55 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 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.
Photo by Flickr user mathewingram
[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 7:10-16; Matthew 1:18-25; Romans 5:1-7. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.]
The fourth Sunday in Advent is usually when we have the Christmas pageant at our church. The children and youth of the church look forward to preparing and participating in this activity each year. For them, it is the opportunity to retell and reinterpret the story of the birth of Jesus, as they give much creative thought on how they would like the story to be shared. It is as much a journey as a pageant, for all involved.
In the past, however, there has not been much focus on Joseph, as compared to some of other “players” in the Christmas story. This isn’t a huge surprise because, as we’ve seen in past pageants, the kids enjoy making a grand entrance (and exit), as does King Herod or the wise people, or climbing up to the pulpit as the Angel Gabriel, or chasing after young sheep down the sanctuary aisles as shepherds? Perhaps, that is why the birth of Jesus as told by Matthew struck a different chord with me.
Today’s passage focuses on Joseph, his unique role and perspective, in the story. Joseph is confronted with a dilemma: A “righteous” man, Joseph learns that Mary is with child and, therefore, unwilling to expose Mary to public disgrace, plans to “dismiss her quietly.” But Joseph is transformed by the announcement of the angel to take Mary as his wife and to name the child, Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins.”
With great courage and deep faith, Joseph does just that. Facing possible ridicule, he goes against what he thought was right in order to do what is right. He chooses to take an unmarried pregnant woman as his wife and names the child Jesus. This story from Joseph’s perspective demonstrates that what is righteous or the right thing to do is not always obvious and indeed can be difficult to ascertain at times.
During the Advent season and always, we are reminded to listen for the voice of God, to reflect, and to seek what we should do as we wrestle with the complexities of our lives. There are individuals and groups who wish to divide the world today into good and evil, moral and immoral, and right and wrong. But what we are commanded to do by the love and grace of God is not necessarily what is dictated by society’s norms. As the prophecy in Isaiah reveals, “God is with us.” We are reminded that Emmanuel comes. With the promise that God is always with us, God’s love is “poured into our hearts,” as it says in Romans 5:5, and God’s love is with us in whatever predicament or challenges we face. Now that’s a story for our youth to tell in preparation of the coming of Emmanuel. And perhaps a few might even vie for the role of Joseph in this year’s pageant.
Prayer: Come, Emmanuel, Come! Come amidst our doubts and our fears. Come and deepen our joy, strengthen our hope, and grow our love. For in our knowing God is with us, we need not be afraid -- and with all people can experience God's love pouring out into this world!
Evelyn Ying is a member at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.
Photo by Flickr user fox_kiyo
[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 10:5-19; John 4:1-15; and Romans 4:1-8. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.]
I do not like hot weather. I mean, I really do not like hot weather. This is ironic since I have spent so much of my life living in tropical climates. First, I lived in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. While I was in college in Philadelphia, I visited my parents several times while they were living in the Middle East. Later, for work, I was constantly travelling to warm destinations year round. Then, my wife and I lived in Georgetown, Guyana, a city directly abutting a large rainforest. Now I live in Okinawa, Japan. I keep asking my wife if we can perhaps do an assignment somewhere other than a tropical clime, like Vladivostok or Ulan Bator, Mongolia. I do not think this is going to happen very soon.
Other than slowly learning to tolerate constant sweat, I have learned a lot about water while residing in consistently warm climates. First, it is critical to life; and second, you always ensure that you have an adequate supply before you travel anywhere. It is this idea of water that I want to highlight in today’s readings. John’s gospel tells us, “and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.” The two-hour period from noon to 2 p.m. is generally the hottest time of the day. It is no surprise that Jesus chose to rest from his travels at this time of day.
It is also no surprise that he chose to rest near a constant supply of water. Upon rereading the passage, I am struck by the exchange between Jesus and the Samarian woman. So here is Jesus, during the hottest part of a day, asking a person for water. Yet, he is in immediate proximity to a well. Wouldn’t this passage have greater strength if it occurred in a remote area far away from any water supply? In the middle of the desert or on a mountaintop would add a certain drama to the narrative. Yet, Jesus is at a well.
As water is crucial to life, it is an ideal metaphor for God’s salvation. But, Jesus offers the water of salvation next to an ample water supply. It makes me think of the most famous line from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: “Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”
As we once again approach Christmas and the totality of the Holiday Season that now seems to start in mid-October and ends in mid-January, don’t we find ourselves in a world that has ample access to water, but is unable to drink it? Do we find ourselves so distracted by the briny noise and confusion in our everyday world that we cannot look to the manger in Bethlehem and the miracle of a small yet tumultuous supply of crisp and fresh water that is once again flowing? Drink up, it’s worth it.
Prayer: Dear Almighty God, may we always be cognizant of the glory of your salvation and that your love, mercy, and grace are always present throughout our lives and in our world. Amen.
Matthew Weitz is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.