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78 posts categorized "Advent Series"

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.

The Hopes and Fears of All the Years, Part Two

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[Editor's note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. The reading for this post is Luke 2:1-14. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]  
                  

By Rev. Scott Clark

This Advent, I've been more than a little weepy.  Maybe you have too.
 
As a community, and as a nation, we have absorbed the blow of the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. We have grieved with the families there, and with our own.  We have struggled for words to explain the inexplicable, or to speak comfort in response to the unspeakable. We have railed at our broken culture of violence. We have sat in stunned silence. We have wept. While we have held all of this, the day-to-day challenges of life have still come, steadily, as they do.
 
It has been a hard December.
 
And, at the same time, in our community here on campus, this December we have also been expecting the birth of two new members of our community. And we are celebrating as they arrive. And somehow that has made me weepy too.
 
In the first devotion of our Advent series, I asked the question: What is our hope for the Advent season? But that question for me has shifted now, and what remains is this: What is God's hope for us? In this messed-up world, what is God's hope for us?
 
And on Christmas Eve, we come again to this story that persists and will not let us go:
 
There they were, keeping watch in the night. And an angel from God appeared, and light shone in their midst. And the angel said, "Be not afraid. Behold.  I bring you great tidings. Good news. Even joy. For unto you, Christ is born. Not far from here.  And you will find a child. And he. Or she. Will be a sign." And suddenly, there were many - light shining in the darkness - many - singing in one voice: "Glory to God.  And on earth: Peace. For everyone."
 
Into this messed-up world, into the darkness, Christ keeps on coming unto us - to save us from all that would do us harm. God with us.
 
And God's hope for us this day? God's hope for all the earth?
 
Peace.
 
Rev. Scott Clark is the associate dean of student life and chaplain at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

Joyful Space

Photo by flickr user Mccun934
[Editor's note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. The reading for this post is Luke 1:39-56. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]  
By Katherine Buck                     
     
Mary is on a journey in this text. She has just encountered an angel and agreed to become pregnant by the Holy Spirit. After this intimate, erotic encounter with the divine, she needs a change in her life.
 
She is on the road to her cousin Elizabeth's, and Elizabeth greets her with a question: How is it that you come to me? We should examine this question: What is an unexpectedly pregnant teen doing on the road, visiting distant relatives? Is she visiting away from home because her immediate family is frightened, and doesn't know what to do with her?
 
But Elizabeth and Mary subvert our expectations. Mary is not frightened or ashamed, she is joyful. The two women laughing together over their pregnant bodies are not deserving of our pity or scorn. Mary, who knows who she is and knows who God is, doesn't spend too much time worrying about what others think of her. She and Elizabeth, in their laughter and through their bodies, create a feminine space of safety and love and joy together. It is this environment that offers us two incredible things: first, the idea that women's spaces produce laughter and joy and delight in the unique experiences of women's incarnation, and second, Mary's deep affirmation and commitment to her God, whom she magnifies as the primary actor for social justice in our world. Her understanding is that God changes everyone: God lifts up the oppressed and scatters the mighty. God blesses God's humble servant, Mary, and sends the rich away empty. Mary's God is a God of mercy and love and deep caring concern for the least of these. Before we even arrive at the birth event, Mary and Elizabeth give us reasons to celebrate.
 
Katherine Buck is a San Francisco Theological Seminary master of divinity student.
 

Waiting for News, Waiting for Change

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[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 Isaiah 52:7-10. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]                        

By Dori Kay Hjalmarson      

How beautiful is the messenger who brings the gospel. Who is the messenger in our Christian nativity story? John, the son of Elizabeth, who comes before to announce the Christ. The angel Gabriel, who brings the message to Mary, blessed among women. Mary herself, the literal bearer of good news. The starlight dancing on the mountains, leading shepherds and magi to the birthplace.
 
In our Christmas carols, we ourselves are the bearers of the news: "Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere! Go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born!" Later on in the Christian story, the apostle Paul will write of the gospel—of Christ, Immanuel—as both the message and the messenger. The news the messenger brings is not just notice of peace, but peace itself. The message has transformative, blessing power.
 
We know of moments like this in our own lives. Moments when knowledge touches not only our minds but our hearts and very bodies. They are moments of sickening tragedy, when we learn of the death of dozens of innocents in a senseless school shooting. They are moments of tender care, when our sister or brother comes out of the closet and the life of our family is never the same. They are moments of empowered solidarity, when a marginalized group stands up and proclaims justice and peace. They are moments of soaring joy, when the news of a baby's birth, long awaited, changes the world, and hope enters in.
 
Dori Kay Hjalmarson is a San Francisco Theological Seminary master of divinity student.

Bethlehem Longing

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Photo of olive trees in Bethlehem by Flickr user amanderson2

[Editor's note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. The reading for this post is Micah 5:2-5a. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]  

Rev. Gail C. Doering

I beg all of you to not assume Jesus Christ as you read this passage of scripture. Please, please, please, wait and read this as if you had never heard of the one who was to be born in Bethlehem. Wait just a few days longer for the unexpected coming of the Prince of Peace. For now, sit in the wonder and expectancy of what has not yet been born.

As you let these words fall over and around you, imagine what the people in Bethlehem are hoping for today. What is the desire of their hearts? What pregnant possibility is waiting to be born in us this day? What labor pains might be lifted by our prayers and our works?

I returned from two weeks in Bethlehem in mid-November, and I am flooded with memories and images as I read this passage: The separation wall, a Palestine baby boy dedicated in a worship service in Beit Sahour, the unemployed men wandering the streets at all hours, the hundreds of workers lined up outside the wall at 6:30 a.m. waiting for rides to work (a process that can take 1 to 2 hours), the faithful Orthodox, Muslims and Christians each taking seriously the acts and devotions of their traditions, the numerous checkpoints and incredibly young soldiers, the lack of infrastructure in Palestinian territories, the 2000-year-old olive trees on the Mount of Olives, and much, much more.

It seems the prophet Micah speaks just as clearly today, and that the plight of Bethlehem and the ways of the world have changed drastically and not at all. So, don't jump too quickly to Jesus, but do jump to prayer.

Rev. Gail C. Doering is a member of the San Francisco Theological Seminary alumni council.

Thoughts on a Christmas Eve Night

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Photo by flickr user Luigi Mengato.

[Editor's note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. The reading for this post is Hebrews 12:1-2. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]  

By Rev. Tim Lanham

I. Watching

I watch as the candlelight spreads across the sanctuary. The gentle light grows with a gathering momentum until the darkness gets pushed back and away. The sanctuary is aglow in the soft, sacred light. As I watch, I see all these faces—faces which, over the course of my tenure here, have grown dear and familiar. I see all these faces. But for one face in particular do I watch. I look for it as I do every Christmas Eve night. I watch.

II. Listening

I listen as the music reaches out along with the candlelight—moving gently but inexorably until it fills the sanctuary. While I listen to the music and the singing, I listen also for her voice. For without it, something is missing. The celebration of this mystery of the Word made flesh is not quite right without it. I listen for her voice to join and complete the song. I listen.

III. Hoping

Amid the candlelight and the music, I hope for the Day to come where history concludes and the Promise is made good. As I celebrate Christ's advent, I hope for Christ's return. For beneath the Season's kitsch and sentimentality, that hope is what this celebration is really all about. My hope on this night is for the Lord's Coming and Kingdom. I hope.

*

And she is a part of that hope. The unfulfilled promise I made half a lifetime ago to my wife's mother haunts me to this day. "Hey Maxine!" I exclaimed, "I'll see you later!" I still get mad at myself for not realizing that before I could see her later she would be dead. But on this night, that nagging regret is transformed by hope. In the candlelight, I glimpse that great cloud of witnesses. Among those gathered faces, I see her face. In the quiet, I hear her voice whisper: "Kid, I made it!" I have my Christmas gift. And there is grace.

Rev. Tim Lanham is a San Francisco Theological Seminary Trustee.

Comfort in Affliction

'#453 Winter light' photo (c) 2010, Mikael Miettinen - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

[Editor's note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. The reading for this post is 2 Corinthians 1:3-11. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]                      

By Donald P. Hammond

If there were any two words that could be used to summarize essential tenants of Christian faith, "παρακαλεω" and "θλιψις" would be strong contenders. Not because they are written more than any other two words in the collection of works we call scripture. And not because they are imperative commands uttered by the Lord of the Hebrew Scriptures, nor Son of Man of the Gospels. But because of their meaning. Now of course attempting to essentialize the faith into two words must be considered futile, if not ludicrous, yet I am not the first to do so, nor will I be the last.

Παρακαλεω rendered phonetically is parakaleo which is translated as "to exhort, comfort" and is used with nuances to mean calling for aid, inviting comfort or beseeching something from a divine source. Θλιψις on the other hand, rendered phonetically is thlipsis which means "to hem in, to oppress or to vex." Thlipsis is also a term that means "to be hostile to."

In the scripture for today parakaleo and thlipsis are translated (in the NRSV) as "console" and "affliction." This text is the go-to place wherein we remind ourselves that God consoles us in our affliction. Where we humbly remind ourselves that as Jesus suffered, so we suffer. And this is good and fine and true. I cannot read this passage without a sense of the ironic. As Paul does, we are quick to place ourselves in the role of the afflicted: the ones who need consolation. I believe this to be a grievous self-serving error. For those outside of the church, or outside our particular hermeneutic, we are not consolers, but in fact we are the ones who afflict. If we did essentialize our faith into just two words then we must make ourselves the consolers who focus outside ourselves and seek to comfort the afflicted-other.

Donald P. Hammond is interim assistant to the director of enrollment at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

Boasting in Hope

'HOPE' photo (c) 2009, DieselDemon - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

[Editor's note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. The reading for this post is Romans 5: 1-5. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]                   

By Rev. Dr. R. Scott Sullender

Most of us are avoiders—we avoid suffering. Some of us are survivors—we survive our sufferings. Paul is a boaster—he boasts (NRSV) in his afflictions, certain that his suffering will make him hope all the more, and hope will not disappoint him. An astounding claim! I suppose he has a point. The more we suffer, the more we rely on God, trust in God, hope in God. Our sufferings force us to our knees! Remember Luther's advice, "sin boldly so grace may abound?" Paul might say, "Suffer bravely, so hope may abound."

We cannot choose the path we walk in life. Some walk paths of great pain and hardship. Others seem to have easier paths. But sooner or later, into each life, "some rain must fall." We cannot choose otherwise. Paul implies that we can choose the attitude we shall take toward our sufferings. Will we whine and complain? Will we learn to be helpless? Will we learn bitterness? Or will we learn endurance, character and hope?

Hope is the end result of suffering. Suffering plus endurance, plus character, equals hope. Hope is born in suffering. Hope is strengthened in endurance. Hope is rooted in character. Hope is not fiction, a wish upon a star, a pipe dream or fantasy.

We hope because "God's love has been poured into our hearts ..."(v.5). Hope in a future is based on hope realized in the past. The hope of the future advent is based on the hope fulfilled in the first advent. We might say that hope has a history, as well as a future. What is your personal hope history? Has God been faithful to you in past times of trial? Can you allow that history to inform your hope now? Does that history even give you reason to boast?

Rev. Dr. R. Scott Sullender is associate professor of pastoral counseling at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

From the Depths of Longing

'drop' photo (c) 2011, Anders Printz - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
[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 42. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]  
By Rev. Leslie Veen
Thirst. Deep thirst. An existential thirst. Crying out from the very depth of the psalmist's body. A thirst brought about by separation from God.
 
Removed from the sacred places he once knew. Removed from the worshipping community that had sustained him. The psalmist is left flailing. Searching. Longing for God.
 
Those who surround him now are of no help. In fact, they only serve to make matters worse. They mockingly ask where this psalmist's God is as they point out the dire nature of his circumstances.
 
From the depths of his entire being the psalmist cries out. And the depths of creation call back. The awesomeness of God's good creation demonstrates God's love and presence and remind the psalmist of past times when God's love and presence were very real for him.
 
This gives the psalmist confidence to expect that things will be different, better, in the future. God has been a help in the past. God will be a help in the future. Then the psalmist will be able once again to praise God.
 
Then. But not yet. For now the psalmist must wait.
 
And so must we. In this season of Advent, what deep longing cries out from within us? How do the depths of God's creation call back? How are we being asked to wait for God as we cry, "Come Lord Jesus, come!"?
 
Prayer: Compassionate God, we find ourselves deep within this time of waiting, longing for you and for things to be different in our lives and in the world. Like the psalmist, embolden us to be confident that as you have been our help in the past so will you be our help in the future. Hear our longings and bless our waiting. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
 
Rev. Leslie Veen (SFTS Master of Divinity '05) is San Francisco Theological Seminary's director of field education and placement.

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