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82 posts categorized "Advent Series"

Advent Devotions: As I Speak Now

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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 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

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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. 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

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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 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?

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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. 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?

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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. 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

Advent Devotions: The Advent Listeners

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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

Luke 2:25-40        

This year, the story of Simeon and Anna concludes our Lessons & Carols services, and it begins our Advent devotions. It may seem a strange story to include at all in our Advent storytelling. Advent is the season that leads up to and anticipates Christmas. It is a season of waiting and looking and listening. But this story takes place eight days after Christmas, after Jesus is born. Mary and Joseph bring the baby Jesus to the Temple, and there they encounter Simeon and Anna. The parents put the baby in Simeon's arms, and Simeon and Anna announce: "This is God's salvation; this is God's light of revelation." They speak and begin to share this embodied Word. In the first days of Advent, this story may feel a little bit . . . out of season.

But there is an Advent story here, too: When this story opens, Simeon has been waiting for years and years "for the consolation of Israel." He lives in a world dominated by empire - a world of war, and oppression, and bare subsistence living. Simeon waits and watches and listens for God's word of consolation.

So too, Anna. Anna is an 84-year-old prophet and widow, who has lived most of her years waiting for that word, too: "Anna never left the temple, but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day."

Anna and Simeon are the original Advent listeners. In the years leading up to this story, Anna and Simeon are waiting and watching and listening - listening for God's word of consolation and hope and peace. And in this story, the long-awaited Word is made flesh in the midst of them.

Our Advent theme this year is "Listening for the Word Made Flesh." At Christmas, we celebrate the miracle of incarnation: "The Word was made flesh and dwelt in our midst . . . full of grace and truth." (John 1:14) During Advent, we listen and wait for that embodied Word. This year's theme asks us to join those first Advent listeners -- Anna and Simeon, John the Baptizer, Elizabeth and Mary, Zechariah and Joseph, shepherds, a people longing for liberation -- to listen to their stories, and then to listen in our world for the Word made flesh in the midst of us.

Where do we hear a Word in their stories?

Where do we hear an embodied Word coming to life in ours?

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

 

 

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.

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