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47 posts categorized "Advent Series"
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.
Screen grab from Rick Steves European Christmas
Every year, right after (or sometimes before) Thanksgiving, people dust off their old Christmas records, flip through their CD collections, or search their mp3 files for their favorite Christmas songs. I thought it would be fun to ask our staffers to submit their favorite Christmas songs to share with all of you. Here's what they submitted:
Grace Bae, Art Simon Fellow, Government Relations:
My favorite Christmas Carol is “O Holy Night.” I love the words and melody of this song. I especially love the verse: “Truly he taught us to love one another, his law is love and his gospel is peace. Chains he shall bread, for the slave is our brother. And in his name all oppression shall cease.” I was in Uganda for Christmas in 2009, and I remember singing this carol in our office one morning. Christmas in Uganda is difficult because there is no distinction of seasons and I was away from my loved ones. This verse so closely aligned with my line of work in Uganda, and it touches my heart because it shares the gospel message, which drives me to do what I do.
Jennifer Fraser, Organizing Coordinator:
While living in La Coruña, Spain for my junior year of college, I joined my Spanish university’s choir and performed with them at Christmas time. My year in Spain was one of the happiest times of my life, and experiencing Christmas there was beautiful, holy, and magical. This song is one of the many Spanish Christmas carols I learned and sang while there. The sweet lyrics and happy “bell” sounds instantly bring me back to that wonderful time.
Scott Bleggi, Senior International Policy Analyst:
My first Foreign Service assignment was in Germany. My kids were very small and everywhere we went we heard children’s choirs. Here is a favorite, “Es fuer uns eine Zeit ankegommen.” It is a traditional German carol whose lyrics translate to, “A time comes for us, a time of great joy.” (The video below is from our friend, Rick Steves, and the carol begins towards the end of the video, at 3:29.)
Laura Elizabeth Pohl, Multimedia Manager, and Racine Tucker-Hamilton, Media Relations Manager:
Racine: My favorite Christmas song is "All I Want for Christmas is You" by Mariah Carey. I love the way it starts out slow with just a few chimes and almost acapella, and builds in tempo and a powerful delivery. Similar to how the build-up for Christmas is for some.
Larry Hollar, North Central Senior Regional Organizer
For sheer vocal beauty and simplicity of message, for me, nothing compares to this 17th century French carol. Sometimes I imagine how amazed I would have been as a shepherd experiencing the great good news of Jesus’ birth. This carol evokes images that envelop me -- smell, light, wonder, song. How can we, as today’s shepherds, be open to sensing that deep joy in its fullness again?
Please share your own favorite carols in the comments below! And Merry Christmas from your friends at Bread for the World. God bless you!
Photo by Flickr user kavehfa
[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 9:18-10:4; John 10:31-42; and Hebrews 10:19-25. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.]
The Isaiah passage is full of fire, fury, smoke, and scorched land. But it did not strike a meaningful cord until I read it a second time – three days after Sunday, October 31, when 58 worshipers at Our Lady of Salvation Church, the largest Catholic church in Baghdad, were gunned down by terrorists. Elder Yousif al-Saka emailed photos of the church in the aftermath of this horrific act: Everything in the church was scorched, sooty, broken, destroyed. You could feel the grief, disbelief, anguish, and desolation in those pictures. The cry of pain in the words and faces of the Christians in Baghdad was haunting.
Why do people persecute one another? Why does religion pit brother and sister against brother and sister? A recent book by Eliza Griswold, The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from Fault Line between Christianity and Islam, describes in horrific detail the chaos and murder that has characterized religious relationships in Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. No wonder “the land is scorched by the fury of the Lord of Hosts, and people have become fuel for the fire.”
But for all this, God’s “hand is stretched out still.” In John, we read that the Jews picked up stones to stone Jesus, not for his good deeds, they explained, but for blasphemy, calling himself the son of God. The anger created by perceived notions of what is wrong or right, the true way with religious tradition apparently is as old as the Scriptures. Two thousand years later, we still live with intolerance, a perceived righteousness, and stones to throw (actually, much worse) at those whom we believe do not follow the right religious path. So we find wrath among and between faiths, and we confront God’s wrath against the behavior of his people.
The question is, how do we get around this wrath, this violence? Isaiah and Hebrews tell us: forgiveness. If God can forgive his people with a hand that is “stretched out still,” then we must forgive one another as well. We must see the best in one another, accept differing views and beliefs. As Hebrews says, “We ought to see how each of us may best arouse others to love and active goodness … encouraging one another … .”
The violence and wrath in the world calls each of us to do our part by reaching out in love, by showing compassion and support, indeed by being our brothers and sisters’ keepers. Hebrews says, “… the blood of Jesus makes us free to enter boldly into the sanctuary by the new, living way…” In Jesus’ name and in his love, let us forgive and pray for peace and seek to end violence and wrath in our worldly midst.
Prayer: Dear God, you have extended your hand in forgiveness for our sins. Show us the way to extend our hands in love and forgiveness to our brothers and sisters everywhere. Amen.
Marilyn J. Seiber is a member at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.
[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 9:8-17; Tuesday; Matthew 18:1-6; and 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, 13-17. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.]
I reflect on today’s verses after Skyping with my sister and her 2-year-old son, Nathaniel, who live in Australia. The connection isn’t great: The picture is blurry, like I’m seeing my nephew’s face from a distance without my glasses, the edges all fuzzy. Even through this imperfect medium, the pleasure I feel when I see him is visceral. I feel delight, when he calls me by name, Aunty Nicki. I feel happiness, to see him wear the gift I sent him, a cowboy vest from Wyoming. I feel such pleasure to see that he looks so much like my sister, until he smiles, when he is suddenly the image of his father; and yet to know that he is entirely himself, a wholly unique little person.
As I read the verses, Nathaniel fills my head. Perhaps for this reason, the verses from Matthew resonate with me most in this moment, because they are so focused on children. These very familiar verses seem to give two distinct lessons, united by their context; first, that a person must humble themselves and become like a child to enter the Kingdom of God; and second, a dire warning against causing a child (or, by implication, anyone) to lose their faith. My reflections here are focused on the first question.
God’s great love for those who are least in the eyes of the world is one of the defining themes of the gospel. Obviously, and without question, we are called to humility. I wonder, though, what it means to humble oneself and become like a child? I’m no biblical scholar or historian, but my understanding is that the children of the Bible were deemed as chattel, the property of their parents. A rudimentary knowledge of the Proverbs suggests they were subject to the strictest discipline and obedience. They were also considered a great blessing from God, the hope and future of their families and communities. In a nutshell, it seems to me that they were both powerless and of enormous value.
Perhaps there is a lesson here. Perhaps God calls us, first, to own and acknowledge our weakness. Children are absolutely dependent, in ways that adults usually are not. In simplest terms, young children die if the adults in their life don’t provide food and clothing and shelter. And so, lacking the capacity to care for themselves, they give themselves up into their mothers’ arms. Perhaps this, then, is what it is about—recognizing that we cannot save ourselves. Though, for the most part we can feed and clothe ourselves and make choices for our lives, we are ultimately vulnerable. Life and death are out of our hands. And so, like children, we offer ourselves up into God’s arms.
The Taize Community points out that, shortly before the exchange related in these verses, Jesus tells the disciples “The Son of Man is about to be handed over to those who will kill him,” (verses 22 and 23). It is little wonder that Jesus identifies with the child. Understanding that humans often crush the vulnerable, Jesus is approaching the moment of his greatest vulnerability. Thus, even God, the Lord of the Universe, models to us this humility he requires. He did it when he was born a baby to a poor, unwed mother. He did it again on the cross.
To cast us in the role of children, also speaks of the Lord’s relationship to us. Unless given reason not to, a child trusts its mother implicitly. A child trusts without thinking, without questioning. A child knows where comfort lies, where there is safety, where there is sustenance. It’s that simple.
In this equation the mother, ostensibly, is the one with all the power. However, she is also vulnerable to her child, in a relationship of mutual dependence and mutual delight. Her own health and happiness are inexorably linked to her child’s, who is capable of bringing the greatest possible grief to her life—by death, yes, but also by rejection. When we long for God, when we look for God, does God feel the joy of a mother when her baby reaches out for her, milk drunk and rapturous? I believe God does. It is wondrous that the God of the Universe, the Almighty One, assumes this role of vulnerability, through God’s love for us.
Nicki Gill is a member at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.
Works cited: Taize Community. “Children: What does it Mean to Welcome God’s Kingdom Like a Child?” Taize. 13 Mar. 2006. Web. 5 Nov. 2010.
Photo by Flickr user Slideshow Bruce
[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 9:1-7; Hebrews 12:18-29; and Matthew 21:23-32. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.]
Three very different scenarios for this day. The passage from Isaiah originally served as an oracle for the coronation of a Judean king, possibly Hezekiah, and is describing events in a land eventually divided into three provinces by Assyrian kings on their way to the Mediterranean. The language includes an announcement of a divine birth that probably came from an Egyptian coronation ritual, but from our perspective can be read as the forecast of the birth of Jesus: "For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God. Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
In the Letter to the Hebrews, by an unknown author, the text urges the faithful to follow Christ’s example and live as he did. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe, for indeed our God is a consuming fire. Not exactly a typical Sunday service.
Finally, in the passage from Matthews, following his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus is asked by the chief priests in the Temple by what authority did he act and who gave him the authority, and responds by asking them whether John’s ministry was divine or merely human in its origin, to which the priests replied that they did not know, since the first answer would suggest they believed that Jesus was the Messiah and the second would anger those who believed in John being a messenger of God. Since the priests did not answer the question posed by Jesus on authority, Jesus said neither would he answer their question.
Prayer: Creator God, keep us mindful of the perseverance and messages of those who preceded us in our faith history.
Robert L. Doan is a member at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.
Photo by Flickr user Pleuntje
[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 35:1-10; Matthew 11:2-11; Psalm 146; James 5:7-10. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.]
Promises, promises. Most people in our United States, indeed even more people throughout the developing world, stake survival on the possibility that their lives will improve. For some, existence is reliant on the spirit within. The spirit of Christmas can inspire that hope, anticipation, and love.
The biblical passages that relate to today should cause us to rejoice in the majesty of God, to believe in miracles, and to have faith in Jesus. At the same time, James cautions patience. My heart turns to my friend Lynne who will be imprisoned for 10 years. Is it possible that even she can come to believe that there is purpose in her suffering and promise in her anticipation of life beyond this one? Or, more profound, is it possible that she will find miracles in the difficult life that she now knows? Isaiah predicts miracles—most remarkable, the birth of Jesus. He promises “sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”
In the passage from Psalm 146, we are encouraged to believe in these miracles predicted by Isaiah: “Happy are those whose help, … hope … faith (are) in the Lord my God.” Jesus will set the prisoners free, open the eyes of the blind, lift up those who are bowed down, watch over the sojourners, uphold the widow and the fatherless. These are the real gifts of Christmas.
But we Americans, who are married to possessions, captive of comforts, and lacking in patience, are strained to believe. As I examine the life of Lynne, I know that she believes her calling -- to serve as a defense lawyer of the downtrodden -- is finished. She has never been a patient person. So for Lynne, it is none of the material privileges that she is missing or longing for -- it is to achieve justice for “the least of us.” I have trouble imagining her ability to translate her incarceration as a Christmas gift.
Yet, her spirit may move her to exactly that. In the James passage, we learn that patience is in the waiting. We must always be preparing. James’s prophesies of foresight and insight might be the Christmas gifts we are all hoping for. He says, “… you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”
Prayer (by Martin Luther King Jr.): Though we choose to walk in the footsteps of the condemned, we refuse to relinquish hope. Though we accept to accompany the ones who suffer, we do not yield to despair. Though we offer to help shoulder the burden of those rejected and excluded, we are not vanquished by death. Though we stand in solidarity and witness the persecution of the innocent, we are not resigned to apathy. Though we wrestle with our own guilt and complicity in the injustice that surrounds us, we refuse to be paralyzed. Though we walk in the valley of the shadow of death, we shall not fear for with you is found forgiveness and peace. Heal us with your forgiveness, calm us with your peace, inspire us with your love. Amen.
Beth DuMez is a member at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.
Photo by Flickr user Cosima's Digital Designs
[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 7:10-25; Matthew 11:7-15; and Hebrews 10:32-39. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.]
Two of today’s Advent passages are seasonally appropriate because the first passage is the prophecy of Jesus’s birth, and the second passage hints that he is the promised one. Then there’s the third passage. Who would have expected the season of joy and celebration to include a focus on “sufferings … abuse and afflictions?” The unknown writer of the letter to the Hebrews writes about these things, and leaves us to wonder, what relevance does this passage have for us? In the United States, I have never suffered abuse and afflictions for my faith. Teasing, perhaps, or awkward conversation, but I have never experienced real persecution.
But I know that there are hundreds of millions on this earth who have never experienced peace or an end to hunger or fear. For them, Christmas is still a time for suffering, regardless of the holiday. For Christians in Iraq, for example, their faith has put them in fear and danger, as it has our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters around the world, and even in our own neighborhood.
Is there nothing I can do about this? Perhaps there is. I can pray harder, give more generously, and most important, not just hear, but be the “voice of peoples long silenced.” I can speak out to my church and to our government when our national policies put people at risk. I can speak out in our own communities when we see intolerance at home.
Today’s scripture is instructive: “… sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and affliction [ourselves], and sometimes being partners with those so treated.” When our brothers and sisters in Christ, or in common humanity, are abused or afflicted, we are called to be their partners.
Prayer: Loving God, please give us the courage and wisdom to be partners with your people in their suffering and oppression, and give us the words to be the voices of those long silenced.
Mary Krug is a member at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.
[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 Galatians 6:1-10; Matthew 11:1-6; Isaiah 7:1-9. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.]
Bearing one another’s burdens is a bit like the inverse of exchanging Christmas gifts; rather than giving someone something at a time of joy, we offer to take someone’s burden during a time of a need. We offer to lift the load someone carries, such as the pain, guilt, or regret she cannot shrug off.
Buying a present seems so much simpler. Once unwrapped, the exchange is complete. Bearing a burden for someone, on the other hand, is an ongoing arrangement. It’s a commitment of empathy and support. It’s easy to tell ourselves that our own burdens are more than enough. Or we couldn’t possibly help anyway, so why get involved?
But what better time is there than Christmas to remember that God does not call us to a life of pursuing individual plans in disconnected ways? Christmas is a time to try to rebuild and expand communities, bringing together loved ones in celebration.
The crèche (or nativity scene) is one of my favorite reminders of community at Christmastime. Wise men from the east stand alongside shepherds and barnyard animals. These unusual suspects are brought together by the marvel of our savior -- the baby Jesus -- wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And not only do the wise men arrive from distant origins to witness and worship the Messiah, but they do so after a long and difficult journey. Surely they felt weary and dispirited along the way.
As I look toward Christmas this year, I feel a little weary myself. Some days, there doesn’t seem to be any hope for affecting change, or for transforming the world. And so Paul’s call to “not grow weary in doing what is right” rings true, as does his call to act upon moments of opportunity to work for the good of all.
In this Advent, let us stay alert to opportunities, knowing that God calls us to seek out ways of bringing hope to our broken world. Let us remember and celebrate the way that a baby, born in a manger, could change everything. And amidst the hustle and bustle of the season, I hope that the nativity scene can be a constant reminder not to grow weary, but to be resolved to search for those moments to bear another’s burdens and to build God’s community.
Prayer: God of all seasons, help us to not grow weary, but to be perseverant in pursuing opportunities to show your love and bring about your vision for our world. Compel us to carry one another’s burdens and work for the good of all. Give us the strength of spirit to start each day in this Advent season with a renewed sense of opportunity and of hope, celebrating the coming of our Lord Jesus. Amen.
Kristin Ford is a member at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.
Photo by Flickr user Elessar.
[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 6:1-13; John 5:30-47; Revelation 22:16-20. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.]
The lectionary for this day presents challenges; the passages are puzzling, even disturbing, as we search for understanding. Isaiah 6: 1-13 is considered by scholars to be a personal visionary account of Isaiah’s call to become God’s prophet to the people of Judah. The date is almost 600 years before the life of Jesus, a time when Jerusalem is threatened by foreign invaders. The scene of Isaiah’s call is a heavenly realm with God enthroned in splendor and attended by winged seraphs. It is a scene that is foreign to our day and our way of thinking. And God’s message to Isaiah is one predicting that the people will not listen – their ears will be closed and their minds made dull to Isaiah’s proclamation. Why would God call a prophet and put such obstacles in his path?
John 5:30-47 is a passage even more enigmatic than that from the book of Isaiah. When Jesus addresses his disciples, he seems to be saying that the disciples and the authorities among the Jews reject him as one who comes from God. This is a rejection of the very word of God – the Word made flesh dwelling with us.
Revelation 22:16-20 is a passage from the very closing chapter of the New Testament canon. It affirms that the prophecy has been completed. Nothing more needs to be added or deleted. Readers are warned to accept what has been given in this apocalyptic narrative of the new heaven and new earth. When we are puzzled by the revelation of St. John, we should note that many persons – even the Reformation leader Martin Luther himself -- find the book and its message difficult to comprehend. How, then, do we glean understanding from obscure and difficult passages of our scriptures?
First, we should recognize that the Bible was passed to us from an oral tradition that arose many, many years and generations ago. When the scriptures were compiled and written down, judgments were made by the authors and redactors. Because these early texts were composed in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, all subsequent translations into vernacular languages -- such as English -- are interpretations by the translators. When we engage an ancient and difficult text we have the obligation to seek out a meaning for our lives. We must not succumb to facile pronouncements of those who give their “authoritative” interpretation. Encountering scripture becomes an individual and ecclesiological responsibility and struggle
We do have tools to help, including historical inquiry archeological and sociological insights, linguistic studies, and references to scholarly discourse. Although individual inquiry is where we begin, it is not sufficient. We need the assistance of the total community of faith. Within that community of faith we will feel a reverence for God’s Spirit working with us. When a particular passage is difficult, we must also take a wider view of scripture. We need to feel the grand, supportive, and comforting presence of God as revealed in biblical stories, poetry, prayers, and hymns of praise.
Prayer: Dear Lord, we thank you for your revelation in scripture; in the lives of saints who have gone before us; in the lives of those around us; and supremely in the life and resurrection of Jesus, whom we confess to be the Christ. Amen.
Jay Davenpor is a member of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.