We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. –Henri Nouwen
It’s almost time – Christmas time! Our period of Advent waiting is nearly finished for another year. It is a time when many churches and families are lighting candles in anticipation. It is a season where we celebrate light coming into the darkness. Our hope is arriving—in many ways it is already here!
When I was working for MCC in Bogota, Colombia I experienced the Advent season as an explosion of light. I have never seen so many bright and flashing Christmas lights. I remember taking a cable car up Monserrate, a mountain overlooking the city, to join with thousands of others, who waited for the Christmas lights to be turned on for another season.
In the midst of the often extravagant celebrations, one of the most beautiful celebrations of light in Colombia is December 7, la Noche de las Velitas —the Night of the Candles. This is an annual celebration popular across Colombia on the eve of December 8th, when the church celebrates the immaculate conception of Jesus in Mary by the Holy Spirit, and the lights guiding Mary and Joseph into Bethlehem.
Every year on December 7 Colombians meet together in parks, on balconies and in the streets, to light candles, watch them burn all the way to the end, while visiting with each other. For the next few weeks and even months the parks and sidewalks are plastered with the remnants of candles.
Then we think about this year. 2016 has been a politically intense year in Colombia, to say the least. It began with the announcement in June that a peace deal between the FARC and the government was forthcoming with the signing of a unilateral ceasefire. Across Bogota people flooded the streets in celebration. After more than 50 years of armed conflict, there was a light of peace at the end of the tunnel.
By the end of August, officials signed a peace deal in Havana Cuba, where talks had been hosted for the past four years. At the end of September, leaders, dignitaries and delegates from Colombia and around the world gathered to watch the formal signing of the peace accords. President Santos was then awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
However, on October 2 in a national plebiscite to officially endorse the peace accords—to everyone’s complete shock—the support of the peace deal failed by less than 0.25%, or about 60,000 votes. It was a completely devastating moment for many Colombians, to say the least. The future seemed uncertain, the peace process potentially in tatters.
Enter, once again, the candles and cries for peace. In the weeks that followed, Colombians from across the country poured out into the streets, marching, lighting candles and urging continued efforts to reach a peace agreement. Students and social activists joined together with churches and faith leaders, meeting together in Plaza Bolivar in Bogota, singing, comforting each other and calling for peace.
Eventually, by December 1, after many consultations across various parties, the Colombian Congress passed revised peace accords. The process was back on track, but not without significant opposition. And not without hardship and ongoing doubts.. But then December 7 came again—La Noche de las Velitas.
As I write this, I’m thinking about our advocacy work with government in Canada and around the world. I think of the ongoing challenge of working for peace and justice within imperfect systems, where people so often seem to be looking for loopholes which will benefit themselves and their own interests. Sometimes I think about the futility of this work. Even when governments are committed to peace and justice, they will never be the fulfillment of true light in the darkness.
That fulfillment comes through the Incarnate One.
During Advent and at Christmas we celebrate this one authentic hope—Jesus, the light that shines in the darkness. And this is the reason we continue our advocacy work, despite what comes our way, praying that our efforts point to this true light.
I close with an Advent prayer from one of my favourite theologians, Henri Nouwen. I offer this prayer for Colombia, for Canada and for places where the darkness threatens to overwhelm—may peace, light and hope shine brightly.
Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.
We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.
To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”
By Bekah Sears, policy analyst for the Ottawa Office