SubscribeSubscribe to this blog's feed
47 posts categorized "Advent Series"
[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 Psalm 130. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]
By Nicole Trotter
My hometown is suffering. I see it every day in the paper. While many continue to wait for shelter, wait for water, and wait for electricity, my teenagers have to be reminded what "Sandy" was while they wait for me to drive them somewhere.
Waiting has come to be known as patience. Patience elicits images of a quiet girl sitting with hands politely clasped, or the Dalai Lama. But when we need something, we participate in getting it. The world has never been changed through passive waiting. The world changes through relentless trouble makers who "cry from the depths" and keep their eyes wide open at night "like a sentry waits for dawn."
The psalmist was a New Yorker, I'm convinced. He doesn't politely ask for what he needs, he practically demands it. "Hear my voice!" He will wait. But not in the sense we usually think. He will wait, with full awareness, awake, in darkness, because he's sure the dawn will come. Make no mistake, he can't muscle or will the morning's light. None of us can. But we can actively participate in waiting for it. Because if we don't, we may fall asleep and miss the sunrise, we might find ourselves one day asking, "What was Sandy?" We may forget to change anything, to hope for anything passionately. What's more, we may forget that to hope requires something from us, something resembling a relentless troublemaker "crying out from the depths." When we need something desperately, hope consumes us with a God given passion so big that it cannot and should not be politely contained.Nicole Trotter is a master of divinity student at San Francisco Theological Seminary.
By Christopher L. Schilling
As a child, visiting my grandparents on Christmas Day was special to me. My grandfather never had many memories of celebrating Christmas as a boy because he grew up in various foster homes. But, as an adult, he always found ways to make the season joyful for his grandchildren: from the lights decorating his small home in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Penn., to the toys he and my grandmother bought for each of their grandchildren, even to his somewhat tacky-looking Christmas tree, always over-covered in tinsel. Christmas was not only special to us, his grandchildren, Christmas was special to him.
While the Christmas season is a time to be joyful, it also can be a time of sorrow from the loss of loved ones to the struggles and changes in our personal lives. Seeking the gift of Christmas—or trying to re-capture the gift we once had for this season—can be difficult, if not at times impossible.
Yet, Psalm 25 reminds us that we are given reassurance of God's presence, even in the midst of our quest to find or recapture the gift of this season. This reassurance reminds us that in the midst of our own trying to find the gift of Christmas, through faith, this gift just may find us.
Perhaps the gift this season will come from a hug from a loved one. Or it could be in a reconnection we make with an old friend. Maybe it will be sharing a meal and much-needed laughter with a stranger. Or maybe it will be through retelling our favorite Christmas story to children.
Whatever it may be—in the midst of our great quest to recapture the gift of Christmas—God is about to give us what we so desperately are seeking: presence. This Christmas, presence is a hope that says there is a God who hasn't forgotten us. This is a Christmas presence of acceptance, hope and joy from a God who loves us so much. In fact, this is a Christmas presence that is just as great to give as it is to receive!
Christopher L. Schilling is a San Francisco Theological Seminary master of divinity student.
[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 8:18-27. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]
By Adlai Amor
For several years now, Bread for the World has partnered with various churches in presenting meditations for Advent and Lent. This year's Advent devotions (Dec.
2-25), "Hope for All the Earth," comes to Bread Blog readers via a
special arrangement with the San
Francisco Theological Seminary.
"Hope for All the Earth" devotions are written by SFTS students, alums, faculty, staff, and trustees. According to SFTS, the devotions "collectively serve as our gift to the SFTS community, our family and friends, and the larger church. Many people find that devotions are a great way to begin each day during the holiday season."
The theme comes from the Advent hymn "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus." Composer Charles Wesley based it on Haggai 2:7 and Isaiah 9:6.
The San Francisco Theological Seminary is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Established in 1871, it is the only PC(USA) seminary on the West Coast.
We'd like to thank all the SFTS students, faculty, and alumni. I hope our readers will enjoy "Hope for All the Earth."
Adlai Amor is Bread for the World's director of communications.
Photo by Flickr user Suicine
[Editors' note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. The lectionary reading for this post is Luke 2:8-20. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]
“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about’ … So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”
Imagine yourself as a shepherd, living near Bethlehem, where King David was born. You know your flock and they follow you as you lead them to pastures where they can forage for greens and water to drink. You sleep in their midst; you protect them from wolves; you even know their names. They know the sound of your voice.
One evening, just as you and your flock have settled in for the night, you look up. The sky is full of stars, including an especially bright one nearby. All of a sudden, a creature comes out of the sky, in brilliant raiment, and talks to you and the other shepherds. And if that were not enough, the winged creature was joined by a chorus of other brilliant creatures praising the birth of a new king.
Frankly, I would have been scared – my fear and unbelief would have taken hold of me. Why would strange creatures with wings want talk to me? But the angels did not scare you and the other shepherds – most likely your brother and other relatives -- that night. Instead you overcame your fear and, curious, decided to find out the truth.
True enough, there was a baby in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes. Amazed, we told our families, friends, and neighbors – literally broadcasting Jesus’ birth.
As I re-read this passage, I was struck by how appropriate it was that the shepherds were the first to be told of Jesus. Shepherds were, after all, the mainstay of the pastoral economy during those ancient times. Wealth was counted in terms of the number of sheep your family had. The more sheep you had, the more milk, meat, and wool you could produce.
Indeed, shepherds and sheep figure prominently in the Bible. Many of the prophets in the Old Testament were also shepherds – Abraham, Amos, Jacob, Moses, and David. Just like them, Jesus was referred to as a shepherd – a good shepherd; the chief shepherd; the great shepherd; and the one shepherd. Like a shepherd, Jesus feeds the flock, gathers the lambs in his arm and carries them in his bosom.
That fateful night, we who were shepherds became the sheep for we had found the One Shepherd who would lead us through life.
Prayer: Help us to be like the shepherds of old, dear Lord, who overcame their fear and believed in the infant Jesus. Help us to be like sheep faithfully following the Great Shepherd throughout our lives. Help us to proclaim God’s love today and forever. Amen.
Adlai Amor is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC, and director of communications at Bread for the World. Visit New York Avenue Presbyterian Church's website at www.nyapc.org.
Photo by Flickr user Ambuj Saxena
[Editors' note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. The lectionary readings for this post are Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 1:1-20; Titus 2:11-14. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.]
Christmas Eve draws us to the precipice of hope and expectation. Practically speaking, we may be anticipating the arrival of guests or a journey to celebrate the holidays. Gifts have been wrapped and stacked beneath evergreen trees topped with golden stars. So often, the days preceding Christmas unearth magical thinking, excitement, and joyful anticipation. We recall childhood days, lying awake on Christmas Eve, eagerly awaiting the arrival of Santa and the promise of white snowfall and frosty winds. At some level, this element of wishful yearning never completely leaves us because the Christmas story evokes similar feelings – the promise of new birth and miracles.
Traditionally, Christmas Eve centers on the story of Mary and Joseph, having been turned away by the innkeeper, giving birth to a son in manger. But other Bible verses allude to unprecedented miracles about to occur. In Isaiah, we learn that those walking in darkness will see a great light. A babe will be born who will be deemed to be a Wonderful Counselor, a Mighty God, and an ambassador of peace. In Luke, God answers the prayers of Zechariah and Elizabeth with the news that they will bear a child who “will be great in the sight of the Lord.” And Paul’s letter to Titus assures him and the Cretans that the “grace of God will appear, bringing salvation to all.” We open our hearts to the unexpected at this season. Hymns tell us of angels singing, stars shining brighter than ever, roses blooming amid the bleak midwinter. In Bethlehem, the “hope and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” Signs and wonders abound, perhaps making even skeptics reconsider their impervious stances for one amazing night.
We can easily get swept up in the holiday festivities, feeling hopeful and optimistic, maybe even stretched, as we journey through the season. Candlelight services, familiar music, seeing old friends and family can all be part of a joyful celebration. Imagine how excited and abashed the shepherds felt in the fields as angels appeared in the sky, and how awed those who witnessed the star in the east must have been. Signs that confirm the existence of a Mighty Counselor who will bring peace to a warring world must have been met with wonderment, curiosity, and excitement.
But how do we live the rest of our lives – the days that no signs appear in the clouds, telling us which way to turn? Rev. Craig Barnes recently wrote an article for the Christian Century suggesting that signs don’t always lead to the joy we’d hoped for, or perhaps signs do not even appear at all. Many of us have large decisions to make in our lives and while we long for a sign pointing us in the direction we want to go, sometimes that simply doesn’t happen. We wonder if we should retire to a new location, or take a job that we’re not sure about; we long for angels or bright stars that will lead us. But we walk in darkness; we do not see the great light! Barnes suggests that our faith will be tested in situations like these. We will have to act without signs; we will have to have the courage to move forward without clear directions or great promises that everything will turn out well. Sometimes we have to wander in a “wonderless” desert.
Therefore, we must rely on the witness of God’s great mercy, as shown through repeated biblical texts, to propel us forward. Dark days may cover our earthly existence, but sooner or later, we will reap a bountiful harvest. The yoke upon us will be broken. Righteousness and justice will ultimately reign. The community of faith will shelter us, rejoice with us, and keep our crooked paths straight.
Prayer: God, keep our eyes open to the signs and wonders of your kingdom. When we walk in great darkness, carry us across the chasms of despair. Shore up our faith this Christmas season and in the days that follow. Amen.
Elizabeth Young is a member at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.
Photo by Flickr user conorwithonen
[Editors' note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. The lectionary readings for this post are Isaiah 29:13-24; John 5:19-29; Titus 5:1-16. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.]
Today’s lectionary passages are a challenge for us because ultimately we believe in God’s offering of grace to all without preconditions or threats. The passages from John and Isaiah, in particular, sound ominous: either behave or be condemned to certain damnation. For a person who takes their faith seriously, the prospect of eternal condemnation could discourage that person from freely choosing God.
When our daughters Jessica and Emma were very young, we would, on occasion, resort to bribes or threats of punishment -- an extra cookie or a timeout -- to encourage good behavior. Immediate gratification or punishment -- experienced parents usually agree -- can work with children who are as yet too young to be reasoned with, who do not yet understand more abstract concepts of fairness or justice, or who have not yet developed the ability to understand the full consequences of their actions.
These Bible passages sound like the voice of someone instructing a young child who does not yet have the capacity to engage in, and begin to comprehend, a discussion of God’s grace. John and Isaiah resort to clear, unambiguous threats of what will happen to those that do not behave. Paul’s letter to Titus, similarly, is a rather straightforward checklist of do’s and don’ts on being a good Christian leader.
Our daughters are now young adults. Using bribes result in temporary or indifferent success; and they are certainly too old for a timeout. Influencing their behavior and choices now requires us to reason with them and appeal to their conscience and good nature to do the right thing and/or avoid bad choices. If, however, we are unable to convince them, we shrug our shoulders and shake our heads with exasperation.
Yet we still prepare to support them come what may. Our love for them is unconditional. Ultimately, there are many paths to accepting God’s grace. The way in which we come to accept God’s grace is immaterial to God; whether it is through instruction (bribes and punishments), study of scripture, the counsel of a friend, or some other path. We believe that preparations for Advent -- for the coming of Christ -- remind us that God bestows grace as we choose to accept it, freely.
Paul and Gwenn Gebhard are members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.
Photo by Flickr user chrisdlugosz
[Editors' note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. The lectionary readings for this post are Isaiah 28:9-22; John 3: 9-21; Hebrews 2: 1-9. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.]
“Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.” (Hebrews 2:1)
When I was growing up, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) had not been identified. Those who were affected by ADD before it was a recognized diagnosis coped by using strategies and supports to focus and concentrate … or they didn’t. I’m sure they heard, “Pay attention!” many times a day as they struggled to focus on everyday tasks.
Even for students (and adults) who don’t have ADD, paying attention can be difficult! Today, there are more and more things clamoring for our attention: our phones, the television, the radio, our partner, our child, a boss, a friend, a hobby, our health and fitness, the latest book, the Internet, and, yes, even church. To whom should we listen? Where should we focus? To what areas should we give our limited time and resources?
The answer is, of course, D: all of the above. We take care of the urgent and then the pleasurable, and sometimes the important stuff can just drift away from lack of attention.
In the busyness of Advent, taking the time to read a devotional might feel like one more thing to check off the day’s list, but today’s passage from John reveals an amazing message from Jesus, the teacher. In his lesson for Nicodemus, Jesus tells us something that we have read many times and even memorized: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). What an astounding declaration! Yet it is so familiar to us as to almost go unnoticed. But pay attention!
During Advent, as we wait for the coming of Jesus, let us focus on the spiritually important things: regular services that help us center every week; special services that remind us this is an extraordinary time; beautiful music and familiar scriptures that bring us back to focus and help us to pay attention!
Prayer: Lord, as we wait for Jesus during this extraordinary time, we ask for help in paying attention to what is truly important. Forgive us when we give way to the busyness of our lives and drift away from your word. Thank you for your love and the forgiveness we can claim through your Son. Amen.
Kris Golden is a member at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.
Photo by Flickr user Yngvar
[Editors' note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. The lectionary readings for this post are Isaiah 13:6-13; John 3:1-8; Revelation 12:10-17. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.]
"Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, 'Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.' Jesus replied, 'Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. How can someone be born when they are old?' Nicodemus asked. 'Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!' Jesus answered, 'Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, "You must be born again." The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.'" (John 3:1-8)
The assignment of the scripture passage from John, I have to believe, was divine providence, for it is one that brings about very strong and emotional feelings in me. The passage awakens memories from my youth.
When I was a tween, my Dad was proudly serving as the senior chaplain at the U. S. Naval Academy. He served there from 1967 to 1970, which was a very historic and volatile time in our nation’s history. I was in middle school at that time, in schools that were recently desegregated. Middle school is a confusing time in anyone’s life, apart from what was happening on the national stage.
While I lived at the Naval Academy, one of my Dad’s favorite parts of his job was to invite guest preachers to the Academy pulpit. These preachers were considered the top theologians of our time, or at least according to my Dad. Sometimes, the speakers were controversial.
Once a month, not only would the guest preacher grace the chapel’s pulpit, but would also stay in our home and be the guest of honor at a luncheon after chapel. My mother gave the luncheon for roughly 36 people, which would consist of the guest preacher, midshipmen, professors and their spouses and officers and their spouses.
One particular Sunday, we had a group of Christians in our house, and I will never forget the way they treated my Mom, their hostess. When my Mom was asked at her own dining room table when she had been saved, my Mom answered that she was raised in the church, and that she had grown up in a Christian home, and had always believed in God. She couldn’t name an hour or a day.
When my Mom stopped talking, the woman turned her head away from my Mom and didn’t look or speak to her again. I have grown up with that story and I have struggled with my understanding of this passage because of that haunting memory.
I don’t believe Jesus is requiring us to be able to name the hour or the day either, but if you can, that’s great! What Jesus does expect of us, however, is for our lives to be transformed by the Holy Spirit when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. You can’t just carry on as before, because you have been called to a new life in Christ. When someone finds out you are a Christian, they shouldn’t be surprised. Your actions and behaviors towards others should go hand in hand with your declaration of Jesus as Lord.
Prayer: Silently now I wait for thee. Ready, my God, thy will to see. Open my heart, illumine me, Spirit divine!
Dale Orzalli is a member at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.
Photo by Flickr user mararie
[Editors' note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. The lectionary readings for this post are Isaiah 11:10-16; John 1:14-18; Revelation 12:1-9. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.]
As I struggle to transition my mother into assisted living and mourn the passing of my favorite uncle and godfather, I am reminded of the importance of Jesus’s humanity. The readings today tell us that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood human being who had parents and other family members and who came from the line of Judah -- the root of Jesse and the dynasty of David. Faith may be “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), but we want to see and experience things.
We can see our ancestors, if only in pictures. Ancestors are important in most cultures, but they were especially important to the ancestor worshippers in Indonesia 150 or so years ago. Missionaries in that area discovered that people could name their ancestors for more than 20 generations, and that the ancestors were venerated as kings. These missionaries spoke about Jesus coming from the line of Jesse and King David the patriarch and portrayed him as Christ the King. Today, the Lutheran Church in Indonesia is the fifth-largest Lutheran church body in the world, with nearly 3 million followers.
We want to see Jesus, to experience him. The incarnation, or word-made-flesh, is a pivotal event. It was necessary for God to take human form, to feel our pain, and to experience our joys. How lucky for the people who could hold Christ’s hand and listen to him speak! My spiritual advisor encourages me to “see” and experience Jesus, to envision him sitting next to me and sharing my world with me.
We want to see the Christmas story, and I am blessed to know that advent may be observed in a very physical way.
Prayer: Loving God, please help us to observe your tangible presence during Advent.
Ella Cleveland is a member at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.