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66 posts categorized "Advent Series"

Advent Reflections: Perseverance in Faith

'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 Adam Bain

Lectionary readings:

Isaiah 7:10-25

Matthew 11:7-15

Hebrews 10:32-39

Today’s readings made me think about perseverance in the present, and hope for the future.  God tells us that there is a brighter future for us, and that it is important to persevere in our faith.

My experience as a Christian has included times when I felt confident in my faith and very close to God. During those times, I often engaged in contemplative prayer and looked for opportunities to serve others, rather than thinking of myself first. At other times, however, I have felt myself drifting away from God. I got caught up in my own pride and material concerns.  I failed to set aside sufficient time to pray and meditate on God’s plan for me.

The verses of Hebrews call to mind the importance of persevering in faith. “But recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.  For you had compassions for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourself possessed something better and more lasting.  Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings great reward.  For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised"(Hebrews 10:32-36).

I think part of my growth as a Christian (I hope) has been being conscious of times when I felt distant from God, and then making efforts to move closer to God. This includes trying to focus on God’s plan for me and trying to take steps to implement the plan. Contemplation, prayer, and worship all help in moving closer to God. I sometimes felt closest to God when going through hard times, experiencing grief and pain. The Hebrews passage reveals a community that was confident in its faith during times of persecution and abuse. Maybe it is easier to persevere in faith during times of pain and ordeal because those are the times when we feel that we need God the most. Unfortunately, when things are going well, and we feel good about life, God sometimes recedes to the background. I know that has been true for me.

The challenge is to persevere in faith, in both bad times and good times.  It requires hard work, commitment, patience, and endurance. Perseverance is about refusing to give up, trying again and again. Fortunately, it is blessing to have a community of faith at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church to help in the effort. Worshiping together, praying together, working together and confessing together help in the quest to persevere in faith, and strengthen the commitment to the faith community. The idea of joint perseverance is captured beautifully in the folk song that became an anthem of the Civil Rights movement, “Eyes on the Prize.”  “Well the only chains we can stand are the chains of hand in hand. Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.”

So what is “the prize” for our community? Certainly it is growing the community, and together sharing the ideal of the final verse of Hebrews Chapter 10:  “But we are not among those who shrink back, and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved” (Hebrews 10:39).

Prayer: Dear God have mercy on me. Show me your plan for me.  Help me move closer to you and persevere in faith.  Amen.    

Adam Bain is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.

Advent Reflections: Bear One Another's Burdens

'Presents' photo (c) 2007, Allie Towers Rice - 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.]

By Kristin Ford

Lectionary readings:

Galatians 6: 1-10

Matthew 11: 1-6

Isaiah 7: 1-9

“…Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ…. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.  So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially those of the family of faith.” (Galatians 6: 2, 9-10)

Bearing one another’s burdens is, I think, a bit like the inverse of exchanging Christmas gifts.  Rather than giving someone something at a time of joy, it is instead offering to take something at a time of a need—lifting the load someone carries, the pain or guilt or regret she cannot shrug off.  Buying a present seems so much simpler. Once unwrapped, the exchange is complete. Bearing a burden for someone, on the other hand, is an ongoing arrangement.  It’s a commitment of empathy and support.

It’s easy to tell ourselves that our own burdens are more than enough—or that we couldn’t possibly help anyway, so why get involved? But what better time than Christmas to remember that God does not call us to a life of pursuing individual plans in disconnected ways? Christmas is a time to try to rebuild and expand communities, bringing together loved ones in celebration.  

The crèche is one of my favorite reminders of community at Christmastime, with wise men from the East standing alongside shepherds and barnyard animals. These unusual suspects are brought together by the marvel of our Savior—the baby Jesus—wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

And not only do the wise men arrive from distant origins to witness and worship the Messiah, they do so after a long and difficulty journey. Surely they felt weary and dispirited on the way.  As I look toward Christmas this year, I feel a little weary myself.  Some days, there doesn’t seem to be any hope for effecting change or for transforming the world. And so Paul’s call to “not grow weary in doing what is right” rings true, as does his call to act upon moments of opportunity to work for the good of all.  

In this Advent, let us stay alert to opportunities, knowing that God calls us to seek out ways of bringing hope to our broken world.  Let us remember and celebrate the way that a baby, born in a manger, could change everything. And amidst the hustle and bustle of the season, I hope that the Nativity scene can be a constant reminder not to grow weary, but to be resolved to search for those moments to bear another’s burdens and to build God’s community.

Prayer: God of all seasons, help us to not grow weary, but to be perseverant in pursuing opportunities to show your love and bring about your vision for our world, carrying one another’s burdens and working for the good of all.  Give us the strength of spirit to start each day in this Advent season with a renewed sense of opportunity and of hope, celebrating the coming of our Lord Jesus.  Amen.

Kristin Ford is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.              

Advent Reflections: Following John the Baptist

'Spring Snow melt' photo (c) 2011, Krishna Santhanam - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/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 Paul, Gwenn, and Jessica Gebhard  

Lectionary reflections:

Isaiah 5:13-17, 24-25 

John 3:22-36

Acts 10:34-43

John the Baptist’s approach to ministry, as laid out in John 3:22-36, sets an important challenge for each of us during this Advent season—the challenge of understanding our mission as Christian, rather than congregational.

In the passage, John and his disciples are in the midst of a round of communal baptisms. One of John's disciples sees Jesus on the other side of the river, and is dismayed to see that Jesus is also performing baptisms. Worse, many of John’s potential converts are abandoning him to flock to Jesus. John’s disciple is agitated and alarmed on John’s behalf, as he believes that Jesus is poaching John’s potential parishioners, though Jesus himself was recent baptized by John.

In a modern context, Jesus’s ministry is “stealing” members and donations from John’s. A modern disciple would probably react in the same way as John’s did: with dismay.

John the Baptist, however, has a different view of the matter. The Bible tells us that John replied, “He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:29-30). John measures the success of his ministry not by the number of his own followers, but by the number following Jesus, whom he baptized. This presents us with a subtle challenge. Our congregation, like many others, measures the health and success of our ministry implicitly by membership totals and pledges and donations. But that is not John’s measure of success. For John, it is more important that he helped in a wider mission, not that his own personal mission be a particular success.

How do we meet John’s standard of selfless, humble evangelism?

As the church community of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church(NYAPC), we evangelize six days a week to the all the users of the church building each week—to all of the kids and tutors in community club, to the homeless in the Radcliffe Room ministry, to the several church and community groups that use our building and facilities. Our outreach to, and support of, ministries outside the city–whether in other parts of the United States, Cuba, or countries in Africa–is a ministry that does not directly generate new members or tithes for NYAPC. During this Advent season, we must remember that our interactions with the world around us give others a reason to consider Jesus and his message, and what it could mean for them.  As was the case with John the Baptist, our individual actions are most important, as they benefit those we help and the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water. In water, your son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah. Through water, we are cleaned.

Paul, Gwenn, and Jessica Gebhard are members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.              

Advent Reflections: Wild Grapes

Snow_on_grapes[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 Meg Hanna House

Lectionary Readings:

Isaiah 5: 1-7

John 1:19-28

Revelation 5:1-10

A good vintner pays attention to her vineyard. She’s out there daily, observing the plants. Should she remove leaves to give the fruit more light? What should grow between the vines? The details matter, from the beginning of the season to the end.

Now imagine you put all this work into the vineyard, and when you harvest, you have wild grapes — small, hard, and sour. That’s what Isaiah says has happened with Israel. God “expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry.” Is our world today much different? God has lavished every care, but we have strayed and become like wild grapes — small, hard, and sour.

How can we yield sweet fruit?

I’ve been thinking a lot about dispositions these days — about how I approach people, tasks, events, even scripture. Am I open or closed? Do I pay attention to others or focus on myself? Most often I’m not aware of my disposition. I move through life riding on habits, both good and bad.

The Levites and priests seem determined in their dispositions as they approach John the Baptist. They want answers. But John’s answers must have frustrated them. They ask who John is; he tells them who he is not. They ask again, and John quotes Isaiah: “I am a voice of one crying out in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord.” They want to know: Are you qualified to be doing this? John again answers indirectly: There’s someone else, he says, “I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”

As readers, we know what John is saying, and while I hope I would have cocked my head and tried to understand, I fear I would have been more like the priests and the Levites, seeking answers to fit  my own set of rules for the way I want the world to work.

I would have needed a shift in vision, in my disposition, to begin to understand. And with all its perfect sevens and metaphors, today’s Revelation passage certainly tells about a shift of vision. It begins with a question similar to the one the priests and Levites ask of John the Baptist: Who is worthy? And no one can be found until the passage shifts our vision to the Lamb—to Jesus.

So how can we be worthy? How can we yield sweet fruit? Imagine we are in the vineyard. Imagine we are a branch growing and stretching our tendrils under God’s care. God’s gifts of sun and rain, of covenant, and of Jesus help us to unfurl, to open ourselves, to shift our vision to see others in a new light, to be ready to see what John the Baptist was ready to see — the “one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me.”                                                                                                                                     

Meg Hanna House is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.

Advent Reflections: The Coming of the Messianic Age

'White flower' photo (c) 2009, Peter aka anemoneprojectors - 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.]

By Bruce Whitener

Lectionary Readings:
Isaiah 4: 2-6
John 1: 6-13
Acts 10: 9-16

The passage contained in Isaiah 4: 2-6 describes the future Messianic Age of the Messiah, and is in almost every biblical precursor of the nativity (and this lectionary is no exception). If you read the book of Isaiah, you will find this example unusual, as it appears abruptly following dire warnings from the prophet concerning the future of Israel. In contrast to the warnings, it is unmistakably a message of peace and forgiveness.

The second lectionary, written by an unknown author, seeks to make a distinction between John the Baptizer and the coming Messiah. The author apparently thought that the enormous crowds and wide popularity of John the Baptizer would lead his followers to believe he was the coming Messiah.

John the Baptizer was the son of Zachary. He lived as a hermit in the desert of Judea until he was 30, when he began to preach on the banks of the Jordan against the evils of the times. He called his audiences to penance and baptism, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand." He attracted large crowds, and when Christ came to him, John recognized him as the Messiah and baptized him, saying, “It is I who need baptism from you." When Christ left to preach in Galilee, John continued preaching in the Jordan valley. Fearful of his great popularity with the people, Herod had him arrested and imprisoned. John was beheaded at the request of Salome, daughter of Herodias, who asked for his head at the instigation of her mother. John inspired many of his followers to follow Christ when he designated him “the Lamb of God”— among them Andrew and John, who came to know Christ through John’s preaching. As such, John is presented in the New Testament as the last of the Old Testament prophets and the precursor of the Messiah.

The third and final lectionary reading concerns a story in Acts 10, in which Saint Peter had a vision of a canopy full of animals being lowered from heaven. A voice from heaven told Peter to kill and eat, but since the sheet contained unclean animals, Peter declined. The command was repeated two more times, along with the voice saying, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common,"  and then the sheet was taken back to heaven (Acts 10:16). At this point in the narrative, messengers sent from Cornelius the Centurion arrive and urge Peter to go with them. He does so, and mentions the vision as he speaks to Cornelius, saying "God hath showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean."

Prayer:

Merciful God, who sent your messengers, the prophets,
To preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation:
Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins,
That we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer;
Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
One God, now and forever!
Amen

Bruce Whitener is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.

Advent Reflections: Got Talent?

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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 Jenean McKay

Lectionary readings:

Isaiah 2:12-12
Matthew 25:14-30
I Thessalonians 5:1-11

The parable in Matthew about the master leaving each of his servants with different amounts of talent, and how they used them, made me think of how we use our own talents. I’m using the word "talent" to mean both our individual abilities and money.

As we respond to our calling as Christians to use our talents for the Lord’s work, I wonder if we are afraid of taking risks. Afraid if we give too much money, we won’t have enough for ourselves.  Or, afraid that our skills won’t match up to what needs to be done.  Are we trying to bury our talents?  Maybe we want to be safe?  All these thoughts have gone through my mind as I think of my gifts to the church.

But the Isaiah passage reminds us that if we live humbly, and do not get into building up man-made idols or our own image, God will take care of that kind of competition.  And in Thessalonians, Paul gives us the model for living our lives: “But, since we belong to the light, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation….Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” 

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your unending love and faith in us. Give us the courage to use our talents bravely and to give a grateful response to your son’s giving his life for us. Amen

Jenean McKay is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.

Advent Reflections: God's Unconditional Love

'Golden Clouds' photo (c) 2007, Esparta Palma - 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 Glory Eyong

Lectionary Readings:

Isaiah 2:6-11
Matthew 25:1-13
Acts 1:6-11

Once you’ve decided to walk with the Lord, you have to go all the way, until the end. Just as it is said by John Groh, prayer is not a “spare wheel” that you pull out when in trouble, but a “steering wheel” that directs the right path throughout.                            

The Lord is merciful, a miracle worker whose ways are not our ways. Do whatever you’re called to do with all humility and the Lord will be there to guide you through. 

Before anything happens to you, the Lord will give you a sign, either through a revelation or a vision that you’ll get in a dream or mental image. If you’ve not trained your spirit to be alert by having a quiet moment with your Lord on a daily basis, or as often as you can, you might miss an opportunity. You should learn to know when the spirit is prompting you to do something specific, and do just that in order to obtain the results desired, or meant to be.

While it seems simple, it is not always easy to carry out. It requires a lot of faith, patience, and a personal relationship with God.

Glory Eyong is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.

Advent Reflections: An Advent Promise

'Peace' photo (c) 2011, Kelly Hunter - 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 John H. Quinn, Jr.

Lectionary readings:

Isaiah 2:1 - 5
Psalm 122
Matthew 24: 36 - 44
Romans 13: 11 - 14

Each of us is called to be an applied theologian. Beginning today, the first day of Advent, we have the task and opportunity of asking how the traditional Advent themes to which we are again introduced in today’s Scripture passages—watchfulness, promise, preparation, and fulfillment—impact our lives as we actually live them. Can they? Do we believe they should? What does Advent study and prayer prepare us to do, to change?

The prophet and the psalmist proclaim that unity is a universal design feature of God’s world, not merely a “better” way of life. They envision a unified world in which swords are beaten into plowshares because nations will no longer take up sword against each other, a community in which each of us prays for the good of the other. That vision of social cohesiveness seems far-fetched, far removed from the divisiveness we historically have experienced and currently continue to experience. We have long lived with racial, economic, and ideological division, not mere differences. Major division caused us to fight a civil war 150 years ago, and in recent years and months caused us essentially to shut down the United States government. Even participants in church meetings have seen angry outbursts or passive resistance resulting from opposition to or frustration inspired by decisions made or not made during the meeting.

The premise of the Matthew and Roman passages is that failure to work toward and achieve social cohesiveness is a lack of conformity to God’s will. Given that reality, our task is to better understand the complexity that characterizes our world. We must evaluate differences and either disregard them because they are not significant or negotiate with respect to significant differences to avoid divisiveness. We are called to avoid and ameliorate divisions based on racial, economic, ideological, and even religious differences. Both Scripture and experience tell us not to fear each other, to communicate with each other lovingly, to accept God’s forgiveness of us and to forgive each other. These are the tools we must use to achieve collaborative relationships.

What sword can each of us beat into a plowshare? What attitude can I change to create greater social cohesiveness? What selfish desires can I abandon? What do I unworthily fear? What unhealthy or dysfunctional behavior can I avoid or change? For whose good can I pray? Am I up to these challenges? The prophet and the psalmist assure us that the promise of unity will be fulfilled as the result of each one of us combating divisiveness.

Prayer: Gracious and loving God, enable me to start this new ecclesiastical year with fresh awareness of your steadfast love for me and all of your creation. Help me to stay alert to this reality as I seek to be your faithful, collaborative disciple, encouraging fellow disciples as all of us await with hope the fulfillment of your promise for social cohesiveness.  Amen.

John H. Quinn, Jr. is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.

Mary’s Story: An Advent Bible Study

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By Amanda Bornfree

The season of Advent is a time of great expectation, filled with hope and promise. Advent calls us to gather in preparation for the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ. We bring our gifts in praise, and our songs in celebration as we express our endless love for Jesus, and our support for Mary.

This season has much in common with the times in which our loved ones are expecting new additions to their families. We find ourselves taking care of the expectant mother by giving her food, and showering her with attention. We find ourselves in prayer for a safe and healthy delivery. And, of course, we pray for a healthy baby, blessed to live a life filled with happiness, love, and great opportunity. 

Bread for the World's Advent Bible study, Mary’s Story, explores the relationship between Mary and Jesus in light of the movement to improve nutrition for women and children and ensure that all children everywhere can reach their full potential. Mary’s Story focuses on the window of opportunity that is the 1,000 days between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday — this is the most vital time for receiving nutrition for a healthy future. 

The Bible study calls us, as Christians, to use our faith, gifts, and resources to advocate for better health and nutrition for all. As God’s children, we believe that preparing for the birth of a child should always be a time filled with great expectation, hope, and promise.

We encourage you to use Mary’s Story for your Advent Bible study. Every hour of every day, 300 children die as a result of malnutrition — please dedicate just one hour each week during the season of Advent to learn more about how you can advocate for better nutrition during the 1,000-day window. Order this free resource today at www.bread.org/store , and visit the Women of Faith for the 1,000 Days Movement Facebook page to engage in conversations about the Bible study and maternal and child nutrition.  

Amanda Bornfree is a consultant in Bread for the World's church relations department.

Welcome the Word Made Flesh

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[Editor's note: This Advent season, we published a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. The reading for this post is John 1:1-14. This is the final Advent reflection from SFTS.] 

By Rev. Dr. Jim McDonald

Welcome the Word made flesh!
 
At Christmas we celebrate not only Christ's birth, but also the possibility of our rebirth. The Incarnation speaks eloquently about what we can become as well as what God has become. As Christina Rossetti put it: "Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine."
 
John's Gospel (and our own experience) tells us that one of the responses people make to Christmas is to resist it. We resist because the life we have is the only life we can imagine. We see our lives as do-it-yourself, progressive improvement projects. Every day, every year, we do a little bit better, achieve a little more, advance a little farther, add another feather in our cap. We do our duty and fulfill our goals, until slowly but surely we achieve something—wealth, fame, power, security, whatever. And we reject anything that interferes with "our little project"— including "God with us."
 
But "progressive improvement" is a fantasy, a figment of our imagination. Life is not linear or predictable. It surprises, amazes, frightens, troubles—moves in quantum leaps and on cautious tiptoe, with twists and turns, like a glacier or at the speed of light, greeting us with unanticipated moments of wonder, discovery, joy and delight, scarring us with uninvited moments of grief, disappointment, emptiness, and hurt.
 
The birth of Jesus Christ is God's ultimate affirmation of our humanity, and of life itself. The gift of God invites us to open ourselves to a new relationship with the God of love, one that will change all our relationships, making us more humble, appreciative, generous, kind, forgiving, and compassionate-in other words, more God-like and more fully human, all at the same time. Once again, Christina Rossetti:
 
Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and everyone,
Love for plea and gift and sign.
 
Merry Christmas all!
  
Rev. Dr. Jim McDonald is president and professor of faith and public life at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

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