Advent Four:  Lighting the Tiny Lights

Advent Four:  Lighting the Tiny Lights December 18, 2016

This guest post is by Jill Crainshaw.

"Old Salem Bridge with Stars" by Sheila Hunter. Used by permission.
“Old Salem Bridge with Stars” by Sheila Hunter. Used by permission.

“We are lighting the tiny lights.”

This is what a Franciscan friar said about living Advent in Aleppo.

Seeing all the violence in Aleppo and other places, I fear that Advent may bleed over into Christmas this year, and I do mean bleed. As we arrive at this Fourth Sunday of Advent, the Sunday when we light the candle of love, I am haunted…

A candle flame of love. Seems so small, a flickering candle. Not enough to combat the fiery explosions that bombard the neighborhoods of Aleppo where children once played soccer in the streets. The other three candles on the wreath shrink each week—hope, peace, and joy melting as time passes. And doesn’t it seem that they have diminished in our world—hope, peace, and joy—suffocated by the rubble as a Syrian city crumbles, doused out by blood running through the streets? Or is it that evil winds have chased their flames away, banished them to obscurity before Mary and Joseph even arrive at the stable? How can hope and love find the spark of humanity in this starless midnight where the most visible message flashing across the sky is a seven-year old’s tweet about her impending death?

When I was seven, I loved watching the Advent candles burn down lower each week until Christmas Eve when we would light the big Christ candle. As those other candles got shorter, I knew Christmas Day was coming closer. The Advent wreath does mean just that. The candles drip and melt, but they do so as we journey to Bethlehem to celebrate the wondrous flaming up yet again of God’s unending Light.

But what about this year’s journey? How will the Bethlehem infant’s cries be heard amid the bomb-birthed rubble of Aleppo? How are we who encounter from afar horrific images to feel not only in our hearts but also in our bones the world’s groans for God’s promises of freedom and justice and peace to come now?

“We are lighting the tiny lights,” said the Aleppo friar.

Can we see them, you and I, even with neon signs flashing “make America great again”? Can we see the tiny lights from here in North Carolina where spotlight-grabbing politicians play with power oblivious to their people’s plight?

The tiny lights call to us in our Advent waiting. While we wait, if this thing called Christmas means anything at all, then we must wait remembering that we are the body of Christ. We are God’s flesh and blood. We are God’s love. Isn’t that the point—and the risk? How do we wait in such a way that God’s life-giving blood flows in and out from us to enliven this hurting world—out from that cradle of love where we are born anew?

“We are lighting the tiny lights.”

Perhaps that should be our single proclamation and promise on this Sunday. We—God’s body, God’s blood—will carry out into the world God’s Light. We will carry in our bodies, in our bones, God’s promises of hope, peace, and justice. We will live and risk what we must knowing that each word we speak and each action we take each day matters if we want life to return to dying places, if we want to turn back evil with the fierce and fearless, healing and hopeful flames of love. By God’s grace birthed in Bethlehem, we are God’s Light. God give us courage to be light.

A prayer for communion on the Fourth Sunday in Advent

God so-loved the world
God so loved the cosmos
God so-loved the earth

God—the One who imagined the earth and shaped it–

God—the One who took the matter of the earth in hand
and blew into it the breath of life—

God—the One who became earth—flesh—

from earth we come
to earth we shall return…

God—the One whose feet kicked up dirt along the streets of the earth…

God invites us to God’s table.
To this meal made from the earth—
A kaleidoscopic explosion of sweet nourishing
to be touched—smelled—eaten by us…

We give thanks–for
God’s life-force flowing out from the marrow of God’s bones–
God with us—in us.

We give thanks and we remember—
A sun setting meal with friends
breaking, pouring, blessing and speaking:
This. My body.
This. My blood.
God’s life force flowing out from the marrow of God’s bones–
through desolate places to rehydrate
set loose
set free
in us–in the marrow of our bones.
God so loved the earth–

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

So—we eat and drink together.
We taste.
We eat and taste and remember–
God’s earth and how it groans for want of care
God’s people and how many ache from emptiness and pain
We eat and drink and pray:
God, be in the marrow of our bones
Our life-force
And flow out in us and from us and through us
to rehydrate and restore where lives are dry and damaged.

God so-loved the world
God so-loved the cosmos
God so-loved the earth—
God so-loves us.


Jill CrainshawAbout Jill Crainshaw
Jill Crainshaw is a PCUSA minister and Blackburn Professor of Worship and Liturgical Theology at Wake Forest University School of Divinity. She is the author of several books on worship and ministry.

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