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66 posts categorized "Advent Series"

Advent Reflection: Joy to the World

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Editor's note: This Advent season, Bread Blog will be running a series of
reflections written by lay members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission, from the church's 2013 Advent Meditations booklet.

By Youssoupha Nyam

Lectionary Readings:

Isaiah 52:7-10; 62:6-7, 10-12
Luke 2:8-20
John 1:1-14;
Titus 3:4-7
Hebrews 1:1-12

 ‘’I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people […] For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord’’ (Luke 2:10-11).

This year, the utmost privilege of writing the devotional for Christmas Day has been bestowed upon me. Although I was enthralled by that opportunity, by the same token, I felt both a mixture of humility and the self-inflicted strain to deliver a message that would be up to par with the significance that special day holds for me. Because the Nativity season, year after year, as far as I can remember, has consistently been the triggering event that brings back a flood of bittersweet memories.

In my native country [of Cameroon], situated in the heart of Africa and aptly dubbed ''Africa in miniature'' for its assortment of landscapes that can be found throughout the continent and its patchwork of ethnic and religious groups, Nativity is undoubtedly the most celebrated holiday. It is only rivaled by New Year or when the iconic soccer team, nicknamed the Indomitable Lions, is involved in an international competition, such as when they won their qualification for the upcoming World Cup. Soccer, or football, as it is termed in my motherland, is itself a “religion.”

Growing up, Advent has always been the most exhilarating season of the year. The atmosphere seemed to be filled with particles of joy, magnanimity, Christmas carols, the fragrances of Christmas trees, a regain of faith in God and humanity. I still recollect this period as the catalyst for many first and unique moments of the year; for some, the first and unique time of the year to set their feet in a worship house. I also recall it was during that time most of the less fortunate of us could enjoy our favorite dishes to one's fill, or new sparkling clothes and shiny shoes recently bought exclusively for that special occasion. We could go to the movie theater, sometimes to watch the screening of the same movie about Jesus Christ for the umpteenth time. In short, it was the time of the year when we could indulge ourselves with the hard-earned money collected by wishing ''Merry Christmas'' handed to us by generous acquaintances or unknown passers-by. It was about the only time the least of us could afford what usually seemed out of our reach.

As I grow older, many of the childhood myths I had entertained about Christmas have been debunked one after another by the rationality linked to adulthood. And today, this day, I am celebrating my eighth Nativity far away from the familiar warm weather, dusty roads, and modest surroundings of my native land. Yet I can still experience, amid the wintry weather of my new homeland, the warmth of its melting pot and the universal magic of Christmas, thanks to the adopted Jewish Son of a carpenter, born of Immaculate Conception in the humble setting of a manger thousands of years ago. Have yourself a little Merry Christmas!

Youssoupha Nyam is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.

Advent Reflections: A Gift of Grace

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Editor's note: This Advent season, Bread Blog will be running a series of
reflections written by lay members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission, from the church's 2013 Advent Meditations booklet.

By Nathan Moon

Lectionary Readings:

Isaiah 9:2-7
Luke 1:1-20
Titus 2:11-14

I think it's possible that the word “humbug” doesn't appear in any of the versions of the Bible that I'm familiar with. Yet as I see commercial Christmas advertising swing into high gear before Halloween has even passed—and getting earlier every year—I'm filled with exasperation, dread, and an urge to cover my head and avoid the season altogether. But my love for the music and liturgy of Advent does overcome, in part, my distaste for commercial Christmas. My experience of community and closeness to friends is my handrail that prevents my complete fall from the spirit of the season. Daunting continual life challenges have made it hard for me to keep my hand on the rail, though. Isaiah says in the familiar text, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” He also says that they have “multiplied the nation,...increased its joy; they rejoice before [the Christ] as with joy at the harvest.” Hard for many to feel joy when they have been living in need.

I feel gratitude for blessings of better health for myself and others of my family. I also feel a tendency to love myself less due to an incapacity to give of material gifts in the way that I might wish. For me, that's the trap, a poison potion of obligation and lack. Paradoxically both a fear of the future and the lack of one. I expressed this thought recently to a group of friends. They immediately chided me gently for not valuing the gifts I have and my willingness to share them with others whose lack is deeper and more sharply felt.

The account of the birth of Christ given by the evangelist Luke is familiar to many. His telling doesn't begin with Jesus, though. It begins in the previous chapter with John the Baptist. His parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, come from good backgrounds and strive to be “righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord.” But they felt keenly the lack of offspring “because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.” The Archangel Gabriel appears to Zechariah and tells him not to be afraid. They are to be blessed with a son. “You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.” Gabriel says, “...even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him,... to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Nice gift, yes? It's the gift that we're all given, in my view—to have the privilege of a legacy of a difference made. A gift of grace. Not a material gift but a lasting one. Reformed and always reforming. Seldom easily given. And very valuable. Abundant and self-renewing. The gift that keeps on giving.

In the words of Titus, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety (selfishness) and worldly passions (greed), and in the present ageto live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

With gratitude for Grace and in hopes for the manifestation of abundant good for everyone.

Nathan Moon is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.

Advent Reflections: Coping with the Red Dragon

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Editor's note: This Advent season, Bread Blog will be running a series of reflections written by lay members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission, from the church's 2013 Advent Meditations booklet.

By Helen Williams

Lectionary reading:

Revelation 12:1-9

In today's scripture we encounter the "Great Red Dragon with seven heads and ten horns . . . that serpent of old whose name is Satan or the Devil."  Once again I pondered that Red Dragon, which is far more than selfishness, unkindness, and gluttony, but true evil.

How can one's belief in a loving God reconcile with the evil in the world!

A possible answer is provided later in the book of Revelation:  "The Red Dragon was worshipped by all except those whose names the Lord that was slain keeps in his roll of the living, written since the world was made."  That predestination-type concept would explain evil: some people as God's true people and the others are lesser beings.  I simply don't buy that explanation.  What other explanations are there?

How are we to cope with senseless evil?  There are those whose professions require them to confront the horrors head on.  A former forensic doctor I met dealt with the victims of horrible crimes.  Years later she can only go to the movies that are gentle, such as Disney, Pixar, or romantic comedies.  I salute the psychiatrists and police who have a courage that takes them into the dark corners of life.

I have concluded that it is counterproductive to dwell on dark matters when I can't prevent them. I don't want to spend my hours paying attention to that Red Dragon. And then I think of the wise advise in Philippians 4:8:

“And now, my friends, all that is true, all that is noble, all that is just and pure, all that is lovable and gracious, whatever is excellent and admirable—fill all your thoughts with these things.”

In this time of Advent we can focus on that new birth—the child who showed us that the true way is love.

Helen Williams  is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.

 

Advent Reflections: Cherchez L’Eau

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(Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Editor's note: This Advent season, Bread Blog will be running a series of reflections written by lay members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission, from the church's 2013 Advent Meditations booklet.

By Paul B. Dornan

“Whoever drinks this water will be thirsty again; but no one who drinks the water that I shall give will ever be thirsty again: the water that I shall give will become a spring of water within, welling up for eternal life.”

The motto of French mysteries seems to be "cherchez la femme," or "follow the woman." If a French detective is at a loss in solving a crime, it's not a bad idea to go back to all the evidence and “cherchez la femme," since often that is what the perpetrator had in mind in the first place.  Similarly, in the Bible, following the water might not be a bad way to proceed. Water runs through the whole story, from the river flowing from Eden to the river of life in John’s vision of the end-days. There is the Nile, the Red Sea, the rock springs in the desert, the Jordan, the Sea of Galilee, and all of those meetings at wells — including the one in the passage for today.

I find the Samaritan woman at the well to be one of the Bible’s most engaging characters. Over the millennia she has maintained her intelligence and her sense of humor. I particularly like it when, after Jesus promises living water, she replies, “Sir, give me some of that water, so that I may never be thirsty or come here again to draw water.”  In other words, stop me from having to lug this water day after day!

But, what does Jesus mean by "living water?" That’s the $64,000 question. I suspect that Octavio Paz, the Mexican poet and Nobel Prize winner, did not intend his poem “Wind and Water and Stone” to be an affirmation of Trinitarian faith, and yet it captures the animating power of “living water." An excerpt from the poem:

The wind sings in its turnings,
the water murmurs as it goes,
the motionless stone is quiet.
Wind and water and stone.    

One is the other and is neither:  
among the empty names  
they pass and disappear,
water and stone and wind.                                

Prayer: Holy God, pour Your Living Water on us this Advent Season, cleansing, molding, animating Your people. In Jesus' name, Amen.                                                                    

Paul B. Dornan is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.

Advent Reflections: Images We Carry

'Giving Hands and Red Pushpin' photo (c) 2009, Artotem - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Editor's note: This Advent season, Bread Blog will be running a series of reflections written by lay members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission, from the church's 2013 Advent Meditations booklet.

By Kathryn Sparks

Lectionary readings:

Isaiah 10:5-19

John 4:1-15

Romans 4:1-8

Try as I might to allow words to arise in me, none seem to come as I meditate on Isaiah 10:5-19, John 4:1-15, and Romans 4:1-8. What comes instead is a patchwork of simple images.

I see an assault of Assyria against the Israelites, by God's sanction.

I see Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well as she asks him for "that living water."

These pictures take place against the backdrop of an open hand, signifying that righteousness cannot be attained through work, but is freely received by faith.

Sometimes words cannot express my longings—or God's longings for me. Each Advent, my fingers strum the pages of the familiar story, and I find I'm on the edge of something in my life—a yearly inner birth to mirror the birth of Christ for the world again.

Pictures (in color, movement, clay, music, silence, the flicker of a candle) often help us to "see" differently. And God, I want to see with new eyes. I want to be that Samaritan woman next to Jesus, and let Your Living Water all over the desert corners of my being.

What images do we carry? What are the pictures that point us to our beloved Christ Child, the birth of God? Let's visit and revisit them and see anew!

Kathryn Sparks is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.

Advent Reflections: God’s Amazing Grace

'Raining on Oaxaca' photo (c) 2011, oz - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Editor's note: This Advent season, Bread Blog will be running a series of reflections written by lay members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission, from the church's 2013 Advent Meditations booklet.

By Steve Yu

Lectionary readings:

Isaiah 9:18 - 10:4

John 10: 31-42    

Hebrews 10: 19-25

The verses found in this study differentiate between the principles and outcomes of love for neighbor and those born of self serving intentions.  In these passages, we are reminded that loving God is intrinsically tied to love of our neighbors, whereas the path of selfish gain can lead to societal injustice.  

The verses found in Isaiah and John provide a stern warning about the consequences of living self-serving lifestyles. The crimes against the poor in Isaiah remind us that the perpetrators of these offenses are committed by people who engage in vain pursuits of power, admiration, and/or wealth at the expense of the most vulnerable. When the fires of God’s purification finally tear down unjust systems of abuse and power, the oppressed are liberated, and the oppressor is faced with the opportunity to transform.  

In the book of John, Christ also warns us of the danger of becoming obsessed with religious and societal rules (as we understand them) to the point that love for the neighbor becomes secondary or non-important.  This obsession can lead us to minimize love through "justified" condemnation, and rejection of others; even those who do wonderful deeds for the well-being of "the least of these."

On the other hand, I can’t accept the notion of a hateful God who destroys the "wicked" out of pleasure.  I have experienced and sensed enormous love from God. I can, however, accept the notion that we can reap what we sow, and that God is always willing to show us mercy just as she has called us to do likewise to those who have harmed or hated us. 

The Scriptures remind us that God will never leave us alone.  This knowing becomes a calming influence in the midst of personal or societal strife.  This faith helps us cope throughout our lives because we have an inner anchor that keeps us grounded.  It also allows us to take risks, make a stand for justice, and experience what Martin Luther King, Jr. mentioned when he said, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

Finally, these verses remind me that this transformation can only be made through the blood of Jesus Christ. “The new and living way” mentioned by Paul in the book of Hebrews is a reality full of love for our neighbor, creation, and God.  God’s transforming Grace opens our eyes to the beauty of simplicity, to gratitude for what we have, and liberation from vain wants. With a sincere heart that has become full of faith, we can hold to this blessed hope without wavering.  The Kingdom of God is of a greater realm, and this irrational love "provokes" us to encourage and support each other as brothers and sisters in a reality where class, race, and nationality mean nothing in her light.

Prayer: Dear God, have Mercy on us, for we do not know the depth of our own sin. Have Grace upon us, for we are your children longing for redemption. Give us your Holy Spirit, so that we know that we are never truly alone. Give us your Son, Jesus Christ, so that we may gain a loving heart through you. Have Mercy on us oh God, have Mercy on us. And teach us to walk in your ways.  Amen.                                                    

Steve Yu is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.

Advent Reflections: Trusting God

'Candles' photo (c) 2012, Frank Fox - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Editor's note: This Advent season, Bread Blog will be running a series of reflections written by lay members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. This post is reprinted, with permission, from the church's 2013 Advent Meditations booklet.

Lectionary readings:

Isaiah 9:8-17

Matthew 18: 1-6

2 Thessalonians 2: 1-3, 13-17

By Tarra Taylor

Whom do you trust? This has become an unspoken question in our society. In a world filled with people with hidden motives and suspect agendas, whom do you trust? The world’s way of thinking suggests that we trust no one but ourselves—not even God. This way of thinking is contrary to God’s will for our lives. So why don’t we trust God? In the passages for our consideration, the reasons lifted up are pride, arrogance, position, power, fear, and anxiety.

In the book of Isaiah, God sends a message of punishment to the children of Israel in Samaria, because of their disobedience. They heard the message, but their pride and arrogance caused them to ignore God. God sent another message, but the children of Israel paid no attention. Arrogance crept into the hearts of the Israelites, and they believed that they no longer needed God, nor did they revere him. They could do things by themselves. Even though God gave the Israelites the land they occupied, making them a nation, they put their trust in themselves rather than in him. 

In the Gospel of Matthew, the disciples were concerned about who would receive the highest place of authority in God’s kingdom. The disciples were more interested in their positions in the earthly kingdom. Instead of looking for service opportunities, they were focused on their status, their positions. Jesus reminded them of their self-centered nature, and let them know that they had to put away their own selfish motives, thoughts, and desires for status, and simply trust in Jesus.

In 2 Thessalonians, Paul speaks to the church at Thessalonica about the end times and Christ’s return. He did not want them to be anxious about Christ’s appearing, or tricked by false teachers who attempted to predict the day and hour, but prepared. He reminds them that they were chosen by God, from the beginning. He tells them that salvation begins and ends with Jesus Christ, and no other. Paul knew that they would face challenges that would test their faithfulness and trust in God. He encourages them to hold to what they have been taught, to stand firm, and to trust God.

Both the Matthew and Thessalonians passages remind us of our need to trust God as a little child—with no agendas or hidden motives, just simple trust. Sometimes it’s hard for us adults to trust as a child, but we are reminded that God chose us from the beginning. He knows our dreams, our desires, and our anxieties. We will stumble and we will have challenging seasons, but we are assured that when we put our trust in God, he will guide, protect, and provide for us. 

Prayer: God, forgive us for not trusting in you. Deliver us from the arrogance, pride, the need for status and position, and the fear and the anxiety that comes when we think we know better than you what is best for us. We acknowledge that we need you in our daily lives. Teach us to come to you as a child, trusting in your love and providential care for us. We trust you, God. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Tarra Taylor is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.

Advent Reflections: What Is Your Intention?

'christmas lights' photo (c) 2007, george - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Editor's note: This Advent season, Bread Blog will be running a series of reflections written by  members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C.  This post is reprinted, with permission,  from the church's 2013 Advent Meditations booklet.

Rev. Beth Braxton

Lectionary readings:

Isaiah 9:1-7                                                                  

Matthew 21:23-32

I grew up hearing my mother say, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions." That was her way of telling me to follow through with things I said I was going to do. I found out that this proverb has been around for a long time—it is an old saying traced back to St. Bernard, who said that “Hell is full of good intentions or desires.”

The little parable of the two sons in Matthew suggests follow through with intentions—what you say you are going to do! It is a narrative depiction of Jesus’ earlier statement in the Sermon on the Mount: “Not everyone who says, 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven”  (Matthew 7:21).

Sandwiched between a periscope on Jesus' authority and the parable of the wicked tenants, the context applies this parable of judgment to Jewish religious leaders, but Matthew probably intended a wider application. Certainly it can apply to us today. How easily “church work” degenerates into little more than simply maintaining the institution, with no excitement concerning what God’s love and grace is doing in the world. As Professor Douglas R.A. Hare says in his commentary on Matthew, “We say that we are going to work in the vineyard, but instead of harvesting the grapes we spend our time rearranging the stones along the path!”

Advent is a season of anticipation; we are called to live expectant for the birth of Christ, the Light in our darkness – “the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace!” (Isaiah 9:6) – the incarnation of God to make all things new! 

Is it our intention to yawn and go about the holiday festivities as usual, or will it be our intention to live out the light, the love and the peace that God gave us in Jesus?  Is it our intention to go about our church duties with a ho-hum attitude, or will we open to the energy of the Spirit and let the enthusiasm of anticipated new life fill us and our work? 

 The Christmas carol says, “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given.”  It is my intention to spend some silent time to listen for God’s gift for me.  It is my intention to sit and bask in the power of Isaiah’s poetry set to music in Handel’s “The Messiah.”  It is my intention to wait for the coming of God.

Prayer: Lord, we pray to you, the Holy One who comes to us.  Come to us with new beginnings. Come to us in Jesus Christ and make us ready to let him live in us.  Amen.

Rev. Beth Braxton is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.

Advent Reflections: Indifferent Christians?

'night sky looking towards Orion' photo (c) 2008, kronerda - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

[Editor's note: This Advent season, Bread Blog will be running a series of reflections written by lay members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C.  This post is reprinted, with permission,  from the church's 2013 Advent Meditations booklet.]

By Adlai Amor

Lectionary reading:

Matthew 11:16-24                                                                                 

 “To what can I compare this generation?  They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn’” (Matthew 11:16-17).

Unfair though it may seem, the millennial generation came to mind when I started reading these verses. A 2012 study of 9 million people, born between 1982 and 200, concludes that millenials are “more civically and politically disengaged, more focused on materialistic values and less concerned about helping the larger community than Gen X (1962-1981) and Baby Boomers (1946-1961).”  In other words, they are stereotyped as selfish and indifferent.

You could apply these same attributes to the people Jesus speaks about in the Gospel of Matthew.  Expressing pastoral frustration, he rebuked the communities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum because the residents of those cities did not repent after witnessing the miracles of Jesus.

More than 35 miracles performed by Jesus happened in this region of the Sea of Galilee.  Twelve miracles were reported in Capernaum alone, the town where Jesus had relocated.  He added that even the people of Sodom would have repented had they witnessed all of Jesus’ miracles.  They were like children who were never satisfied, no matter what Jesus did.  They were blasé about the miracles they had regularly witnessed.

During this Christmas season, it is worth asking ourselves: have we, like the people of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, become millennial Christians?

Fortunately, I have met hundreds of millennials who are not typical of their generation.  The response of many millennials to help in the relief and reconstruction efforts in the typhoon-ravaged islands in Central Philippines is a case in point.  Young people raised funds and packed relief goods to help people in a country that they have never visited. Many have joined missions to help rebuild homes and provide medical support as the reconstruction continues.

 Millennials have made – and can continue to make – a difference in our world.  In my work at Bread for the World, they have pushed us to do our work better, to use tools familiar to them, to work harder to end hunger – and be as driven as they are by their desire to love God and to live their faith in this troubled world. Instead of being deaf to the problems of this world, to Jesus’ teachings, they have repented and chosen to respond to God’s call.

Prayer: Dear God, help us to always love you with all our hearts, with all our soul, and with all our minds.  And help us to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Amen

Adlai Amor is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C., and director of communications at Bread for the World. 

Advent Reflections: Feeling God’s Presence

'Winter frost' photo (c) 2004, USFWSmidwest - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

[Editor's note: This Advent season, Bread Blog will be running a series of reflections written by lay members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C.  This post is reprinted, with permission,  from the church's 2013 Advent Meditations booklet.]

Lectionary readings:

Isaiah 8:1-15

Matthew 11:16-24

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11                     

By Rachel Browning

Each year, during Advent season, I reflect on the previous year and contemplate where I’ve been and what the next year might bring. This year, I must confess, I feel overwhelmed as I try to put into perspective the challenges I faced personally over the past six months, as well as the countless crises occurring every day both in our country and abroad.  This time last year, my partner and I had just begun the adoption process. As I write this, we are still in the midst of a crazy, emotional roller coaster of waiting and seeing, wondering when the moment will finally arrive that will change the rest of our lives. In addition, the whole process was brought to a screeching halt this summer when I suffered an unexpected grand mal seizure while on a run, and later found out that I had a brain tumor. While, thankfully, it was benign, it nevertheless required immediate surgery. Six weeks of recovery and five months of no driving later, I was back to “normal” life, but I definitely felt like I had been tested and had emerged a reformed soul.

 But really, in spite of all that, I recognize that I’m one of the lucky ones.  Others in our world – victims of such calamities as the Boston Marathon bombing, the ongoing violence in Syria, the civil unrest in Egypt, and the recent typhoon in the Philippines, and other natural disasters – have experienced far more trauma and uncertainty than I can even imagine. I watch events unfold in the news and try to conceptualize how I would respond in the face of such terror. Observing the state of our world, it can be hard to envision Immanuel – "God with us" – when so many obstacles obscure our view. Isaiah’s prophesy of the birth of a child yet to be conceived and his call for us to “be set apart for him” reminds us that God is with us always. Yet Isaiah’s vision of Immanuel as not just a “sanctuary,” but also a “stumbling stone”—a warning that, in the face of challenges and threats, there will be those who turn away and reject God. This notion is echoed in the text from Matthew, which recounts how both John the Baptist and Jesus were disregarded for being different, their messages rejected. Like children, we are often unsatisfied with the messages we receive, disappointed with what the world has to offer us. We reject God precisely at those times when we feel most vulnerable, naively thinking that we alone can control the chaos around us. 

This year it has been hard for me not to be that person who, when facing the unknown, chooses doubt and cynicism and embraces unbelief as somehow more secure than the alternative. But I have to believe that it was Immanuel in the three individuals (still unknown to me) who found me unconscious on the trail after I collapsed, called 911, and waited by my side for help to arrive. He was there in the nurses, physicians assistants, and surgeons who took control of my care.  And he was with me in the numerous individuals from my family, work, and, of course, my church community, who prayed with and for me.  I know God was with me not because the surgery was successful, but because, through the love and support I received, I was reminded that I was not alone. Through God’s grace, I was lifted up out of the darkness and into the light. 

My prayer for everyone this Advent season, and throughout the coming year, is that you feel God’s presence in those periods of pain and suffering, in the feelings of uncertainty about the future, and in those moments of rejection and loneliness.                               

Rachel Browning is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C. 

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