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66 posts categorized "Advent Series"

The Deep Well of Salvation

Church_in_wales_ Lavernock
Photo of church in Beddgelert, Wales, by flickr user Jim Linwood

[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 12:2-6. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.] 

By Rev. Dr. Rebecca Button Prichard 

My family roots are in Wales. On my first visit to Wales, while searching for those roots, I came upon an ancient well in a deep, green grove. The well was near an old, old church with a Yew tree in its yard. I doubt this is my family's parish, but my imagination led me to hope that my forebears had visited such a well for healing, for spiritual renewal, for prayer or guidance.

Over the years, I have visited deep wells, holy wells throughout Wales and Ireland and Scotland. In these places, clear water springs forth from within the earth. This is the water of salvation, of healing, of cleansing, of baptism, of memory, of hope. These Celtic wells are green and mossy, places of pilgrimage and prayer. The Bible's wells were streams in the desert, water for thirsty travelers, places of meeting, rest and renewal, oases.

Just so, the prophet Isaiah promises that in times of footsore fear, of weary wandering, of watchful waiting, the tired traveler, the advent pilgrim will drink from the wells of salvation - we will draw joy and gratitude from those deep springs beneath the earth. In deserts and in wild woods, the weary will stop and imbibe the clear water of healing and wholeness, of saving grace.

Annie Dillard said, "We catch grace ... as water from a waterfall." The waters of salvation are deep and plentiful. So is grace. Catch it if you can. Lower your bucket. Hold out your empty hands. Let your vessel overflow.

So, stop. Rest. Pray. Drink. Draw grace from the sacred depths of the Word, draw comfort from the Spirit's presence, draw healing from the overflowing love that is God. And then share it, with joy and thanksgiving.

Rev. Dr. Rebecca Button Prichard is a visiting professor of theology at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

Waiting with Zephaniah

Lanterns_in_trees
Photo by Flickr user mararie

[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 Zephaniah 3:14-20. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]        

By Rev. Elizabeth McCord

Being a good SFTS grad and having been assigned this Zephaniah passage for my Advent devotional, I began with exegesis. I read the three chapters of this minor prophet for its literary framework. I reviewed commentaries to examine its historical context from the early days of King Josiah's reign. I considered my own response, the connection—or lack of connection—I felt as a modern reader of this ancient text.

And then I waited. My Bible lay open on my desk for nearly a week and a half, so that in between emails or meetings, I would stop for a moment and read verses 14 through 20, hoping for some inspiration. But after a while, as I was busy waiting for inspiration, I found that I had stopped reading the passage. Instead, I found myself praying it.

I thought of friends who after months of unemployment are still looking for work, and I prayed, "Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak."

I thought of my hopes and dreams for our seminary community, and I prayed, "Your God is in your midst ... God will rejoice over you with gladness, God will renew you in love ..."

I thought of loved ones with debilitating diseases, and I prayed, "And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth."

God is busy, even when we are bored. God is moving, even when we are just going through the motions. While we may be waiting in Advent for the next thing that God is birthing, our waiting is not meaningless. God is present both in the now and the not yet. During Advent, while we wait for the time when God will "exult over us with loud singing," we can still incline our ear and listen for the melody of God's quiet humming in this very moment.

Rev. Elizabeth McCord is San Francisco Theological Seminary's director of enrollment.

Becoming Mature Christians Aiming for Unity

'Winter Trees' photo (c) 2007, Casually Observed - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/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 Ephesians 4:1-6. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]         

By Bonnie Johnston

How many of us have felt so overwhelmed at times that we want to climb under the covers and stay there warm and cozy? Perhaps the challenges and trying situations seem as if they are too much to handle and we feel like we need someone to rescue us. Maybe deep inside we might think, "If I knew it was going to be like this, then I'm with Peter Pan; I don't wanna grow up."

In today's passage, Paul, a prisoner for serving the Lord, urges Christians to live a life that measures up to the standard God set when God called them. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are called to the same. This call is for all Christians, not only those in "professional ministry." We are called to live in accordance to what God has done. That standard of perfection was only fully met by the One who walked on this earth, Jesus Christ.

And yet, here we are challenged to live as mature Christians, aiming for unity in the Holy Spirit, bound together in peace. We are called to put up with others and their failings, out of love that comes from God, and to live with humility, gentleness and patience. How difficult this is at times. I certainly know that I don't have this within me. But I do have hope in the One who saved me and is saving me. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit is available to empower us to lead a life worthy of our calling.

"There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all." (Ephesians 4:4-6)

Bonnie Johnston is executive administrator in the office of the president at the San Francisco Theological Seminary.

Holding a Promise of God

'Snow Covered Tree' photo (c) 2009, Ryan Holst - 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 1 Timothy 4:6-14. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]     

By Eunjoo Choi

As good servants, we are told to put these instructions before our fellow sisters and brothers—particularly if we consider ourselves people who are willing to create our life as God wants us to do. That is to say, the liberty of our expression of faith in Jesus and in God depends totally on our relationship with God. But we have to be fully aware of our own responsibility to live out our faith.

These instructions are calling us to train ourselves in godliness by holding a promise of God for the life of present and the future. It is not we who have to keep the promise, but it is God who has to keep it. For us, what we have to do is hold on to the promise that was promised by God until now and toward the time to come. We are living in order to practice our hope in the promise of God in our life. Setting our hope in the living God is like saying "yes" to the God who is giving us our life now and to the life that is still waiting to unfold in front of us. So, training ourselves in godliness is to struggle to keep this hope alive.

But from where does our hope come? How can we have such a hope? What does it mean for us to keep this hope in us? This life-giving hope would not be real unless the living God already put God's hope in us through our life. The hope of God for our life is the source of our hope in the living God and in our life. No matter where we are at this point of our life, no matter how much we are disappointed with who we are, God never gives up holding God's hope in us, in our brokenness. This is the very source of our hope in God's promise toward our life. And keeping this hope in us is to struggle to act for the life to come. This living hope of God toward our life urges us to embrace God's "yes" toward us. Accepting God's "yes" is to say "yes" to our life in future. That is the ever renewing power of life generated only from the living God. This hope is the foundation of salvation for whole humanity.

Eunjoo Choi is a master's degree student at the San Francisco Theological Seminary.

Interior Designer

'Golden Clouds' photo (c) 2007, Esparta Palma - 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 33. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]
 

By Lucas Walker

God looks down from heaven, and sees all humankind.
From where God sits enthroned God watches all the inhabitants of the earth-
The one who fashions the hearts of them all, and observes all their deeds.
 
Our soul waits for God; God is our help and shield.
 
If God is watching us
Then I am watching God
In this image I see
 
No hale and ancient sky god fearfully
And wonderfully
reclining on solid gold,
on cloud
 
But a slightly (only slightly)
Disarrayed bright eyed handsome genius
On a throne, oh yes
Working close with His hands
on a pulsing shining thing
held close to His chest.
 
Fashioning hearts.
 
His eyes flick down
down legions of air
And watch bodies in motion;
Little hopeful creatures
Built for gladness
 
His eyes are up again
Back to this heart in His laboring hands.
 
If you could see this heart
quite close, what a wonder
You would be
 
A fearfully
And wonderfully illuminated text;
 
Actually, I mean more like
The whirled heart of a tree
Layered with grains and scars
and possibility;
 
Or more, I mean
A thick impasto
Of colors and experience
In a frame so grand anyone would know
this is an unrepeatable creation
 
Hearts like...like nothing else
that's the whole point
 
What I'm trying to tell you is
I see Him designing
Our unique heart.
 
You
That woman there too
(The one He glanced at just now -
Shading her hand and searching up
hoping for rain)
 
Maybe she's hoping for more,
With a gladness built into the core of her
 
To meet the One who made
(Touch the center of the body)
This
 
We're all so hopeful despite
This waiting
Please just come
Throw down your meticulous tools
Unthrone yourself and join us
And tell
How You made the hearts
How You keep them
and what we can do now
 
Lucas Walker is a pastoral care associate at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. 

Hope Beyond Wishes

'hospital waiting room' photo (c) 2010, kate hiscock - 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 Luke 3:1-6. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]  

By Bentley Stewart

Hospitals can feel like a wilderness, especially when your beloved has become a patient and you are forced to wait patiently ... or wait anxiously ... or perhaps, waiting is waiting.

Outside of the hospital, the "civilized" world continues. There are governors and other rulers. The president might have been replaced by an emperor. Who knows? Who cares?

You are focused on wrestling with the sacred on behalf of a life you hold precious.   You wish to wake up from the nightmare of the present reality. Only, you keep discovering that the dream world and waking life have switched.

Wishes offer magical escape from difficult realities. Temporarily, this can be a good and valid coping mechanism.    

Hoping and wishing are different.

For some people, "hopeful" means "unrealistic." Many of us guard our hearts from disappointment by refusing to risk hope.   

Unlike pseudo-spiritualities built on wishing, hope faces and engages the present darkness. Hope sparks our imagination about the future. These alternate narratives of possibility awaken memories of God's faithful presence. The hope for Emmanuel buoys us, while simultaneously doubt and despair threaten to drown us.

Luke quotes Isaiah, who quotes a voice. The voice is calling out in the wilderness, away from our civilized world. We understandably wish that the voice is calling us to escape the madhouse of our lives. However, the voice instructs us to prepare a way into the world that God so desperately loves.

That wild voice dares us to hope. Can it be, despite all evidence to the contrary, that God is not done with this project of creation? Can it be that God is coming in the flesh? Can it be that our flesh, all the flesh of creation, will see salvation? Can it be that we are called to prepare the way?

Bentley Stewart is a master of divinity student at the San Francisco Theological Seminary.

The Coming of the Dawn

'Church' photo (c) 2004, Vincent Lim Show Chen - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/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 Luke 1:68-79. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]  

By Laura Nelson   

Last year, I had the privilege of helping my internship site plan a "Longest Night" service—a worship service in the heart of winter that offers a contemplative space during the holiday season. Set for the night before Winter Solstice, it was a great project for me to take on—because I don't like darkness. And, in Oregon, the darkness was lasting for 16 hours each day. Planning the Longest Night service helped me to lean into the wisdom that dark times can teach us: the blessing of cocooned rest, the creativity born of chaos, the reminder that we are not in charge of the rhythm of life.

But we also leaned into G-d's promises of dawn, of life abundant and healing for all. We remembered that, with the coming of Winter Solstice, the darkness was receding—dawn was again coming in our midst. Zechariah's song of praise reminds us of this. He is fully in the light of the dawn, which is a great reminder in the midst of Advent, darkness, winter. Dawn is here, is coming, will come again.

What I most love about this hymn is that it's communal. Zechariah doesn't sing about his dawn, his redemption, his G-d. It's about our G-d, our dawn, our redemption. In our interconnectedness, the dawn of a new birth is a blessing for everyone. And, in the darkness, we have each other.

Laura Nelson is master of divinity senior at the San Francisco Theological Seminary.

Real Life, Real Hope

'Raining on Oaxaca' photo (c) 2011, oz - 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 Philippians 1:3-11. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]   

By Rev. Jack Hodges

As I write this, hope has been terribly compromised for folks on the East Coast. Sandy has been—and continues to be—their reality. To see Staten Island from the air, your house would look like a jumbled pile of toothpicks; standing on the street before it could very well seem like the end to you.

Does that not push the question—Where is hope?

Looking at the Scripture passage, our experiences often seem quite at odds with Paul's cheery wistfulness.

Stop now and read it over ...

Now, in the manner of Lectio Divina—praying with Scripture—do that again. This time, rather than "dissecting" the passage, "enter" into it instead.

If you are now in a hopeless situation, ask yourself: "What of this passage is able to flow into my present void?"

Initially, Paul speaks glowingly of partnership, good works, and being partakers of grace. But Paul is hardly confining himself to Pollyanna statements. Soon Chapter Two will lift up grumbling and questions; and that is only the beginning. Again, reality enters the arenas of our lives.

 But Paul also says that hope is on the way: Timothy is coming and he is one who "will be genuinely anxious for your welfare." (Newspapers and TV have been full of "Sandy-inspired Timothys"—may God bless and keep them!)

Advent is that time in the Church Year seemingly most infused with hope. "Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel."  Behold! The One genuinely anxious for us is on the way. Good News indeed!

                The very least you could do

                in your life

                is to figure out what you hope for.

                And the most you can do

                is live inside that hope.

                Not admire it from a distance

                but live right in it, under its roof.

                                                   —Barbara Kingsolver

Rev. Jack Hodges is San Francisco Theological Seminary's alumni association president. 

Seeing, Feeling, and Touching God

'Sunrise-Sky_43153-360x480' photo (c) 2010, Emilian Robert Vicol - 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 Lamentations 3:19-24. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.] 

By Dr. Kay Carney

The beauty of faith and the presence of God in our lives is constant, although our commitment to believing, understanding and knowing God may escape us when facing seemingly insurmountable challenges. It is not uncommon for us to question God or God's presence when tragedy strikes or when the depth of our emotional pain knows no boundaries. How often do we hear the phrase, "Why would God allow such an awful thing to happen?" Conversely, we often hear praises for God when challenges are overcome: "Thank God for blessing me with a job so I can feed my family." What we often fail to remember is that God loves us unconditionally, through good times and bad. And so as God loves us, so should we love God. He forgives us when we blame Him for our problems, and when we neglect to praise Him and give thanks for our many blessings.

So deep is God's love for us, that it's often hard for us to believe that we are deserving of His mercies. We see the presence of God every day: whether it's in the eyes of our children or the warm smile of a stranger, God is everywhere. And by deepening our faith and trusting in the Lord, we can see God ... and feel God ... and touch God. There is always hope through the endurance of faith. Let us lift ourselves and one another unto the Lord, knowing that we are embraced by His loving-kindness at all times ... in all ways.

Dr. Kay Carney is San Francisco Theological Seminary's vice president of communications.

What Are You Waiting For?

'New York after Hurricane Sandy' photo (c) 2012, André-Pierre du Plessis - 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 130. Keep reading Bread Blog for more Advent reflections.]

By Nicole Trotter

We've been receiving the New York Times daily for years. It's one way that I stay connected to home. Despite living in the Bay Area longer than I lived there—unless someone on this coast learns to make a bagel or a slice of pizza—New York will always be home. Until Giants fans learn to stand up and get in each other's way while the batter is still in the box, and treat the space like a ballpark instead of an opera, New York will always be home.

My hometown is suffering. I see it every day in the paper. While many continue to wait for shelter, wait for water, and wait for electricity, my teenagers have to be reminded what "Sandy" was while they wait for me to drive them somewhere.

Waiting has come to be known as patience. Patience elicits images of a quiet girl sitting with hands politely clasped, or the Dalai Lama. But when we need something, we participate in getting it. The world has never been changed through passive waiting. The world changes through relentless trouble makers who "cry from the depths" and keep their eyes wide open at night "like a sentry waits for dawn."

The psalmist was a New Yorker, I'm convinced. He doesn't politely ask for what he needs, he practically demands it. "Hear my voice!" He will wait. But not in the sense we usually think. He will wait, with full awareness, awake, in darkness, because he's sure the dawn will come. Make no mistake, he can't muscle or will the morning's light. None of us can. But we can actively participate in waiting for it. Because if we don't, we may fall asleep and miss the sunrise, we might find ourselves one day asking, "What was Sandy?" We may forget to change anything, to hope for anything passionately. What's more, we may forget that to hope requires something from us, something resembling a relentless troublemaker "crying out from the depths." When we need something desperately, hope consumes us with a God given passion so big that it cannot and should not be politely contained.

Nicole Trotter is a master of divinity student at San Francisco Theological Seminary. 

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