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82 posts categorized "Advent Series"

Advent Devotions: Listening for the Word Made Flesh

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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. Jana Childers

John 1: 1-5, 10-14             

There is a twist in the title of this year's Advent devotional series, "Listening for the Word Made Flesh."  When something becomes flesh do we hear it?  When we are talking about the Word coming into the world, "listening" is exactly the right term, of course. But what if we are thinking - as surely many of us are today - about the Baby born in Bethlehem.  Is that Word something we listen for?  Or something our arms ache to hold?

The Scripture lesson for today suggests that it is both. When this Something becomes flesh, John claims, you see its glory and feel its light on your face. It fills your arms and your heart and... you will also hear it.  According to verse 14, the sound of the Word becoming flesh is the sound of "grace and truth."

It's a sound that echoed across the Bay Area's I-80 corridor this month as voices took up the chant:  "Black Lives Matter." We heard it there and in what the Global Language Monitor group reports is the most cited phrase of the year, "Hands up, Don't shoot." Where voices are lifted in the cause of justice, the Word we have been listening for is heard. Where grace is spoken, the Word we have been listening for is there, too.  A video of a Jewish caregiver crooning to an elderly Christian patient has been circulating on the web this week.  "Jesus loves me," the caregiver sings to the Alzheimer's patient.  "He's got the whole world in his hands," she whispers. Her nose presses gently against the patient's nose as she coaxes a few syllables out of the long-silent woman.  Across barriers of class, religion, and race she strokes a cheek and brings the voiceless to voice. Whose words - I ask you - whose Words are they that can do such a thing?

Rev. Dr. Jana Childers is dean and professor of homiletics and speech communication at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

 

 

Advent Devotions: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel: Now is the Time

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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 Bishop Ernest L. Jackson

Luke 2:1-7              

  

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

 

Years ago, when I was a madrigal singer, one of my favorite songs during Advent was O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.   It is a simple yet haunting chant with a Gregorian motif that accentuated our group's a capella and polyphonic forte.  Although I am no longer a madrigal singer, the words of the song nonetheless resonate in my spirit-not as song, but as a prayer. The phrase "O come, O come" suggests a sense of urgency-even a wailing plea that emanates from depths of the soul as we see the condition of the world.  Come, Emmanuel! See the injustice against Oscar Grant, Travon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and countless other young women and men who have been judged and found guilty as charged -- as a person of color. 

The injustice, inequality, and racism seen in Ferguson are panoramic icons of what is pervasive across America!  Come, now, Emmanuel, and see the flagitious ISIS, the deadly scourge of Ebola, and the oppression of the poor.  Did you see what the Taliban did to Malala?

Emmanuel has come.  He came to do the will of God.  He came to preach the Gospel to the poor, to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the burdened and battered ree, and to announce: "This is God's year to act!"  Now is the time to go forth and shout the message of justice to the unjust, equality to the xenophobic, sectarian, and racist, and liberty to the oppressor.  If we are to celebrate Advent, let it be after we have done the will of God.

Bishop Ernest L. Jackson is pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

   

 

 

Advent Devotions: The Night Job

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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 Marissa Danney

Luke 2:8-14             

I’m imagining some shepherds. Their clothes are “field” clothes; sweaty, dirty, worn. Their spirits are “field” spirits; a little lonely, tired, worn. They know that they have a low-level job in their community. It is one that keeps them outside of town. In fact, their task to watch a flock of sheep sleep (instead of sleeping themselves) proves their status each night.

The shepherds settle their creaky limbs onto the cold earth. They ready themselves to keep watch for any threat. If they’ve been working this job for long enough, their anxiety is low-level but constant. If they’re new, their eyes are wide and red, scanning the dark.

And so when someone emerges from the dark and stands in front of them, they feel terror. They feel exhausted, pulse-racing confusion -- confusion over whether they can believe what they see. They look to one another, checking to know if they’re the only one having this experience. And when they see one another equally recoiled, they ask themselves questions in rapid succession.

Am I really seeing an angel of the Lord? Has this angel, emanating a breath-taking glory, really come to us? Have they really chosen to come, not to the safety and structure of the city in the distance, but to our undesirable, dark, and open field?

And yet, she came to them. She approached them. Indeed, she trusted and entrusted them with a message.

And the good news for those shepherds is this. It is the adrenaline pumping through their bodies. It is the glory of God causing them to look at the angel from the sides of their eyes. It is the word “do not be afraid,” spoken to those whose muscles are tensed from watching for trouble. It is the gift of a message for “all people.” “All people” including them.

It is this word in their flesh. 

Marissa Danney earned her Master of Divinity degree at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

   

 

 

Advent Devotions: A Just Us

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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. Scott Clark

Isaiah 9:1-7              

In Isaiah 9, the people cry out and declare what they are longing for in a leader -

                   a wonderful counselor,
                   a God more powerful than all violence,
                   an everlasting parent,  
                   a sovereign of peace.

Scholars have different views as to when they cried this out.  Perhaps they were sitting in the rubble of Jerusalem after return from exile, longing for restoration and healing.  Perhaps it was an earlier day when they were in between kings, longing for a king more just and wise than the last, for an end to the violence of today and yesterday, for a tomorrow that brings everlasting peace.  They were people walking in darkness, and they longed for a great light.

They were longing for a just sovereign.

I think that today we long for the same thing, as we witness on a daily basis the injustice of sovereigns local and national:  Public officials have again and again killed unarmed young black men.  Protests of these killings have been met with militarized police action.  Grand juries have refused to bring charges, preventing these harms from being tried in a court of law.  And while that wound remains raw and bare, a Senate report tells us that our federal government and its intelligence agencies have engaged in years of torture under the cloak of a claim of national security.   And still in December, we have thousands of children from Central America housed in detention centers just within our borders - our partisanship crippling our ability to care justly for the most vulnerable in our midst (indeed, the orphan and the stranger).

We long for a just sovereign.

But here's the thing:  In a nation that claims democracy as its governing principle, when we long for a just sovereign, we are really longing for a just us.  That may be even more true for a people of faith living within that nation who claim to be part of "the body of Christ." When we make that claim, we suggest that somehow - beyond what our eyes can see right now - God is making the Word flesh in us.

So at Advent, when we long for a just sovereign, we are calling ourselves and our nation to account.  That calls us to see and name things about ourselves and our nation honestly - to say out loud each and every way that power-over and privilege oppress.  Where we ourselves have privilege, we are called to name that, to relinquish it, and to listen - to listen to the cries of those who suffer the violence of power-over.  As Rev. Dr. Eric Smith points out in Iliff Seminary's Advent devotions, the experience of Advent "must begin with the experience of the oppressed" - listening to the experience of the oppressed, and responding.  In the experience of Advent, in the coming of the Christ, the oppressed among us lead. 

As we listen and pray this Advent, how will we change us so that we might become the body of Christ that we are longing for?

 

Rev. Scott Clark is chaplain and associate dean of student life at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

 

   

 

 

Advent Devotions: Magnificat 2014

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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. James McDonald

Luke 1:46-56              

Two Jewish kinswomen, both unexpectedly pregnant, meet in an obscure city nestled in the hills of a tiny country and get caught up in the wonder of God's saving ways. Elizabeth is an old woman, upright and well-to-do, from the priestly family of Aaron. Mary is a poor, peasant girl, young, perhaps 12, of uncertain lineage.

There is something marvelously mystical in the moment of their meeting: an unbounded enthusiasm, an unfettered joy, a comprehension of crystal clarity. Two people could not be more fully present to each other than were Elizabeth and Mary. Two people could not share more fully the sense of God's presence, could not have been more connected to the continuing story of God's faithful action in history, could not have embodied more freely the joy and humility of participating in God's salvation than these two women, one old, one young, one rich, one poor.

The fact that some ancient texts put the words of the Magnificat into the mouth of Elizabeth instead of Mary is simply confirmation of the unity of feeling and understanding that was present at the moment of their meeting. God was doing a new thing, something marvelous. God was turning the world upside down, and setting it right.

Could this happen to us? Could we get so caught up in the wonder of God's unexpected ways, God's saving grace, that some confused scholar might one day place the words of the Magnificat in our mouths?

"My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior."

Can we embrace the truth that good news for the poor and lowly is actually God's way of saving the world from itself? To fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty sounds heartless to the rich. But the judgment upon the rich and powerful is God's way of saving them/us too.

God has remembered and come to save us, rich and poor, young and old, powerful and lowly. This Advent can we sing Mary's song with open hearts and full voice? And can we live it? 

 

Rev. Dr. James McDonald is the president of San Francisco Theological Seminary. 

 

Advent Devotions: The Hidden Power of Women's Solidarity

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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 fiancé 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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

   

 

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