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47 posts categorized "Advent Series"
By Rev. Dr. Jim McDonald
By Rev. Scott Clark
By Dori Kay Hjalmarson
Photo of olive trees in Bethlehem by Flickr user amanderson2
[Editor's note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. The reading for this post is Micah 5:2-5a. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]
Rev. Gail C. Doering
I beg all of you to not assume Jesus Christ as you read this passage of scripture. Please, please, please, wait and read this as if you had never heard of the one who was to be born in Bethlehem. Wait just a few days longer for the unexpected coming of the Prince of Peace. For now, sit in the wonder and expectancy of what has not yet been born.
As you let these words fall over and around you, imagine what the people in Bethlehem are hoping for today. What is the desire of their hearts? What pregnant possibility is waiting to be born in us this day? What labor pains might be lifted by our prayers and our works?
I returned from two weeks in Bethlehem in mid-November, and I am flooded with memories and images as I read this passage: The separation wall, a Palestine baby boy dedicated in a worship service in Beit Sahour, the unemployed men wandering the streets at all hours, the hundreds of workers lined up outside the wall at 6:30 a.m. waiting for rides to work (a process that can take 1 to 2 hours), the faithful Orthodox, Muslims and Christians each taking seriously the acts and devotions of their traditions, the numerous checkpoints and incredibly young soldiers, the lack of infrastructure in Palestinian territories, the 2000-year-old olive trees on the Mount of Olives, and much, much more.
It seems the prophet Micah speaks just as clearly today, and that the plight of Bethlehem and the ways of the world have changed drastically and not at all. So, don't jump too quickly to Jesus, but do jump to prayer.
Rev. Gail C. Doering is a member of the San Francisco Theological Seminary alumni council.
Photo by flickr user Luigi Mengato.
[Editor's note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. The reading for this post is Hebrews 12:1-2. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]
By Rev. Tim Lanham
I watch as the candlelight spreads
across the sanctuary. The gentle light grows with a gathering momentum until
the darkness gets pushed back and away. The sanctuary is aglow in the soft,
sacred light. As I watch, I see all these faces—faces which, over the course
of my tenure here, have grown dear and familiar. I see all these faces. But for
one face in particular do I watch. I look for it as I do every Christmas Eve
night. I watch.
I listen as the music reaches out along with the
candlelight—moving gently but inexorably until it fills the sanctuary. While
I listen to the music and the singing, I listen also for her voice. For without
it, something is missing. The celebration of this mystery of the Word made
flesh is not quite right without it. I listen for her voice to join and
complete the song. I listen.
Amid the candlelight and the music,
I hope for the Day to come where history concludes and the Promise is made
good. As I celebrate Christ's advent, I hope for Christ's return. For beneath
the Season's kitsch and sentimentality, that hope is what this celebration is
really all about. My hope on this night is for the Lord's Coming and Kingdom. I
And she is a part of that hope. The unfulfilled promise I made half a lifetime ago to my wife's mother haunts me to this day. "Hey Maxine!" I exclaimed, "I'll see you later!" I still get mad at myself for not realizing that before I could see her later she would be dead. But on this night, that nagging regret is transformed by hope. In the candlelight, I glimpse that great cloud of witnesses. Among those gathered faces, I see her face. In the quiet, I hear her voice whisper: "Kid, I made it!" I have my Christmas gift. And there is grace.
Rev. Tim Lanham is a San Francisco Theological Seminary Trustee.
[Editor's note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. The reading for this post is 2 Corinthians 1:3-11. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]
By Donald P. Hammond
If there were any two words that could be used to summarize essential tenants of Christian faith, "παρακαλεω" and "θλιψις" would be strong contenders. Not because they are written more than any other two words in the collection of works we call scripture. And not because they are imperative commands uttered by the Lord of the Hebrew Scriptures, nor Son of Man of the Gospels. But because of their meaning. Now of course attempting to essentialize the faith into two words must be considered futile, if not ludicrous, yet I am not the first to do so, nor will I be the last.
Παρακαλεω rendered phonetically is parakaleo which is translated as "to exhort, comfort" and is used with nuances to mean calling for aid, inviting comfort or beseeching something from a divine source. Θλιψις on the other hand, rendered phonetically is thlipsis which means "to hem in, to oppress or to vex." Thlipsis is also a term that means "to be hostile to."
In the scripture for today parakaleo and thlipsis are translated (in the NRSV) as "console" and "affliction." This text is the go-to place wherein we remind ourselves that God consoles us in our affliction. Where we humbly remind ourselves that as Jesus suffered, so we suffer. And this is good and fine and true. I cannot read this passage without a sense of the ironic. As Paul does, we are quick to place ourselves in the role of the afflicted: the ones who need consolation. I believe this to be a grievous self-serving error. For those outside of the church, or outside our particular hermeneutic, we are not consolers, but in fact we are the ones who afflict. If we did essentialize our faith into just two words then we must make ourselves the consolers who focus outside ourselves and seek to comfort the afflicted-other.
Donald P. Hammond is interim assistant to the director of enrollment at San Francisco Theological Seminary.
[Editor's note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. The reading for this post is Romans 5: 1-5. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]
By Rev. Dr. R. Scott Sullender
Most of us are avoiders—we avoid suffering. Some of us are survivors—we survive our sufferings. Paul is a boaster—he boasts (NRSV) in his afflictions, certain that his suffering will make him hope all the more, and hope will not disappoint him. An astounding claim! I suppose he has a point. The more we suffer, the more we rely on God, trust in God, hope in God. Our sufferings force us to our knees! Remember Luther's advice, "sin boldly so grace may abound?" Paul might say, "Suffer bravely, so hope may abound."
We cannot choose the path we walk in life. Some walk paths of great pain and hardship. Others seem to have easier paths. But sooner or later, into each life, "some rain must fall." We cannot choose otherwise. Paul implies that we can choose the attitude we shall take toward our sufferings. Will we whine and complain? Will we learn to be helpless? Will we learn bitterness? Or will we learn endurance, character and hope?
Hope is the end result of suffering. Suffering plus endurance, plus character, equals hope. Hope is born in suffering. Hope is strengthened in endurance. Hope is rooted in character. Hope is not fiction, a wish upon a star, a pipe dream or fantasy.
We hope because "God's love has been poured into our hearts ..."(v.5). Hope in a future is based on hope realized in the past. The hope of the future advent is based on the hope fulfilled in the first advent. We might say that hope has a history, as well as a future. What is your personal hope history? Has God been faithful to you in past times of trial? Can you allow that history to inform your hope now? Does that history even give you reason to boast?Rev. Dr. R. Scott Sullender is associate professor of pastoral counseling at San Francisco Theological Seminary.
[Editor's note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. The reading for this post is Luke 3:7-18. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]
By Rev. Dr. Rick Snyder
In every church I've served, a ritual begins early in Advent—the Worship Committee begins fielding the question: "When are we going to start singing Christmas carols?" When we try to explain the significance of Advent—that Advent is about spiritual disciplines, self-examination, repentance, and most of all heartfelt preparation for the miracle of incarnation—eyes tend to glaze over. Such is our cultural context, even in central Illinois. As one congregant put it, "I'm not into this morbid introspection."
So we're not really prepared for John the Baptist stalking out of the wilderness, telling the curious crowds, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance ... the axe is already at the root of the trees and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire." Have a nice day!
We can't hide behind our religious credentials, ethnic heritage or baptism. For John, what is needed is repentance, a radical turning from our sin and our sins. John knows each of us has our temptations—to hoard, to misuse power, to give into greed, to lord over, or to use others, especially those whose voices have long been silent. We're called to repent and to demonstrate that repentance by bearing visible fruit, clear evidence of God's love and justice.
I am fortunate to have just seen such fruit in the ministry of our sister church in Havana, Cuba, located in a gritty, working-class neighborhood. The church offers clean drinking water, exercise and tai chi classes, a feeding program for the elderly, medicinal herbs and spices, a clothing distribution, monthly classical concerts, Al-Anon classes for their youth, and neighborhood dances—all of this from a congregation of 135 members.
Strange that "the least" seem to have the least difficulty being generous. And I think they understand the true meaning of Advent!
Rev. Dr. Rick Snyder (SFTS Master of Divinity/Master of Arts '74 and SFTS Doctor of Ministry '79) is a San Francisco Theological Seminary trustee.