Helen Brereton is a Transitions Pastor, currently working with Glenfield Baptist Church in Auckland.

Tradition is one of the building blocks of theology. One way the church has organised itself through the centuries for education, remembering, worship, and general discipleship is through the setting of rhythms throughout the year in the form of events and seasons, such as Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. These traditions get called the Christian calendar or church year, which starts with Advent on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas Day.

Advent is framed as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem and the return of Christ at the Second Coming. Advent literally means ‘coming; arrival’.

Various practices are associated with Advent, one being lighting four candles during worship each Sunday leading up to Christmas Day, with a fifth ‘Christ Candle’ being lit on Christmas Day. The four ‘Advent Candles’ have traditional symbolism: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. This coming Sunday is week 2: Peace…

Most years, I come to the Advent season with joy and excitement. But last year, with the ongoing conflict in Myanmar and war in Ukraine, it became harder to preach about hope, peace, joy and love in the face of their suffering. This year, it is harder still to rejoice in the coming of Mary’s child when the mothers of over 7000 Palestinian and Israeli children are heartbroken and bereft after the events of the last two months. It is especially difficult to prepare a sermon on peace with the news that the fragile peace of last week’s ceasefire has ended and fighting has resumed.

How do you preach with integrity about the birth of the Prince of Peace when the land that He was born into is being torn apart in front of our eyes? I will confess that this week’s sermon and service preparation are sitting heavy on my soul. That is why I am grateful for a news release from the European Baptist Federation (EBF is the hapu for Baptist faith communities in Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East).

Taking a lead from the Baptist Union and Methodist Churches of Great Britain, the EBF invites Baptist Churches in their care to stand in solidarity with churches in the Holy Land and all who are suffering there by not lighting the second candle – the peace candle – this Advent. 

The European Baptist Federation writes:

Christian sisters and brothers in Bethlehem tell us that this Advent and Christmas, the lights in Bethlehem that normally adorn the birthplace of Jesus will remain unlit in memory of those who have died in the current conflict. The traditional Christmas celebrations in the Holy Land will be somewhat subdued this year.

Traditionally, the second candle on the advent wreath represents peace, and in some traditions is known as the ‘Bethlehem candle’.

This Advent, we at EBF with the blessing of our Baptist churches in Israel and the Palestinian Territories to do something ‘out of the ordinary’ and consider not lighting the Advent candle on the second Sunday (10 December) and leaving it unlit on subsequent Sundays.

This unlit candle mimics the unlit lights of Bethlehem and serves as a constant reminder that we stand in solidarity with all who are suffering in the Holy Land. We do this knowing the central fifth candle, will soon be lit, giving us hope that Christ’s light eternally shines in the darkness.

On Christmas Day (or soon after) we invite you to take a photo of your Advent wreath with the second candle unlit and upload them here to a EBF Dropbox folder. As you are uploading the file, you will be asked for a name, please put the name of your church and country.

We will ensure your pictures are forwarded to Baptist church communities in the Holy Land so our sisters and brothers in Christ can see they are never far from our thoughts and prayers over the Christmas season. You may also consider posting this image on your own social media feeds to show the world that together we pray for peace #peacecandle2

Helle Liht, EBF Assistant General Secretary, welcomes the involvement of New Zealand Baptists in this declaration of solidarity. She reports that the EBF has been able to send relief funds to support families in the West Bank who have had to stop going to work in Israel because of travel restrictions imposed on them, and they are working to extend relief into Gaza.

They have opened a special appeal to raise funds for food, hygiene items, medicine, gasoline, and other necessary items for the war victims in the Palestinian Territories and for the many other Palestinians who have lost their income because of the war.

If you or your faith community wish to support this appeal, you can give via the EBF website. [We are investigating how we might coordinate donations from New Zealand – Return to this article next week to find out how we might forward donations to the EBF Holy Land Appeal].

Below are the words that will be shared in Baptist faith communities throughout Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East this Sunday and over the rest of Advent.

This Sunday

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, we understand that the festive lights that normally shine bright in Bethlehem will not be lit this year in memory of those who have died in the recent conflict.

To stand alongside our sisters and brothers in Christ and all who mourn this Christmas, we will leave our second Advent candle unlit during advent and Christmas.

We look forward, with anticipation, to the coming of Christ, whose eternal light shines in the darkness.

Following Sundays

We remind ourselves that, this year, one candle remains unlit, as the Christmas lights in Bethlehem also remain unlit, in memory of those killed in the current conflict in the Holy Land. We look forward, with anticipation, to the coming of Christ, whose eternal light shines in the darkness.

May peace reign.

John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Hoani 14:27 He rangimārie tāku e waiho nei ki a koutou, tēnei tāku rangimārie te hoatu nei e ahau ki a koutou. E kore e rite ki tā te ao hoatu tāku hoatu ki a koutou. Kei pōuri ō koutou ngākau, kei mataku

 

Photo: From the European Baptist Federation

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