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82 posts categorized "Advent Series"

Advent Reflections: Images We Carry

'Giving Hands and Red Pushpin' photo (c) 2009, Artotem - 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 Kathryn Sparks

Lectionary readings:

Isaiah 10:5-19

John 4:1-15

Romans 4:1-8

Try as I might to allow words to arise in me, none seem to come as I meditate on Isaiah 10:5-19, John 4:1-15, and Romans 4:1-8. What comes instead is a patchwork of simple images.

I see an assault of Assyria against the Israelites, by God's sanction.

I see Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well as she asks him for "that living water."

These pictures take place against the backdrop of an open hand, signifying that righteousness cannot be attained through work, but is freely received by faith.

Sometimes words cannot express my longings—or God's longings for me. Each Advent, my fingers strum the pages of the familiar story, and I find I'm on the edge of something in my life—a yearly inner birth to mirror the birth of Christ for the world again.

Pictures (in color, movement, clay, music, silence, the flicker of a candle) often help us to "see" differently. And God, I want to see with new eyes. I want to be that Samaritan woman next to Jesus, and let Your Living Water all over the desert corners of my being.

What images do we carry? What are the pictures that point us to our beloved Christ Child, the birth of God? Let's visit and revisit them and see anew!

Kathryn Sparks is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.

Advent Reflections: God’s Amazing Grace

'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 Steve Yu

Lectionary readings:

Isaiah 9:18 - 10:4

John 10: 31-42    

Hebrews 10: 19-25

The verses found in this study differentiate between the principles and outcomes of love for neighbor and those born of self serving intentions.  In these passages, we are reminded that loving God is intrinsically tied to love of our neighbors, whereas the path of selfish gain can lead to societal injustice.  

The verses found in Isaiah and John provide a stern warning about the consequences of living self-serving lifestyles. The crimes against the poor in Isaiah remind us that the perpetrators of these offenses are committed by people who engage in vain pursuits of power, admiration, and/or wealth at the expense of the most vulnerable. When the fires of God’s purification finally tear down unjust systems of abuse and power, the oppressed are liberated, and the oppressor is faced with the opportunity to transform.  

In the book of John, Christ also warns us of the danger of becoming obsessed with religious and societal rules (as we understand them) to the point that love for the neighbor becomes secondary or non-important.  This obsession can lead us to minimize love through "justified" condemnation, and rejection of others; even those who do wonderful deeds for the well-being of "the least of these."

On the other hand, I can’t accept the notion of a hateful God who destroys the "wicked" out of pleasure.  I have experienced and sensed enormous love from God. I can, however, accept the notion that we can reap what we sow, and that God is always willing to show us mercy just as she has called us to do likewise to those who have harmed or hated us. 

The Scriptures remind us that God will never leave us alone.  This knowing becomes a calming influence in the midst of personal or societal strife.  This faith helps us cope throughout our lives because we have an inner anchor that keeps us grounded.  It also allows us to take risks, make a stand for justice, and experience what Martin Luther King, Jr. mentioned when he said, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

Finally, these verses remind me that this transformation can only be made through the blood of Jesus Christ. “The new and living way” mentioned by Paul in the book of Hebrews is a reality full of love for our neighbor, creation, and God.  God’s transforming Grace opens our eyes to the beauty of simplicity, to gratitude for what we have, and liberation from vain wants. With a sincere heart that has become full of faith, we can hold to this blessed hope without wavering.  The Kingdom of God is of a greater realm, and this irrational love "provokes" us to encourage and support each other as brothers and sisters in a reality where class, race, and nationality mean nothing in her light.

Prayer: Dear God, have Mercy on us, for we do not know the depth of our own sin. Have Grace upon us, for we are your children longing for redemption. Give us your Holy Spirit, so that we know that we are never truly alone. Give us your Son, Jesus Christ, so that we may gain a loving heart through you. Have Mercy on us oh God, have Mercy on us. And teach us to walk in your ways.  Amen.                                                    

Steve Yu is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.

Advent Reflections: Trusting God

'Candles' photo (c) 2012, Frank Fox - 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.

Lectionary readings:

Isaiah 9:8-17

Matthew 18: 1-6

2 Thessalonians 2: 1-3, 13-17

By Tarra Taylor

Whom do you trust? This has become an unspoken question in our society. In a world filled with people with hidden motives and suspect agendas, whom do you trust? The world’s way of thinking suggests that we trust no one but ourselves—not even God. This way of thinking is contrary to God’s will for our lives. So why don’t we trust God? In the passages for our consideration, the reasons lifted up are pride, arrogance, position, power, fear, and anxiety.

In the book of Isaiah, God sends a message of punishment to the children of Israel in Samaria, because of their disobedience. They heard the message, but their pride and arrogance caused them to ignore God. God sent another message, but the children of Israel paid no attention. Arrogance crept into the hearts of the Israelites, and they believed that they no longer needed God, nor did they revere him. They could do things by themselves. Even though God gave the Israelites the land they occupied, making them a nation, they put their trust in themselves rather than in him. 

In the Gospel of Matthew, the disciples were concerned about who would receive the highest place of authority in God’s kingdom. The disciples were more interested in their positions in the earthly kingdom. Instead of looking for service opportunities, they were focused on their status, their positions. Jesus reminded them of their self-centered nature, and let them know that they had to put away their own selfish motives, thoughts, and desires for status, and simply trust in Jesus.

In 2 Thessalonians, Paul speaks to the church at Thessalonica about the end times and Christ’s return. He did not want them to be anxious about Christ’s appearing, or tricked by false teachers who attempted to predict the day and hour, but prepared. He reminds them that they were chosen by God, from the beginning. He tells them that salvation begins and ends with Jesus Christ, and no other. Paul knew that they would face challenges that would test their faithfulness and trust in God. He encourages them to hold to what they have been taught, to stand firm, and to trust God.

Both the Matthew and Thessalonians passages remind us of our need to trust God as a little child—with no agendas or hidden motives, just simple trust. Sometimes it’s hard for us adults to trust as a child, but we are reminded that God chose us from the beginning. He knows our dreams, our desires, and our anxieties. We will stumble and we will have challenging seasons, but we are assured that when we put our trust in God, he will guide, protect, and provide for us. 

Prayer: God, forgive us for not trusting in you. Deliver us from the arrogance, pride, the need for status and position, and the fear and the anxiety that comes when we think we know better than you what is best for us. We acknowledge that we need you in our daily lives. Teach us to come to you as a child, trusting in your love and providential care for us. We trust you, God. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Tarra Taylor is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.

Advent Reflections: What Is Your Intention?

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Editor's note: This Advent season, Bread Blog will be running a series of reflections written by  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.

Rev. Beth Braxton

Lectionary readings:

Isaiah 9:1-7                                                                  

Matthew 21:23-32

I grew up hearing my mother say, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions." That was her way of telling me to follow through with things I said I was going to do. I found out that this proverb has been around for a long time—it is an old saying traced back to St. Bernard, who said that “Hell is full of good intentions or desires.”

The little parable of the two sons in Matthew suggests follow through with intentions—what you say you are going to do! It is a narrative depiction of Jesus’ earlier statement in the Sermon on the Mount: “Not everyone who says, 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven”  (Matthew 7:21).

Sandwiched between a periscope on Jesus' authority and the parable of the wicked tenants, the context applies this parable of judgment to Jewish religious leaders, but Matthew probably intended a wider application. Certainly it can apply to us today. How easily “church work” degenerates into little more than simply maintaining the institution, with no excitement concerning what God’s love and grace is doing in the world. As Professor Douglas R.A. Hare says in his commentary on Matthew, “We say that we are going to work in the vineyard, but instead of harvesting the grapes we spend our time rearranging the stones along the path!”

Advent is a season of anticipation; we are called to live expectant for the birth of Christ, the Light in our darkness – “the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace!” (Isaiah 9:6) – the incarnation of God to make all things new! 

Is it our intention to yawn and go about the holiday festivities as usual, or will it be our intention to live out the light, the love and the peace that God gave us in Jesus?  Is it our intention to go about our church duties with a ho-hum attitude, or will we open to the energy of the Spirit and let the enthusiasm of anticipated new life fill us and our work? 

 The Christmas carol says, “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given.”  It is my intention to spend some silent time to listen for God’s gift for me.  It is my intention to sit and bask in the power of Isaiah’s poetry set to music in Handel’s “The Messiah.”  It is my intention to wait for the coming of God.

Prayer: Lord, we pray to you, the Holy One who comes to us.  Come to us with new beginnings. Come to us in Jesus Christ and make us ready to let him live in us.  Amen.

Rev. Beth Braxton is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.

Advent Reflections: Indifferent Christians?

'night sky looking towards Orion' photo (c) 2008, kronerda - 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 Adlai Amor

Lectionary reading:

Matthew 11:16-24                                                                                 

 “To what can I compare this generation?  They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn’” (Matthew 11:16-17).

Unfair though it may seem, the millennial generation came to mind when I started reading these verses. A 2012 study of 9 million people, born between 1982 and 200, concludes that millenials are “more civically and politically disengaged, more focused on materialistic values and less concerned about helping the larger community than Gen X (1962-1981) and Baby Boomers (1946-1961).”  In other words, they are stereotyped as selfish and indifferent.

You could apply these same attributes to the people Jesus speaks about in the Gospel of Matthew.  Expressing pastoral frustration, he rebuked the communities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum because the residents of those cities did not repent after witnessing the miracles of Jesus.

More than 35 miracles performed by Jesus happened in this region of the Sea of Galilee.  Twelve miracles were reported in Capernaum alone, the town where Jesus had relocated.  He added that even the people of Sodom would have repented had they witnessed all of Jesus’ miracles.  They were like children who were never satisfied, no matter what Jesus did.  They were blasé about the miracles they had regularly witnessed.

During this Christmas season, it is worth asking ourselves: have we, like the people of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, become millennial Christians?

Fortunately, I have met hundreds of millennials who are not typical of their generation.  The response of many millennials to help in the relief and reconstruction efforts in the typhoon-ravaged islands in Central Philippines is a case in point.  Young people raised funds and packed relief goods to help people in a country that they have never visited. Many have joined missions to help rebuild homes and provide medical support as the reconstruction continues.

 Millennials have made – and can continue to make – a difference in our world.  In my work at Bread for the World, they have pushed us to do our work better, to use tools familiar to them, to work harder to end hunger – and be as driven as they are by their desire to love God and to live their faith in this troubled world. Instead of being deaf to the problems of this world, to Jesus’ teachings, they have repented and chosen to respond to God’s call.

Prayer: Dear God, help us to always love you with all our hearts, with all our soul, and with all our minds.  And help us to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Amen

Adlai Amor is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C., and director of communications at Bread for the World. 

Advent Reflections: Feeling God’s Presence

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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.]

Lectionary readings:

Isaiah 8:1-15

Matthew 11:16-24

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11                     

By Rachel Browning

Each year, during Advent season, I reflect on the previous year and contemplate where I’ve been and what the next year might bring. This year, I must confess, I feel overwhelmed as I try to put into perspective the challenges I faced personally over the past six months, as well as the countless crises occurring every day both in our country and abroad.  This time last year, my partner and I had just begun the adoption process. As I write this, we are still in the midst of a crazy, emotional roller coaster of waiting and seeing, wondering when the moment will finally arrive that will change the rest of our lives. In addition, the whole process was brought to a screeching halt this summer when I suffered an unexpected grand mal seizure while on a run, and later found out that I had a brain tumor. While, thankfully, it was benign, it nevertheless required immediate surgery. Six weeks of recovery and five months of no driving later, I was back to “normal” life, but I definitely felt like I had been tested and had emerged a reformed soul.

 But really, in spite of all that, I recognize that I’m one of the lucky ones.  Others in our world – victims of such calamities as the Boston Marathon bombing, the ongoing violence in Syria, the civil unrest in Egypt, and the recent typhoon in the Philippines, and other natural disasters – have experienced far more trauma and uncertainty than I can even imagine. I watch events unfold in the news and try to conceptualize how I would respond in the face of such terror. Observing the state of our world, it can be hard to envision Immanuel – "God with us" – when so many obstacles obscure our view. Isaiah’s prophesy of the birth of a child yet to be conceived and his call for us to “be set apart for him” reminds us that God is with us always. Yet Isaiah’s vision of Immanuel as not just a “sanctuary,” but also a “stumbling stone”—a warning that, in the face of challenges and threats, there will be those who turn away and reject God. This notion is echoed in the text from Matthew, which recounts how both John the Baptist and Jesus were disregarded for being different, their messages rejected. Like children, we are often unsatisfied with the messages we receive, disappointed with what the world has to offer us. We reject God precisely at those times when we feel most vulnerable, naively thinking that we alone can control the chaos around us. 

This year it has been hard for me not to be that person who, when facing the unknown, chooses doubt and cynicism and embraces unbelief as somehow more secure than the alternative. But I have to believe that it was Immanuel in the three individuals (still unknown to me) who found me unconscious on the trail after I collapsed, called 911, and waited by my side for help to arrive. He was there in the nurses, physicians assistants, and surgeons who took control of my care.  And he was with me in the numerous individuals from my family, work, and, of course, my church community, who prayed with and for me.  I know God was with me not because the surgery was successful, but because, through the love and support I received, I was reminded that I was not alone. Through God’s grace, I was lifted up out of the darkness and into the light. 

My prayer for everyone this Advent season, and throughout the coming year, is that you feel God’s presence in those periods of pain and suffering, in the feelings of uncertainty about the future, and in those moments of rejection and loneliness.                               

Rachel Browning is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C. 

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

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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 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.

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