Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

77 posts categorized "Advent Series"

Advent Devotions: The Hidden Power of Women's Solidarity


This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

By Min-Hee Kim

Luke 1:39-45              

I ponder the hidden power of women's solidarity in this encounter between two pregnant women. I see Mary as the first woman to exercise her right subjectively to her own womb. In a time when women were not allowed to have their own voices, Mary was willing to make a decision about how to use her womb by herself to bear the Word. She exactly accounted for the expense of exercising her autonomy against a patriarchal/kyriarchal society. She knew that the world was supposed to expel her from her family and from her community by nullifying her status as a valid member of the society, or to stone her because of her decision to be an unmarried and pregnant woman.

In that world, where would Mary have been empowered after having the Holy One conceived in her body?  How would Mary have taken care of her terrifying emotions occasioned by this unexpected blessing? How would Mary have protected her body and her baby from a world hostile to her?

I am sure that she was aware of where her blessing was from. She knew that in such a trustful relationship with God she did not need to have any external authority to exercise her right to her body.  She understood that her womb was hers, not her fiancĂ© Joseph's, not her father's, not the temple priests'. Mary's decision made it clearer that a woman's body is her own. In other words, Mary did not ask for her partner's understanding, nor her father's protection, nor religious vindication. She did not even beg for help from women participating in patriarchal society. She knew whom she needed in that time: She did not hesitate to go to see a woman with a common life-experience, a child conceived/gifted by the Holy Spirit.

Imagine the moment when Mary visited Elizabeth. I sense that their solidarity and mutual support offered a safer and more comfortable space for two babies conceived/gifted by the Holy Spirit. From reading their praise toward God in this scripture, I clearly feel that her anxiety about her social status was relieved, and her self-esteem as an unmarried single mom had been renewed while she stayed with Elizabeth for three months. Through their mutual support, they must have empowered each other so that Mary was able to praise God through her body and her voice.

In this encounter between two pregnant women, the hidden power of women's solidarity makes the Word flesh.


Min-Hee Kim is pursuing a Master of Divinity degree at San Fransciso Theological Seminary.




Advent Devotions: Listening from Tomorrow


This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

By Rev. Dr. Virstan Choy

Luke 1:26-38           

"(I am) the Lord's servant.  Let it be with me according to your prediction."

The theme for this year's Advent devotions is a helpful reminder of the multi-sensory nature of Advent and other journeys of hope:  It is not just about seeing (vision); it's at least also about hearing (listening). And according to Donald Zimmer, as with Advent journeys, so with leadership:  "To govern effectively within the church, leaders must first be able to listen individually and together to God."(Zimmer,Leadership and Listening: Spiritual Foundations for Church Governance).

But in my work with leaders of congregations in search of hope in the midst of uncertain futures, and leaders seeking hope in the midst of seemingly intractable conflicts, the key to listening is what organizational consultant Michael Black calls "listening from tomorrow," rather than listening from yesterday or even today.  To listen from tomorrow is to engage in what Otto Scharmer calls "generative listening" in his book, Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges -- listening in which one intentionally seeks to let go of the perceptions and attachments that inevitably form when what one is hearing is information that arouses one's feelings.  Such listening requires that we suspend our judgment about how things are or ought to be so that we can be more open to the potential that surrounds us and fills us.  

And in the passage for today, Mary's listening moves from listening--to to listening-from.  Gabriel lists a number of tomorrows that are about to happen-tomorrows involving God, but tomorrows involving Mary herself, too.  Mary listens to and begins to respond from her place of today--what is true today ("But how can this be?"), but then shifts to listening from tomorrow.

Is not Mary's movement a movement from listening to/listening from today to listening from tomorrow?   Robert Brawley's translation above in the recently-published Fortress Commentary on the Bible helps us to hear Mary's "Let it be with me according to your word about the tomorrow God is bringing into being."

And Advent is our opportunity to remember tomorrow, the tomorrow that is the destiny of humanity, the destiny which is embodied in Jesus, as Roger Haight tell us: "Jesus is one of us-- what occurred in Jesus is the destiny of human existence itself: et homo factus est." (cited by James Carroll in Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age). 

What seeds for our destiny are being planted by God within us and around us this Advent?  How are we seeking such hope--listening as well as seeing from tomorrow?  


Rev. Dr. Virstan Choy is the director of advanced pastoral studies and associate professor of ministry at San Francisco Theological Seminary.



Advent Devotions: Weather Report


This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

By Alexander Wendeheart

Isaiah 52:7-10              

This passage tells of the long-expected proclamation of peace and salvation; the good news repeated and called out by those in the watch towers on Jerusalem's walls. It is a long-awaited answer to the prayers of all who anticipated the return of captives taken to Babylon. It is a sign that the Lord has comforted the sorrows of God's people, and they will see the salvation of our God.

Simeon and Anna also are those of the tower watch, those waiting for the consolation of Israel. Simeon proclaimed not from Jerusalem's walls, but by taking the child Jesus in his arms and praising God, saying: "Sovereign Lord, you may dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." In like manner, Anna came up to Mary and Joseph and she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Each announcing as a tower watch, that God has comforted the sorrows of God's people.

Those that stand in our watch tower now proclaim the evening news. This past week our newscasters have broadcasted warning of the approaching weather and alerts of the coming mid-December storm in the San Francisco Bay Area. Their prolific reporting has passed over the reality of the need for rain to fill our reservoirs, and it hasn't halted our fear of rationing, or reduced water restrictions for the future. The TV meteorologists are the ones calling from the watch towers. But, regardless of the fanfare, and the atmospheric disturbances, we cannot forget to speak of the drought, which has changed how some earn their livelihoods and how others lead their lives, especially if they are dependent upon the land.

Though Advent announces the coming of the Christ child, our sole purpose cannot focus on the awaited good news. Let us remember why Christ was born into the world: there is a thirst for the love and grace of God. This thirst is not only for the people of biblical times, but for us as well; we too suffer from a spiritual drought. In John 4:14, Jesus reminds us, "The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." We are in need of Christ's renewing waters that will fill our internal reservoir, halt our fear, and reduce our apprehension of what tomorrow will bring.

As I sit here watching the long anticipated storm, I choose to forget all the fanfare, and conditions, and remember all the good that the rain brings upon the land, to the world, and to our souls. Amen.

Alexander Wendeheart is pursuing a Master of Divinity degree at San Francisco Theological Seminary.



Advent Devotions: Keeping Warm


This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

By Rev. Aimee Moiso

Revelation 3:14-22             

I was cold on Thanksgiving. My HVAC unit had chugged along through most of November, but I watched the Macy's Day Parade with my bathrobe on over my clothes, and I kept myself warm over the long weekend by jerry-rigging the HVAC to work sporadically and by sitting by the fire pretending I was camping.

But the wonderful HVAC guys came, and I paid them a lot of money, and they installed a new unit.

And now I'm warm. I can sit on my couch in comfort.

In the letter to the church at Laodicea, warm is the danger zone. Like potato salad sitting out at a picnic. Like stuffing baking inside the turkey. Cold is good; hot is good. Warm is the danger zone.

Laodicea is near a hot springs, and the water that ran down the hill and was probably warm when it reached them. But the writer of the letter isn't talking about water. The writer is talking about heart. If we're too cold, we want to move. If we're too hot, we do something about it.

If we're warm, we can sit comfortably on the couch.

That's why it's the danger zone for Laodicea: it's the zone of comfort. It's the zone that says, "I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing." It's also the zone that says, "I'm not rich, I'm not powerful, I can't do anything."

In these days of protest following the deaths of two more black men and the non-indictment of those who killed them, it's tempting to stay where it's warm. It's tempting to be moderate, to hedge and speak in caveats, to shake our heads and pray for peace from the couch, ignoring that knock at the door.

Being hot and being cold are uncomfortable. That's why we install HVAC units to keep us warm.

But someone is knocking at the door. Until we answer it, they will remain on one side, and we on the other.

Rev. Aimee Moiso is a trustee at San Francisco Theological Seminary.





Advent Devotions: Waiting to Be Embodied


This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). 

By Andrew K. Lee

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16             

What are we supposed to do with Advent?  There's no baby Jesus, no descent of the Holy Spirit, no cross or empty tomb.  There's just waiting.  Sure, we light a new candle every Sunday, but what does that liturgy symbolize?  There is no mourning our imperfections, celebrating the risen Christ, or going out to preach the Word.  There's just waiting.  That's what each candle means: four weeks of waiting.  Where's the high, holy, deeper meaning in that?

In our Scripture passage for today, David seems to have had the best of intentions, but he suffered from a lack of vision. Equating God's presence with the Ark of the Covenant, David had confined God to a box (pun intended).  From that restricted perspective, David assumed that God's embodied presence was limited by what he, David, could build.

We make a similar mistake when we assume God's plans rest on our shoulders.  We take on the responsibility to build God's church, and frantically scramble to create new programs and bring in new members. We commit ourselves to ushering in God's Kingdom, and shout ourselves hoarse advocating for justice and peace.

Those are not bad things to do; they can in fact be very worthwhile.

But the discipline of waiting to which Advent calls us-and in our frantic, action-oriented culture waiting is a discipline-bids us remember that it is not our responsibility to make God's plan happen. In fact, it's not even within our capability. Because God's plan is bigger than us, spanning millennia and ultimately the entire course of human history. God rejected David's plans because God cannot be confined to a single building-or to a single person's vision. God is truly embodied over the course of countless generations, and in the throne that God will establish forever.

Advent is the most contemplative of seasons, drawing us into the spiritual practice of doing nothing but waiting. Waiting teaches us to let go of the weight of responsibility and results, to cease our efforts at trying to force God's embodied presence to appear in a particular way. Rather, we allow ourselves to be embodied (notice the passive language) as we play our small part in God's great plan, waiting for God to finish what God started. In the meantime, we live in the middle of the plan. The beginning happened long before we were born, and we have no idea when it will conclude. Someday. And so we light our candles, and we wait.  

Andrew K. Lee is studying for a master's degree at San Francisco Theological Seminary and Graduate Theological Union.



Advent Devotions: As I Speak Now


This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

By Lucas Walker

Luke 1:67-80             

As I speak now -
so shall you.
Into darkness
              through a trumpet
              that will burn your lips
Loud enough
to make the sand dance spirals
before the LORD.

As you spoke -
so did I.
I said the Word, I made
             an oath before the world began:
             Walk out of the sun
a path of water, wood and stone
Until My people find Me
I promised they would find Me

As I speak now -
so shall you.
A held breath will
              set everything in flame
              a Spirit coming down
The khamaseen
off the heights
howl down to the sheltering ones of the LORD.

As you spoke -
so shall we.
Fearless and tender outstretched
              before the horns of God.
              hanging on the Word,
Hanging everything
off the one promise
the breathing body You share 

Lucas Walker is a pastoral care associate at San Francisco Theological Seminary



Advent Devotions: The Sound of Rejoicing


This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

By Rev. Elizabeth McCord

Luke 1:57-66             

Dear John,

Today was your brit milah. You will be very glad not to remember this day, but your father and I will treasure it in our hearts. Today you were marked as one of God's own, one of our people. You now bear the sign of God's covenant passed down through the generations.  You stand in a great lineage of those blessed by God. Even so, your father and I could never have imagined how God would bless us with you, you who have come to us past an age of reason or hope.

Today the miracle of your conception and birth continued. Your father regained his voice, having been without speech since the angel told him you were to be born. He couldn't help but sing out praise of God and love for you!  But his speech only returned after the angel's pronouncement had been fulfilled, after you were given your name. Even if others refused to listen to me, your father and I were clear. Your name is John.

Your name is your own, my beloved child. It is not your father's name, nor does it come from my family. It was given to you by God. Because even though you have come into this world through your parents, you aren't really ours. You are God's. Remember this whenever you hear your name.  Remember that you belong to God. Remember that you are part of God's people, but also trust the distinct path God has for you, a path that is unique like your name. Don't be afraid to speak out, to step out in faith. Don't be afraid of anything in this world, because the God of our ancestors is with you.  Trust, listen, and abide in our God. And remember that you are loved now and forever.

With joy and pride,
your Mama

Rev. Elizabeth McCord is the associate dean of vocations at San Francisco Theological Seminary   


Advent Devotions: A Song of Ascents by the Migrant Laborer


This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). 

By Dori K. Hjalmarson  

Psalm 126            

When we had the good fortune to cross safely into this land, O God, we became dreamers.  We laughed with relief, with optimism, and ironically with fear, knowing that the wrong word upon our tongues could end in deportation and undoing.

Those in other nations looked upon us with envy, believing us to be saved, but suddenly we knew in our flesh that it was not yet true.  Some of us are still missing.  We dream of our grandmothers, sons, nephews, sisters, husbands, grandbabies, back in the land where we were born but don't belong.

We rejoice because we may now remit and save and feed the flesh of our torn flesh, the bone of our broken bones.  We praise God for our safety. And we plead for theirs.

Restore us, O God.  Make us a whole family.  Be like the waters of the Rio Grande, so long absent, suddenly bursting forth, washing away the sins and the hurts and the fences, and soaking the soil and renewing life.

May we who sow their fields with our tears then reap with shouts of joy.

May all families who go out weeping, bearing the seeds of dreams, return home with shouts of joy, carrying their own babies, feeding their own families, kissing their own lovers, embracing their own flesh. 

Dori K. Hjalmarson is pursuing her Master of Divinity degree at San Francisco Theological Seminary



Advent Devotions: Listening Distractions?


This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

By Rev. Dr. Bill Johnson

I Corinthians 1:3-9           

For me, today is special: It's my 80th birthday!   Far more important than my birthday celebration is the promise that we have as we listen to and encounter God as made known to us in Jesus the Christ.   God is to be listened to; Jesus is to be celebrated - especially as we begin this new, yet ancient, Advent season.  

I have never been a good listener; I prefer to talk or read or cook or collect antiques or travel. Some of you might be like me in some ways. But, I have learned over the years to try to listen to God: sometimes as I read a biblical passage; sometimes through a sermon; sometimes via my wife or dear friends; sometimes through events in my community or our world; sometimes even through fact or fiction books.   I kind of try to listen to "the still small voice" of God, which isn't always still or small.   Sometimes it is a movement like a soft rustling breeze or a roaring wind; sometimes it shakes and rattles me like an earthquake.   But, God speaks. Why? Because "God is faithful...."

From the time I was in junior high school I studied with music in the background.   Just ask my classmates at UCLA or SFTS. Even when I write sermons, there is always classical music or jazz. But, somehow God has always broken through my self-made distractions so that, like some of you, I am privileged, blessed, even forced, to listen to God.

Here, in I Corinthians, we see Paul reminding the church of God's faithfulness - strengthening us in spite of the cacophony of distractions bombarding us from every direction. God speaks.   The question is: Do we listen?   And not necessarily in conventional ways.

During Advent, discover your listening level - and your distractions - as you are surrounded by the grace and peace of God in Jesus. That is all we really need to hear. 

Rev. Dr. Bill Johnson is an alumnus of San Francisco Theological Seminary

Advent Devotions: Are You Ready to Be Seen?


This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

By Rev. Ruth T. West

Isaiah 64:1-9         

I am struck by the power that these words evoke as the writer of Isaiah recalls God's awesomeness. I imagine, as I read, the glory of God's majesty lighting up the night sky like a fireworks show at the end of a triumphal event. Creation quakes at the very anticipation of God's presence in the world.

When we are faced with troubled and troubling times, there seems to be some hope and comfort in remembering or invoking images of a powerful and majestic God.

As we recall the magnitude of what we think God has done, we are by necessity and comparison humbled to acknowledge our collective smallness. It seems there is an inner lens that makes it easier for us to see the sin, perceived sin, or wrongdoing of others. We righteously force humility onto ourselves by chanting together corporate prayers of confession. But can we see our individual selves - that is, can I see myself - the way God does? It is not particularly easy for me to be so specific about my own lapses in character.

Yet the writer seems to invite us to stand before God and ask to be seen.

Not only can God forgive our iniquities (sins), God is able to NOT remember. The stains of our shortcomings become invisible - not severed from our experience - rather they are present and yet un-seen.

So our request to be seen represents our hope for God's loving-kindness to embrace us despite our very selves. It encourages us to be open to be changed, and to be thankful that we are made to be malleable. It invites us to recall our personal experiences of God and to speak to a hurting world through them.

Rev. Ruth T. West is program manager for the Christian Spirituality program at San Francisco Theological Seminary

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