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Sleep in Heavenly Peace

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Welcome! Welcome into this sacred journey, this walk through the season of Advent. A time of pastoral care. Individual, community, and cosmic pastoral care. A time of signs all around us, wrapping us in the eternal prayer shawls… like those scattered around this sanctuary… of the Holy. As our nights lengthen in the northern hemisphere, we have more time to immerse ourselves in the waning of the sun, and the cold, crisp companionship of the moon and stars, 14 to 15 hours per day throughout the next 4 weeks. A time for nurturing, waiting, and birthing something new. The pastoral care of the world around us, pregnant with Great Hope beyond anything that we can imagine. A time for sleeping in heavenly peace.

The next four weeks offers us a unique opportunity to be alert. Alert to the foundations of our faith. Those practices, those faith tools, which we need, learn, and use throughout our lifetimes. The many ways through which we break away from the world and live life differently as people of God. Followers of Jesus.

It is here that we are invited into the Advent journey. The days in which we are encouraged to acknowledge that our hearts get weighed down. My heart gets weighed down. It is here that we have the opportunity to “…name what Advent is all about: entering the shadows of despair, war, sorrow, violence, captivity, and hate, actively waiting for Jesus to come, lighting candles of hope, peace, joy, and love.”[1] Cosmic, extravagant, pastoral care embodied in active waiting.

Silent night. Holy night. In the constant barrage of breaking news, I have been taking time to read the history of the beloved hymn Silent Night. Dr. Marcia McFee writes that, “The classic hymn, ‘Silent Night,’ first made its debut on Christmas Eve, 1818 at the St. Nicholas chapel in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria… One of the most famous stories about this beloved hymn took place in World War I. British and German soldiers on the front lines called a truce on Christmas Day. So close where the encampments from which they were fighting one another, they could hear each other in the peaceful quiet of the truce singing ‘Silent Night,’ each in their own language. This prompted the soldiers to come out and meet on the battlefield, without weapons, and they spent the day playing soccer and exchanging small gifts–whatever they had. Humanity is the holy infant for whom God so desires a heavenly peace. Is it possible to bring calm and bright to our own corners of this world?” (Worship Design Studio, Calm and Bright).

This is sacred space, in the midst of horrific, death laden places where… how can the heart be anything but… oh so…. weighed down? This is Advent. That time during which we focus on the human spirit being alert. Waiting and watching for God. That “sleeping in heavenly peace” which means… being on guard.

Silent night. Holy night. Sleeping in that heavenly peace which means actively waiting for Jesus to be born, proactively lighting the candle of peace. Sleeping in heavenly peace is not a passive act. It is not a noiseless, wordless, slumber. It is not becoming numb to the world around us, oblivious to the hate. Sleeping in heavenly peace is not putting up walls to keep out the stranger. It is not sidestepping the need to take risks. These destructive acts of avoidance only weigh heavily on our hearts. Trap us. Catch us in a constant state of fear, foreboding, distress and confusion.

To which Jesus implores us to, “pray…”; “have the strength…”; “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down.” Yet I admit, I have felt “heart weighed down.” Now, no need for a show of hands in response to this question… but… how many of you have felt “heart weighed down”? Recently? Felt “heart weighed down this year? This month? This day?

Silent night. Holy night. Sleeping in that heavenly peace which means actively being on guard, being alert… and attentive. Responsive. What Belden Lane notes is the “discipline of ‘not sleeping’ even when one is awake. Being fully present to where…” we are. Being calm. Being bright. Not heart weighed down. Yet Lane also acknowledges that level of alert, that need to be on guard, that “attentiveness is hard to sustain…,” hence “We need an exercise of quiet perceptiveness…”[2]

Advent. Silent night. Holy night. Sleeping in that heavenly peace that is filled with anticipation.

Advent is my favorite season of the Church year. A time to live differently into this gift packed, cookie laden, song and sensory overload culture of glamor and glitz. And so, for the next 4 weeks, I myself will be on an Advent journey. I will be entering into the sanctuary of a monastery, and I invite you to come along!

Now I know that monasteries are not for everyone, but I am drawn to the wisdom writings of our desert mothers and fathers, and this year I am going to spend the 4 weeks of Advent meditating in an abbey in Galway, Ireland. In fact, I am there now. Really. If you know me, you know that I love shape-shifting between the realms of the physical and the virtual worlds. For me, they are one and the same. At one time, I was an assistant for an online class at the U.W.-Madison… before there really were any online classes. Later, as a seminary student I was a hybrid, fully blending half of my classes on campus, as I took the other half of my classes online. I love moments of face-to-face pastoral care. While at the same time I fully embrace digital ministries, acknowledging those pastoral moments that happen via text, email, and FaceBook Messenger.

So I am shape-shifting, blending, being present and virtual, in my Advent practices this year. I am participating in a daily retreat at the Abbey of the Arts, led by Christine Valters Paintner. Located in Galway, Ireland, this “Abbey of the Arts is a virtual monastery offering classes and resources for integrating contemplative practice and creative expression.”[3] I want to be on alert, on guard, attentive. To sleep in heavenly peace. Therefore, I “…need an exercise of quiet perceptiveness…”

In the Eastern Christian tradition, the 7th century monk John Climacus, living on Mt. Sinai, emphasized three spiritual practices which I think describe this aspect of the Advent journey:

  1. Haplotes: “The simplicity of moving through the world without being attached.”
  2. Agrupnia: “A watchfulness or vigilance about everything around and within oneself and…”
  3. Aphobia: “A fearless resistance to all threats, real and imagined.”[4]

Silent night. Holy night. Simplicity. Watchfulness. Fearless resistance. Sleeping in heavenly peace. Attentive. As we read through the book of Luke the next few weeks, I encourage each of us “… to really hear what Luke is saying, (but know that) we first need to enter the shadows, those places where all hope seems lost.  We have to listen alongside the traumatized soldier, the separated refugee family, the children still in detention centers, the heartbroken addict. Roman armies desecrate(ing) and destroy(ing) the temple, ruining the sacred heart of the world – not just in first-century Palestine, but also here and now…”[5]

“For (us) and (our) community, what contemporary desolations (what contemporary despairs) threaten to extinguish the light?”[6] For “sleeping in heavenly peace” means not mind-numbing slumber, but being on guard, remaining alert, finding ways to ensure that our hearts are not weighed down. Jesus acknowledged that there will be fear and foreboding, distress and confusion (Luke 21:25-36), but that even in these deepest, darkest, most frozen, chilling spaces, God’s light will not be extinguished. Sprouts of peace will emerge. New birth. We will, and can now, see these things taking place. Rooted in simplicity. Watchfulness. Fearless resistance. Actively being on guard. Being alert. Attentive.

Quiet perceptiveness. This is our faith. Our practice. Our silent night. Our time for nurturing, waiting, and birthing something new. Responding. Active. With God. For God. Because of, God.

So welcome into this sacred journey. The walk through the season of Advent… in all of its simplicity, watchfulness, and fearless resistance.

Be on guard.

Be alert.


~Pastor Kris


Reflection on Luke 21:25-36 offered December 2, 2018


[1] “Hope Is a Verb: SALT’s Lectionary Commentary for Advent Week One.” SALT Project. Accessed November 30, 2018. http://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/advent-week-one-lectionary-commentary.

[2] Lane, Belden C. Backpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as Spiritual Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. 23.

[3] Paintner, Christine Valters. “A New Lesson in Your Course “Signs in the Sun, Moon, and Stars: A Retreat for Advent (2018)” Is Available Today.” E-mail. November 30, 2018.

[4] Lane, Belden C. Backpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as Spiritual Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. 21.

[5] “Hope Is a Verb: SALT’s Lectionary Commentary for Advent Week One.” SALT Project. Accessed November 30, 2018. http://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/advent-week-one-lectionary-commentary.

[6] Ibid.