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  • Advent Devotion – Sunday December 23

    December 23, 2018 ~ Carolyn Matthews

    Sunday, December 23, 2018

    The Rev. John Polite, pastor, Granada Hills Baptist Church, Granada Hills CA; member of the Board of Trustees, American Baptist Seminary of the West; ABSW ‘97

     

    Jumping for Joy

    Scripture

    Luke 1:39-49

    39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

    46 And Mary said,
    “My soul magnifies the Lord,
    47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
    48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
    49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.

    Devotional

    What began as an ordinary visit between two expecting cousins turned into a charismatic church service.

    Elizabeth, who was carrying a miracle baby of her own, who would be named John, had been barren all her life. Her husband, Zechariah, unbelieving of the word of the Lord when informed his wife would indeed bare a child, was rendered speechless by the angel of the Lord for his lack of faith.

    Elizabeth’s cousin Mary, who was chosen by God to conceive, carry, birth and raise God in the flesh, was not as far along in her pregnancy, but no less excited.

    These two contrast greatly. Elizabeth was the wife of a high priest, whose position would have been an honorable one. Yet being advanced in years, coupled with an inability to bear children, would have made her of low societal status because she had no children—sons in particular. Elizabeth was trapped in a culture in which women were considered worthless if they had no male offspring. Mary, on the other hand, was just a kid, of no prestige at all, from a farming community, and betrothed to a stranger who could have been three times her age, and with child—outside of marriage! This too would have made her a social outcast, and even a criminal, had it not been for her betrothed Joseph’s temperance and belief that his fiancé’s pregnancy was not betrayal, but of the Holy Spirit.

    Yet what they shared in common, besides their kinship, is that they were both eagerly expecting sons who were conceived by divine intervention. Elizabeth would be the mother of the greatest prophet since Elijah. Thirty years later he would be heralding Mary’s son as Jesus began his public ministry.

    And it appears that before they were even born, they knew who each other was, or at the very least, John knew who Jesus was. For we’re told that John leapt in his mother’s womb as Mary, pregnant with Jesus, came to visit her “cuz” Elizabeth. This prompted both Mary and Elizabeth to engage in an impromptu praise session as they both thanked God for the Son who was to be born to redeem humankind.

    May your advent be filled with the same joy, thanksgiving and praise that John, Elizabeth and Mary had at the anticipation of the coming of Jesus!

    Prayer

    Holy One, our God, may your divine awareness of our circumstances create within us the trust and courage that Elizabeth and Mary exhibited in the face of staggering odds, that we might life in your Joy. Amen.

  • Advent Devotion – Saturday December 22

    December 22, 2018 ~ Carolyn Matthews

    Saturday, December 22, 2018

    The Rev. Dr. Brenda Guess, Chancellor of the Leadership Institute at Allen Temple Baptist Church, Oakland, CA; MA in Biblical Studies from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA ‘2004; PhD Nova Southeast University in Higher Education ‘2011

     

    The Coming of a New Day

    Scripture

    Isaiah 66:7–11

    7 Before she was in labor
    she gave birth;
    before her pain came upon her
    she delivered a son.
    Who has heard of such a thing?
    Who has seen such things?
    Shall a land be born in one day?
    Shall a nation be delivered in one moment?
    Yet as soon as Zion was in labor
    she delivered her children.
    Shall I open the womb and not deliver?
    says the Lord;
    shall I, the one who delivers, shut the womb?
    says your God.

    10 Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her,
    all you who love her;
    rejoice with her in joy,
    all you who mourn over her—
    11 that you may nurse and be satisfied
    from her consoling breast;
    that you may drink deeply with delight
    from her glorious bosom.  (New Revised Standard Version – NRSV)

    Devotional

    In this poetic writing of Isaiah we see a metaphoric illustration of the birth of a new Zion. There is no doubt that the Israelites have suffered during their exile in Babylonia, however, this illustration shows that with God there can be a new day, a new life in Jerusalem. The text says, “Before she was in labor, she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son. Who has heard of such a thing? Who has seen such things?” Birth without pain and suffering. A nation born in a moment. The imagery of birth is in contrast to barrenness or emptiness as depicted in other biblical texts. This text speaks to the fullness and power of our God.

    In recent times, one may say that our nation resembles one of barrenness as we experience daily a lack of resources—lack of affordable housing, food and medical benefits; experiences of racism, sexism, and discrimination which is being affirmed by some of the top leaders of our nation. It is a narrowing of thinking that overlooks the fullness and power of our God. This has brought much pain and suffering for the people. For those of us experiencing the pain we wonder in moments, can we hope for a better day?

    In this Advent season, we can be reminded of Martin Luther King, Jr. who encouraged us to “step out in the bigness of God. Out of our narrowness to his bigness. You will see life in a new light.”1 With God the coming of a new day is on the horizon! We can rejoice and drink deeply with delight from the glorious bosom of our Lord!

    1 Source: Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Boston University, Boston, MA

    Prayer

    O God, our God, forgive our foolish ways. Restore us to our rightful minds that we might be generous with all you have given us, and in doing so see your light for our path. Amen.

     

  • Advent Devotion – Friday December 21

    December 21, 2018 ~ Carolyn Matthews

    Friday, December 21, 2018

    The Rev. Douglas Avilesbernal, Executive Minister of the Evergreen Baptist Association, ABCUSA, member of Board of Trustees, American Baptist Seminary of the West, Berkeley, CA

     

    But I am supposed to be happy now!

    Scripture

    Psalm 80:1-7

    Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph like a flock!
    You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth

    before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
    Stir up your might,
    and come to save us!

    Restore us, O God;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved.

    O Lord God of hosts,
    how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?

    You have fed them with the bread of tears,
    and given them tears to drink in full measure.

    You make us the scorn of our neighbors;
    our enemies laugh among themselves.

    Restore us, O God of hosts;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved.  (New Revised Standard Version – NRSV)

    Devotional

    The Advent and Christmas seasons are very difficult for many of us. It is difficult to gauge how many of us hurt during this season since nearly all of us put up a brave face and become happy, like everyone else. In our desire to not bum anyone out many of us suffer in private and too often add the guilt of feeling down when we’re supposed to be happy. So, if we are the ones feeling the pain of suffering and then putting up a happy front, it can be nearly unbearable. If we are full of the joy it can be too easy for us to miss the signs that would tell us some in our community are suffering.

    It is in this quandary that I find the beauty and relevance of the 80th Psalm coming to us less than a week before we celebrate Christmas. It comes to us just in time to make sure we tend to that side of who we are and/or make sure we care for those hurting.

    Restore us, O God;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved. (v. 3)

    May we be reminded that this is also a time when God comes into our midst. A time when we can Finally! Pour out our hearts to Jesus as he arrives and plead for restoration. We might not all be happy during this time, but we can all find comfort in Christ just the same.

    Prayer

    Thank you, God, for coming into the midst of our messy world. Forgive us for our contributions to the mess. Heal us of the pain and sorrow that seeks to embed itself in our lives. Help us to know your joy that we might live in your peace. Amen.

  • Advent Devotion – Thursday December 20

    December 20, 2018 ~ Carolyn Matthews

    Thursday, December 20, 2018

    Rev. Dr. Robert Stephen Reid is Emeritus Director of Master of Communication program in Organizational Communication and Leadership, University of Dubuque, IA

     

    “In That Day” is Our Day 

    Scripture

    Jeremiah 31:31–34

    31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
    Also see: Hebrews 10:10–18, Psalm 80:1–7

    Devotional

    We who engage in table fellowship with Christ know Jesus’ Cup of Blessing words: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). We eat of the bread remembering Christ’s passion for us. But should drink the cup remembering the words of the Prophet Jeremiah, who promised the house of Israel and the house of Judah that a new covenant would be established where no sin offering would ever be needed again. Why? Because in that day God would place a hunger in the hearts of people to know the Lord and pursue the ways of faith.

    The writer of the New Testament letter to the Hebrews returns to this image several times to make it clear that with Christ’s death an end came to any idea that God needs to be appeased by a sin offering. Jesus’ death on the cross vanquished the powers of darkness that ruin the world with sin. But for all who believe now, history was cleaved by that cross of Christ. The forgiveness it makes possible leans forward because God promised through it to “remember their sin no more.”

    Perhaps your Advent celebration will culminate in a time of sharing a communion meal with Christ and fellow Christians. Gratefully confess your failings to God, knowing that because all of history now leans forward in Christ, you are already forgiven. Then take the cup, rejoicing that the promised made by the prophet and fulfilled in Christ, includes you. That is the essence of the Advent blessing.

    Prayer

    O God, may we who come to your table this Advent season know how privileged we are to live what a prophet could only once dream—as people forgiven because you desire our confession of sin more than our obeisance because of it. Free us to live into that privilege unencumbered by the fear of our failings, trusting that you long to accomplish redemptive work in our lives as people willing to lean into this vision of your reign and realm in our lives. Amen.