 4

Jesus calls out to those who might listen, to let our lights shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Christmas Eve/Day
John, in his great prologue, paints the big picture…in Jesus was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.  Oh we really must lighten up!

Prayers On The Way – Martin Stewart

I have been experimenting this year on how I frame the prayers for congregational worship.  I’ve been calling the early prayers in the service of worship ‘Prayers on the way’ as a way of finding a language for what is going on for those who are strangers to some of the old language, and those of us who are bored by some of that stuff!  And I’ve been calling the prayers in the later parts of the service ‘Prayers for the road’.  The feedback from people has been positive, though quite a few others seem not to have noticed!

I wonder sometimes about what we lose when we step back from preparing prayers by either making them up in the moment, or borrowing  prayers from other sources.  Both practices, of course, have their place.  The prayers that rise up in the moment can be profound, but they risk carelessness in language and theology, and sameness in content. The prayers others have crafted can draw on a wonderful collection of prayers from those who have prayed before us and those who pray around us, but if not carefully curated and adapted, they risk being in a language and style that is far from the world of the people before us.  Both styles can also encourage a kind of laziness, where those who prepare worship simply bounce off for whatever is in their head or reach uncritically for whatever resource they can find to rescue them. Continue reading

Advent Sunday Prayer

So here is a prayer I have prepared for Advent Sunday tomorrow…

Introduction:
It is Advent Sunday – we start the Christian year again
With Advent is the invitation to deeper engagement
What has been said before will be said again,
but with two significant differences:
firstly, the world is not as it was before
– it is better and it is worse, that is the nature of the world
and secondly, we haven’t been who we are before
– we are always at the edge of growing, and deepening our engagement with the dynamics of God’s grace at work in us…

so we pray

As the late spring winds blow
and test the hold that the new leaves have on the branches,
so God we invite your spirit-presence into our lives
and the lives of those about us.

God we do not seek you as a comfort-blanket under which we can hide,
no, we invite your turbulent love to sweep over us
and this land, and this world in need.

Stir us, enliven us, engage us,
that in this season of Advent
we will hear again, as if for the first time,
of your invitation to live the transformed life.

You come in Jesus Christ.
We come in response.

You call us to life in all its fullness.
But we confess that we almost always respond in our own way,
from our places of comfort and resistance, and consequently,
with lowered expectations of what your fullness can be.

Forgive us, we pray,
forgive us for the way that we so often hear your call
and so often have our hearts stirred,
but before too long we have resorted to our old habits
and given into our divided loyalties.

We invite your turbulent love to sweep over us.
We invite your Living Word to stop us in our tracks.
We invite your Spirit-presence into the corridors of our resistance
to blow away the dust and cobwebs of our fear-filled patterns of life,
that we might hear the call from the deep
and respond anew with vigour and passion,
to the story of you, O God, living among us full of grace and truth.

And this is God’s word to us… from 2 Corinthians 5:17
“… if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

This is what God pronounces for us.
This is the life that God creates in us.
This is the promise that comes to us today in Jesus Christ.
And God’s Spirit enables us to live into this new creation.

God, hear us as we hear your call
and respond in love as a forgiven and renewed people,
in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Advent & Christmas Prayers

I wonder if you have some prayers that you have written or found that went well that we could share over the next few weeks as the Christmas season draws near?

Why not pop them in or send them to me martin(at)villagechurch.nz and I can load them.

I do know that there are some wonderful wordsmiths among you – how about flicking through some of your resources and sharing some of them – it might help us all as we work things up and look for something fresh!

I found this prayer that I had used in 2005:

A Franciscan Christmas Blessing for Justice and Peace
December 20, 2005

May God bless you with discomfort…
at easy answers, hard hearts,
half-truths ,and superficial relationships.
May God bless you so that you may live
from deep within your heart
where God’s Spirit dwells.

May God bless you with anger…
at injustice, oppression,
and exploitation of people.
May God bless you so that you may
work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears…
to shed for those who suffer from pain,
rejection, starvation and war.
May God bless you so that you
may reach out your hand
to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with
enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference
in this world, in your neighborhood,
so that you will courageously try
what you don’t think you can do, but,
in Jesus Christ you’ll have all the strength necessary.

May God bless you to fearlessly
speak out about injustice,
unjust laws, corrupt politicians,
unjust and cruel treatment of prisoners,
and senseless wars,
genocides, starvations, and poverty that is so pervasive.

May God bless you that you remember
we are all called
to continue God’s redemptive work
of love and healing
in God’s place, in and through God’s name,
in God’s Spirit, continually creating
and breathing new life and grace
into everything and everyone we touch.

Source: “Troubadour: A Missionary Magazine”
published by the Franciscan Missionary Society, Liverpool, UK: Spring 2005.

Calling for Spring Prayers/Poems/Blessings

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Here is a spring image I photographed today – kowhai – springtime in Aotearoa!

Sure, we love daffodils, but in our midst, from this land, are our own gorgeous golden spring flowers that the birds come and delight in!

So… have you some words to go with the image?
Prayers, poems and blessings for the Aotearoa Spring – send them in, let’s share!

Send them in martin@villagechurch.nz
or hit the comment button

To Bless and to Curse – by Martin Stewart

I was thinking recently about some of the people I struggle with and to what degree my struggle with them is about me.  They are, of course, complete and utter idiots – whereas I am not.  Actually, they are not such things any more or less than I am, but my dismissal of them is expressed in a tone of self-righteousness .  It is a tone of cursing.
I have been reading some of John O’Donohue’s writings this year.  He has written books of blessings.  It is like he learned to see and speak in only one way, that of lifting people up and seeing the light about him and them.

I came up with these words…

Blessings & Curses
Let us be careful with our words, our thoughts, our judgements.

To bless is to lay aside any sense
that we have the right to hold anything over anyone. Continue reading

Imagination – Our Last Remembering

I wrote the following poem a few weeks ago for the funeral of a woman from the Bryndwr part of The Village Church – thus some of the specifics come from her story.  I wrote it as an imaginative exercise as I thought about the flash of memory that seems to be a common element in the experience of dying – at least that is what those who didn’t quite die tell us!

The invitation for those of us who remain, I suggest, is to accumulate memories for that final flash of memory.  Continue reading

Good Friday

I wrote the following poem after preparing a reflection for the Easter chapel service at St Andrew’s College.  It ended up at the end of the reflection.  I am keen to encourage poems and reflections and prayers to be part of the Candour resource.  So many of us are using our imaginations week by week and the outcome of what we develop tends to get one outing before being shelved.  I offer this by way of encouragement!  Please feel welcome to begin a conversation by sending some of your writing… martin(at)villagechurch.nz

A painting I first encountered as an 18 year old prompted me to reflect on the face of Christ and the various faces I wear and have worn.  The painting is Jesus Bearing The Cross by Hieronymus Bosch (1515 or so).  The face of Christ is of a man at peace deep within despite what is happening to him.  You can glance at it here:
https://www.google.co.nz/search?q=bosch+jesus+cross&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiiyZTIgtjLAhWSNpQKHeeWA04Q_AUIBygB&biw=1920&bih=897#imgrc=6qeufzdtKDRagM%3A

I want a face that reveals
I want a face that reveals
what is going on inside me.
It is not that I want to show off
the speed of my understanding
For most of my understandings
have taken so much time to sink in
that the face I wore at the time
I first heard any revelation
is long forgotten.

Nor is it because I am now
so happy with what is inside me
that the beauty of what lies within
will radiate all the loveliness
of my soul at peace.

No, I want a face that reveals
that fear no longer dominates.

I want a face that reveals
openness to the wind
confidence in the light
ease with my neighbour
forgiveness of those who would harm me
a posture of delight in the possibility of things…

A face so free,
that I can be courageous
even when descending into a mess.

martin stewart