Stop. And. Breathe. Advent reflections from GK Church

Life becomes so full in the run-up to Christmas, making sure that presents are bought, the tree is decorated, the cards are sent. It would be lovely if we could just...Stop. And. Breathe.

Advent is a time for getting ready, a time to prepare our hearts and minds to welcome God in flesh and blood into our lives. To do that, we need to clear a space, free from all of the distractions and endless tasks that the weeks before Christmas bring.

Why not join us each week on our journey through Advent? We will listen to some music, reflect on some words from Scripture, spend some time in silence, but most importantly, we will...

Stop. And. Breathe.

advent 1

warm me up and breathe me

Stop. And. Breathe.

Listen to Breathe Me by Sia.

warm me up and breathe me

Ezekiel 37.1-6

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live again?’ I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’ Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.’

It would have been a grim vision. Dry human bones, stretching out as far as the eye can see. Once clothed in flesh. Warm. Living. Animated. Breathing. Now, long dead and left to the merciless elements. What kind of place is this? The site of a massacre perhaps? Who knows. But one thing is certain: it is a place without hope; a place without a future.

"Can these bones live again?" The obvious answer would be, "No." but since when did God deal in obvious answers? As Ezekiel prophesies to the bones, God wraps them up in flesh once again. God breathes them a future.

"Help, I have done it again, I have been here many times before," sings Sia in the song Breathe Me. How often has this been the cry in your own life? How often have you found yourself in a place which feels like the valley of the dry bones? How often has the future felt uncertain and without hope? How often has all of this been of your own making?

Call to mind those times.

Stop. And. Breathe.

Feel God warm you up and breathe you.

When we try to live by our own strength, when we try to micromanage every aspect of our lives, when we try to manipulate each situation we find that things fall apart, bone-from-bone. But can these bones live again? Yes. If we allow God to breathe his life into them, to do only the work that he can do.

This week, spend some time reflecting on the parts of your life that feel desolate and without hope. Let go of the futile attempts to manage these situations and ask God to do only what he can do: to bring new life. Watch. Wait. Expect the first breath of a fresh start.

Dear Lord, help. I've done it again. I have been here many times before. Hurt myself again today and the worst part is, there's no one else to blame. Take me to my valley of dry bones. Help me to face the mess of it all. Then, in your mercy and love, be my friend, warm me up and breathe me, for I am small and needy. Can these bones live again? O Lord, you know. Amen.

Advent 2

listen to him breathing

Stop. And. Breathe.

Listen to Breathing by Lifehouse.

listen to him breathing

John 20.19-22

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.

"Have you ever seen someone in the grip of fear? It’s dreadful in a child, but even more dreadful in an adult: the staring eyes, the shivering like an animal, the pleading attempt to defend oneself. Fear takes away a person’s humanity." Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached these words a short time before Hitler came to power and they capture the fear that was gripping Germany at the time. This description must be something close to the fear which the disciples were feeling after Jesus' crucifixion. They locked themselves away in a room, for fear of what might happen to them now that their best hope was dead. Their fear took away their humanity, their ability to be whom God made them to be. They were frozen on the spot, behind the locked door of their minds.

But Jesus never let a locked door get in his way. He appears to the disciples and into the ice-cold air of fear, he Stops. And Breathes. 'Peace be with you,' he says and then he sends them on their way to bring the Good News to a waiting world. The breath of his Peace relieves the paralysis of fear and restores humanity to the disciples.

Like the disciples, we are all afraid of something. Bonhoeffer suggests, "fear of an important decision; fear of a heavy stroke of fate, losing one’s job, an illness; fear of a vice that one can no longer resist, to which one is enslaved; fear of disgrace; fear of another person; fear of dying..." Our fear can paralyse us, prevent us from moving on, take away our humanity.

What are you afraid of?

Stop. And. Breathe.

Hear Jesus say to you, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." Then feel him breathe upon you, saying, "Receive the Holy Spirit."

This week, spend some time thinking about the things of which you are afraid. Reflect on the times that your fears have taken away your humanity, prevented you from moving forward. Then, sit outside Heaven's door and listen to God breathing, breathing his peace onto your fears. Contemplate how you might unlock the door of the upper room where your fears dwell and allow God to send you.

Dear Lord, I am afraid and my fears are real. Some of them. I have locked myself away, too scared to move. Come near to me, Lord, breathe your peace and restore me to life so that I can be the person you made me to be and go where you want me to go. Amen.

advent 3

the threats we breathe

Stop. And. Breathe.

Listen to Blind by Jars of Clay.

Acts 9.1-9

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’ The men who were travelling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

It's such a visceral image: "Saul, still breathing threats..." You can imagine the heat of his breath as he spits his hatred for those first followers of the Way. Saul was a zealous man who was convinced that he was right and the Christians were wrong. So convinced was he that he was content to seek them out, have them imprisoned and even killed. Who was to be his next target? Thankfully, we will never know because on the way, he had the most spectacular and terrifying vision of Jesus who silenced his heated words and left him without sight for a time. What must it have been like to see Saul after his encounter with Christ? Suddenly, this man who was passionate for his religion, convinced of his standpoint and determined to eliminate the opposition was suddenly silenced. The people of Damascus must have been terrified when they saw him arrive but it can't have been very long before their terror gave way to confusion as the man who breathed threats and murder couldn't utter a word or see anything beyond the end of his nose.

Such was the significance of Saul's conversion experience that he went on to change his name to Paul and become one of the most significant disciples of the Lord, travelling around the Middle East and preaching the Good News to both Jew and Gentile. But the only way that Paul was ever going to change his perspective and cool the heat of the threats he breathed was to be silenced and blinded. He needed to have these two important senses taken away for a short time so that, when they were restored, he could see and speak differently.

Part of the joy of the approaching Christmas season is spending time with those whom we love. Perhaps that's why at this time of year, regret can often bubble to the surface about relationships that have gone wrong over the years because of heated words, or worse, threats breathed. On the one hand, we long for those relationships to be restored, but on the other hand, we cannot bring ourselves to silence our hot tempers or review our entrenched perspectives.

Where have heated words been exchanged or threats breathed in your own life?

Stop. And. Breathe.

"Blind words you call / blind words will fall" sing Jars of Clay in their song Blind. Allow Jesus to silence you for a moment; allow the blind words to crumble to the ground as Saul did in the presence of the Lord. If there is a relationship that has foundered because of blind words or threats breathed, ask God to give you a new perspective. Perhaps venture a different conversation, of words which are balm to the wounds of past exchanges.

Dear Lord, there's a relationship I long to see restored, but it feels like too many heated words have been breathed to find a way back. Meet me on this road to nowhere; silence the noise and correct my vision; lead me into my own Damascus and when I meet the ones whom I love, help me to breathe the promise of a different future. Amen.

Advent 4

he lived and breathed among us

Stop. And. Breathe.

Listen to My Lord Has Come by Will Todd.

Shepherds, called by angels,

called by love and angels:

No place for them but a stable.

My Lord has come.

Sages, searching for stars,

searching for love in heaven;

No place for them but a stable.

My Lord has come.

His love will hold me,

his love will cherish me,

love will cradle me.

Lead me, lead me to see him,

sages and shepherds and angels;

No place for me but a stable.

My Lord has come.

John 1.1-5 & 14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it...And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

It's the traditional Christmas reading and everyone expects to hear it, either at Midnight Mass or on Christmas morning, but let's face it: no one really understands it! All this talk about the Word, light, darkness and other equally veiled images. Oh, and some bloke named John who was important but not as important as someone else who would follow him and whoever did follow him wasn't recognised by the world even though he was in the world (no wonder, if you talk in all that mystical language!). And just when you begin to lose your focus and think about the Christmas dinner that awaits you at home, one of the most important lines in all of scripture stops you in your tracks:

And the Word was made flesh and lived among us.

Suddenly, it all makes sense. All of those confusing images were pointing towards one thing all along: God is among us, living and breathing. This is what we have been journeying towards over the last weeks and all this talk about breath has reached its completion in the birth of a tiny child, who fills his lungs with the cold night air and lets out his first cry: the cry of solidarity; the cry in response to a creation longing for its Redeemer, the cry of God. With. Us.

Stop. And. Breathe.

Know that God breathes with you, today and every day. Know that whatever is on your heart this day, God's love will hold you, will cherish you, will cradle you. Know that whatever joy or pain you are feeling, God feels it too because he is here. Our Lord has come.

Today, there can be no place for us but a stable, so let us draw near and celebrate the Feast of...

God. With. Us.

And the Word was made flesh and lived and breathed among us and we have felt his breath, heard his cry and can be sure that he is near. So very near.

Created By
The Reverend Craig John Huxley

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