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82 posts categorized "Advent Series"

Advent Reflections: The Coming of the Messianic Age

'White flower' photo (c) 2009, Peter aka anemoneprojectors - 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 Bruce Whitener

Lectionary Readings:
Isaiah 4: 2-6
John 1: 6-13
Acts 10: 9-16

The passage contained in Isaiah 4: 2-6 describes the future Messianic Age of the Messiah, and is in almost every biblical precursor of the nativity (and this lectionary is no exception). If you read the book of Isaiah, you will find this example unusual, as it appears abruptly following dire warnings from the prophet concerning the future of Israel. In contrast to the warnings, it is unmistakably a message of peace and forgiveness.

The second lectionary, written by an unknown author, seeks to make a distinction between John the Baptizer and the coming Messiah. The author apparently thought that the enormous crowds and wide popularity of John the Baptizer would lead his followers to believe he was the coming Messiah.

John the Baptizer was the son of Zachary. He lived as a hermit in the desert of Judea until he was 30, when he began to preach on the banks of the Jordan against the evils of the times. He called his audiences to penance and baptism, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand." He attracted large crowds, and when Christ came to him, John recognized him as the Messiah and baptized him, saying, “It is I who need baptism from you." When Christ left to preach in Galilee, John continued preaching in the Jordan valley. Fearful of his great popularity with the people, Herod had him arrested and imprisoned. John was beheaded at the request of Salome, daughter of Herodias, who asked for his head at the instigation of her mother. John inspired many of his followers to follow Christ when he designated him “the Lamb of God”— among them Andrew and John, who came to know Christ through John’s preaching. As such, John is presented in the New Testament as the last of the Old Testament prophets and the precursor of the Messiah.

The third and final lectionary reading concerns a story in Acts 10, in which Saint Peter had a vision of a canopy full of animals being lowered from heaven. A voice from heaven told Peter to kill and eat, but since the sheet contained unclean animals, Peter declined. The command was repeated two more times, along with the voice saying, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common,"  and then the sheet was taken back to heaven (Acts 10:16). At this point in the narrative, messengers sent from Cornelius the Centurion arrive and urge Peter to go with them. He does so, and mentions the vision as he speaks to Cornelius, saying "God hath showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean."

Prayer:

Merciful God, who sent your messengers, the prophets,
To preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation:
Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins,
That we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer;
Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
One God, now and forever!
Amen

Bruce Whitener is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.

Advent Reflections: Got Talent?

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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 Jenean McKay

Lectionary readings:

Isaiah 2:12-12
Matthew 25:14-30
I Thessalonians 5:1-11

The parable in Matthew about the master leaving each of his servants with different amounts of talent, and how they used them, made me think of how we use our own talents. I’m using the word "talent" to mean both our individual abilities and money.

As we respond to our calling as Christians to use our talents for the Lord’s work, I wonder if we are afraid of taking risks. Afraid if we give too much money, we won’t have enough for ourselves.  Or, afraid that our skills won’t match up to what needs to be done.  Are we trying to bury our talents?  Maybe we want to be safe?  All these thoughts have gone through my mind as I think of my gifts to the church.

But the Isaiah passage reminds us that if we live humbly, and do not get into building up man-made idols or our own image, God will take care of that kind of competition.  And in Thessalonians, Paul gives us the model for living our lives: “But, since we belong to the light, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation….Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” 

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your unending love and faith in us. Give us the courage to use our talents bravely and to give a grateful response to your son’s giving his life for us. Amen

Jenean McKay is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.

Advent Reflections: God's Unconditional Love

'Golden Clouds' photo (c) 2007, Esparta Palma - 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 Glory Eyong

Lectionary Readings:

Isaiah 2:6-11
Matthew 25:1-13
Acts 1:6-11

Once you’ve decided to walk with the Lord, you have to go all the way, until the end. Just as it is said by John Groh, prayer is not a “spare wheel” that you pull out when in trouble, but a “steering wheel” that directs the right path throughout.                            

The Lord is merciful, a miracle worker whose ways are not our ways. Do whatever you’re called to do with all humility and the Lord will be there to guide you through. 

Before anything happens to you, the Lord will give you a sign, either through a revelation or a vision that you’ll get in a dream or mental image. If you’ve not trained your spirit to be alert by having a quiet moment with your Lord on a daily basis, or as often as you can, you might miss an opportunity. You should learn to know when the spirit is prompting you to do something specific, and do just that in order to obtain the results desired, or meant to be.

While it seems simple, it is not always easy to carry out. It requires a lot of faith, patience, and a personal relationship with God.

Glory Eyong is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.

Advent Reflections: An Advent Promise

'Peace' photo (c) 2011, Kelly Hunter - 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 John H. Quinn, Jr.

Lectionary readings:

Isaiah 2:1 - 5
Psalm 122
Matthew 24: 36 - 44
Romans 13: 11 - 14

Each of us is called to be an applied theologian. Beginning today, the first day of Advent, we have the task and opportunity of asking how the traditional Advent themes to which we are again introduced in today’s Scripture passages—watchfulness, promise, preparation, and fulfillment—impact our lives as we actually live them. Can they? Do we believe they should? What does Advent study and prayer prepare us to do, to change?

The prophet and the psalmist proclaim that unity is a universal design feature of God’s world, not merely a “better” way of life. They envision a unified world in which swords are beaten into plowshares because nations will no longer take up sword against each other, a community in which each of us prays for the good of the other. That vision of social cohesiveness seems far-fetched, far removed from the divisiveness we historically have experienced and currently continue to experience. We have long lived with racial, economic, and ideological division, not mere differences. Major division caused us to fight a civil war 150 years ago, and in recent years and months caused us essentially to shut down the United States government. Even participants in church meetings have seen angry outbursts or passive resistance resulting from opposition to or frustration inspired by decisions made or not made during the meeting.

The premise of the Matthew and Roman passages is that failure to work toward and achieve social cohesiveness is a lack of conformity to God’s will. Given that reality, our task is to better understand the complexity that characterizes our world. We must evaluate differences and either disregard them because they are not significant or negotiate with respect to significant differences to avoid divisiveness. We are called to avoid and ameliorate divisions based on racial, economic, ideological, and even religious differences. Both Scripture and experience tell us not to fear each other, to communicate with each other lovingly, to accept God’s forgiveness of us and to forgive each other. These are the tools we must use to achieve collaborative relationships.

What sword can each of us beat into a plowshare? What attitude can I change to create greater social cohesiveness? What selfish desires can I abandon? What do I unworthily fear? What unhealthy or dysfunctional behavior can I avoid or change? For whose good can I pray? Am I up to these challenges? The prophet and the psalmist assure us that the promise of unity will be fulfilled as the result of each one of us combating divisiveness.

Prayer: Gracious and loving God, enable me to start this new ecclesiastical year with fresh awareness of your steadfast love for me and all of your creation. Help me to stay alert to this reality as I seek to be your faithful, collaborative disciple, encouraging fellow disciples as all of us await with hope the fulfillment of your promise for social cohesiveness.  Amen.

John H. Quinn, Jr. is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.

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.

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