2018 Advent Devotions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Downloadable PDF: 2018 Advent Devotions

 

Sunday, December 2, 2018

 The Rev. Dr. LeAnn Flesher, Vice President of Academics & Dean of the Faculty, Professor of Biblical Interpretation, American Baptist Seminary of the West, Berkeley, CA

Advent, the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event

 Scripture

Luke 21:25-36

 25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”  (New Revised Standard Version – NRSV)

Devotional

There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among the nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. (v25)

  • Global warming: fact or fiction?
  • Wars around the planet in 2018: Afghanistan, Iraq, Mexico, Syria, Yemen (10,000 or more deaths in past year); Myanmar, Moro, Somali, Nigeria, Darfur, Libya . . . (1000 to 9999 deaths in 2018); Israeli—Palestinian conflict; Nuclear Negotiations with North Korea. . .
  • Hurricane Maria (December 2017) Puerto Rico
  • Hurricane Florence (Sept 10, 2018) N Carolina, S Carolina, Virginia
  • Hurricane Michael (Oct 10, 2018) Florida Panhandle (the worst hurricane since Andrew in 1992)

Recent news would suggest that Luke 21:25, written in the first century CE, is describing our current world. How does the gospel writer exhort the faith community to respond? “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life . . .be alert at all times, praying you will have the strength to escape all these things . . . and to stand before the Son of Man.” (vv 34-36)

 Who is the Son of Man?

Luke uses this term to refer to Jesus of Nazareth and by so doing equates him to a divine-human messiah.

Advent

Advent is the first season of the Christian church year, leading up to Christmas and including the four preceding Sundays. It is the time for the Christian church to reflect upon the coming of one that will bring hope, reconciliation, and peace on earth.

May we not be weighed down by the worries of this world but be renewed and refreshed as we focus on the source(s) for hope, love, joy and peace throughout advent 2018.

Prayer

Come, Holy Spirit. Renew us in this new season of expectation, that we might be attuned to you and the hope you bring into the world. Help us to have open minds, open ears, open eyes and open hearts to receive you. Amen

  

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Rev. Carolyn Matthews, Executive Assistant to the President

 Fully Known

 Scripture

 Psalm 90:8-17

8 You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your countenance.

9 For all our days pass away under your wrath;
our years come to an end like a sigh.

10 The days of our life are seventy years,
or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.

11 Who considers the power of your anger?
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.

12 So teach us to count our days
that we may gain a wise heart.

13 Turn, O Lord! How long?
Have compassion on your servants!

14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

15 Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us,
and as many years as we have seen evil.

16 Let your work be manifest to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.

17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and prosper for us the work of our hands—
O prosper the work of our hands! (New Revised Standard Version – NRSV)

Devotional

There is no hiding of who we are before God. It is at the same time scary, sobering, comforting, and perhaps most important of all – freeing. Some of us have learned the fine art of “shifting.” It is a means of not only surviving but attaining and maintaining credibility at work, church, and sometimes at play.

God sees the real us, who we truly are, and by His love continues to say as at the sixth day of creation, “it is (we are) very good.” God’s love for us never wavers and this time of anticipation of the celebration of the birth of Jesus, reminds us that God makes the impossible, possible, on our behalf. We are reminded, no matter what mold the world wishes to squeeze us into, God frees us to be who He has created and gifted us to be. God’s consistent love, His desire and willingness to make it possible for all to live in relationship with Him, and we each with one another, brings us to this holy time – the time of anticipation and expectation – full of hope and possibility.  “Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives.” (Psalm 90:14, NLT)

Prayer

Lord, give us a mind and heart to appreciate the life you have given us. We thank you that you free us to be who we are created to be in You. Help us to utilize our gifts and talents that others may know of your unwavering love, grace, and mercy. Amen.

 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Rev. Mylinda Baits, Global Consultant for Training using the Restorative Arts, International Ministries ABCUSA. ABSW ‘85

 We’re invited to the home we long for

 Scripture

Psalm 90:1, 12-14

 1“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.

12 Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

13 Relent, Lord! How long will it be?
Have compassion on your servants.
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.”

Devotional

Imagining the Lord as our dwelling place, our longed for home, gives us the sense that we are invited this Advent to receive and offer radical hospitality. Recognizing that we are welcomed, received and protected by the God of the universe who encompasses all time, allows us to offer welcome and receive the gifts of all who come to us. The visitor, the stranger, the other, like the Christ child has gifts to offer us if we can open our hearts to see them.

John O’Donohue wrote this intriguing line in his Blessing for a New Home:

“May you have the eyes to see
That no visitor arrives without a gift
And no guest leaves without a blessing.”

As we number our days, conscious of the frailty of life and the gift that each day, each minute, each breath is, let us offer blessings of joy and gratitude to each one we encounter this week. Be it in our homes, offices, neighborhoods or global communities, may our song, smile, gratitude and blessing be evident so that our friends feel like family and our families feel like friends.

Prayer

Gracious God, we give thanks for the grace you extend to us. Your acceptance of us as individuals created in your image is too marvelous for us to behold. Forgive us for sullying your image. May your Spirit enable us to be part of creating a new community of faith in these days. Amen.

 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

 The Rev. Dr. H. James Hopkins, Sr. Pastor, Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church, Oakland, CA, former chair of the Board of Trustees of American Baptist Seminary of the West, ABSW ‘83

The prophets challenge us, even during Advent

Scripture

Luke 11:29-32

 29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! 32 The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! (New Revised Standard Version – NRSV)
Also see: Psalm 90; Isaiah 1:24–31

Devotional

I signed up to write today’s reflection before I read the biblical texts. Wow. They are daunting. The psalm reads, “For we are consumed by your anger; by your wrath we are overwhelmed.” In the name of God the prophet proclaims, “I will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy.” In the gospel even Jesus’ words carry a tone of warning, “The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!”

Is there any good news in these challenging words? Perhaps. In, The Promise of Light, his spiritual autobiography, the late Rod Romney (ABSW 1960) wrestles with this question. “I think the Bible is trying to teach us in purely allegorical terms that God is a consuming fire, but a fire that purifies rather than destroys…a fire that always takes place in us to purify the spirit implanted within. It is that fire that purges us of our sins and restores to us our original divine image.”

These texts tell us that God takes us seriously, holds us accountable and works to renew us from within. This message may sound a little heavy. Yet, I encourage us not to rush past these texts in search of something “more uplifting” for they do bear witness to the great truth that it God’s intent that God’s final word to us be “Yes.”

Prayer

O Mighty God, you know us from beginning to end; while still in our mothers’ womb. You know our struggles with the great gift of free will with which you have embed us. Walking in your way is not always easy for us. We humbly come before you asking your forgiveness. May the awareness of your presence overwhelm us that we might walk with you in these days of uncertainty. Amen.

 

Thursday, December 6, 2018

 Dr. Jennifer W Davidson, Associate Professor of Theology and Worship, American Baptist Seminary of the West, Berkeley, CA

How we long for Jesus’ coming

 Scripture

Malachi 3:5-12

 Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.

For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished. Ever since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, “How shall we return?”

Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, “How are we robbing you?” In your tithes and offerings! You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me—the whole nation of you! 10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing. 11 I will rebuke the locust for you, so that it will not destroy the produce of your soil; and your vine in the field shall not be barren, says the Lord of hosts. 12 Then all nations will count you happy, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts. (New Revised Standard Version – NRSV)
See also: Luke 1:68–79

Devotional

Advent is the season when we feel how desperately we long for Jesus’ coming into our world today. It is a time of searing honesty, of vehement lament, of deep cries, and hopeful longing. In Advent, we tell God that we yearn for God to break into our world now, because we keenly need the healing presence of Christ.

The scripture from Malachi is gritty but profoundly hopeful. Malachi speaks of God’s judgment and reminds us that God sees what is happening in this world and in this country. The season of Advent says God’s coming is sure. This good news will fill some with hope and others with dread.

Zechariah’s tongue-tied silence is broken by the song he sings at his son’s naming ceremony. An infant now, John will become a fiery, locust-eating, wilderness-dwelling preacher calling people to repentance. We hear, though, in Zechariah’s song a countermelody that is woven into John’s name and existence: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” God’s judgment is also God’s tender mercy. This is the promise; this is our hope.

Prayer

God, you fill us with a vision of what you most desire for your beloved world. So fill our hearts with longing for your presence that the heavens themselves open. May your reign of love and tender mercy break through into our most desolate places. We love you. We need you. Guide our feet into the way of peace. Amen.

 

Friday, December 7, 2018

The Rev. Dr. Steve Van Ostran, Executive Minister, American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains, member, Board of Trustees, American Baptist Seminary of the West, Berkeley, CA

 Light comes into our world

 Scripture

Luke 1:76-79

 76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.

78 By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,

79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”  (New Revised Standard Version – NRSV)

Devotional

We seem to be living in an age of darkness—darkness where we are unable to see our shortcomings (aka sins) but can clearly see the shortcomings of others. And in that world, an abundance of prophetic voices seem to be emerging.

We differ over the extent of police brutality and legitimate law enforcement. Some fail to acknowledge institutionalized prejudice while others fail to acknowledge their intense suspicion of the “establishment.”

We differ over questions of immigration and security. We become so entrenched in policy and procedure, that the stories of the individuals are discounted; they are simply a pawn in the greater good.

And besides the ones stumbling about in the margins of this great darkness, there are all those in the middle who have grown so tired of the arguing and fussing that they simply check out and neither say nor do anything.

We are living in an age of darkness. But modern prophets often seem only to cast a cloud that shrouds the moon’s reflection of Light into our darkness and shrouds the promise of the dawning of a new day.

The prophet came to proclaim the forgiveness of our narrow viewpoints, apathy or in-action; to proclaim forgiveness of our sin. And the prophet came to proclaim the promise of God’s love appearing as the rising sun to guide us on the path of peace.

The prophet came to point to the coming of the Christ, Jesus; to point to the dawning of a new age: an age of love and hope. The prophet came to prepare the way for Jesus. As we seek to be prophetic in this age of darkness, are our actions and words preparing the way for Jesus, or are they just spreading more darkness in an already dark world?

Prayer

Lord, guide me that my words may prophesy Jesus, hope, and light, not darkness. Amen.

 

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Minister Cherri Murphy, Spiritual Practitioner, Heart and Soul Center of Light, Oakland CA, ABSW ’17, Doctoral Candidate in Public Theology

How do we help God transform the world?

 Scripture

 Luke 9:1–6

1 Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.

Devotional

The Twelve went out “with nothing for the journey” they embarked on. Throughout their mission they fought and managed to hold on to their Christian beliefs/practices while also creating new ones. The Twelve also took responsibility to take action, cultivating a sense of courage and great resilience to recover from adversities…and so must we.  We must get uncomfortable, releasing our creaturely ways, putting our bodies and faith on the line for the sake of proclaiming the kingdom of God.  The question is how bold enough do we love God to transform the world?

 

Today, media outlets immediately allow us to see reports about strife between communities, nations and even neighbors.  As Christians we are committed to going from village to village spreading the good news that will improve our lives and those of all deemed as outcasts.  What spiritual practices must we embody to drive out all demons and cure diseases of racism, mass incarceration, sexual violence, homelessness, climate change, poverty, transphobia?

 

With the power and authority that will make a change let us embody a spiritual practice that will support us in getting clear on how bold enough we love God.  Because what we really love is only as good as the work we do to create a loving and just world.

Prayer

Gracious Lord, help us to have the eyes to see what resources you provide for us. Help us to hear your call. May we trust in you for all our needs, and the needs of the world. Amen.

 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

 The Rev. Dr. Rick Mixon, pastor, First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA; ABSW ’73, PhD Graduate Theological Union, ‘95

 May the peace of God enfold us

 Scripture

 Luke 1:68-79

 68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.

69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us
in the house of his servant David,

70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,

71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.

72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,

73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.

76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.

78 By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,

79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (New Revised Standard Version – NRSV)

Devotional

Advent continues; our ruminations go deeper. We wait, watch, wonder if we will ever know peace.  Will we find peace in our own souls? Will there be peace on earth?  Peace is the traditional theme for the second Sunday of Advent. Not just peace as the absence of violence, but peace that passes understanding; peace that heals and makes whole; peace that allows the wolf to live with the lamb and the leopard with the kid; peace that allows a little child to lead the people and bring them back into full communion with God; peace that ensures there will be no more hurting or destruction on God’s holy mountain because the whole earth will be full of the knowledge of God (Isaiah 11:6-9).

The Benedictus, Zechariah’s great hymn of prophecy, praise and blessing clearly moves us toward this peace that supersedes our limited understanding, that offers human wholeness, that heals the whole creation, peace that is indeed God’s shalom. Here we find ourselves waiting and watching for something that is deeply desired, wondering if it will ever come. One may long for peace but we know we live in a world in which there is much too little of it, either personally or politically. Though we may live in between times, times in which we do not yet fully know or walk in the way of peace, Zechariah promises that his little boy, John, will prepare us to bridge these times as we live towards God’s reign in hope.

Prayer

O God, in whom we move and have our being, it seems that the chaos of the world has not changed in the time since Jesus’ birth. Our best selves continue to desire peace, not only for ourselves, but for the whole world. Would that your Spirit would empower us in this season to be your hands and feet and voice for peace. Amen.

 

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Rev. Dr. Allison Tanner, Associate Pastor, Lake Shore Avenue Baptist Church, Oakland, CA; ABSW ‘2000; PhD Graduate Theological Union ‘2011

We Wait with Anticipation 

Scripture

Psalm 126

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”

The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.

May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.

Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves. (New Revised Standard Version – NRSV)
See also: Isaiah 40:1–11, Romans 8:22–25

Devotional

Incarnation – the idea that God comes to us where we are: into our world with all its division and hostility, into our society rife with injustice and inhumanity, into our lives amidst all our pain and messiness – that God comes to us to be with us, suffer with us, and show the way to salvation among and alongside us – this is the joy, and the mystery, of Christmas.

In this Advent season of waiting and longing for God’s presence to manifest itself once again, we stand with our ancient community of faith – with the psalmist who both celebrates the great acts of God and longs for God to act in great ways again, with the prophet who longs for comfort and declares that the Comforter is on the way, with the apostle who testifies that all of creation is waiting, hoping, longing and anticipating the first-fruits of God’s kin-dom – we take our place celebrating the historic incarnation and anticipating God’s continued interruption into our lives in ways that bring joy, healing, comfort, justice, peace and salvation.

When we sing of that little town of Bethlehem into which the Christ-child was born, we also sing our prayer that the Christ-child be “born in us today.” Born in a way that restores God’s glory, in a way that provides comfort to those who mourn, a way that bears the weight of longing, groaning in birth pains for what is soon to come. We sing that the joy, the majesty and the mystery of Christmas not just take place in history, but within our very beings – God’s presence with us and within us, among us and amidst us – in ways that allow us to embody the divine in our world once again.

Let us wait in anticipation, preparing the way and claiming the promise of the Holy One in our midst.

Prayer

We get anxious with the waiting, O God. We want to see you among us right now. May your Spirit bring peace to our minds and hearts, that you might be born in us today. Amen.

 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Dr. Nancy Hall. Associate Professor of Ministry and Congregational Music, Director of Contextual Education, American Baptist Seminary of the West, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Berkeley, CA

Finding home

 Scripture

Psalm 126

 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”

The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.

May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.

Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves. (New Revised Standard Version – NRSV)

 Devotional

 Although we who observe and treasure Advent are filled with wonder at the beauty of this season, we cannot become so set-apart from everyday life that we forget those who are in exile. Psalm 126 speaks with poignant longing for God to act, to restore life as that community once knew it or, perhaps, as they have only dreamed it could be.

Right now, people in exile are standing at the gates of our nation. Their longing for a home, for safety, for freedom, is not unlike our Advent yearning for a savior who will bring justice and release from all that oppresses.

The hymn writer Ruth Duck has paraphrased Psalm 126 in three stanzas that can be sung to the tune REGISTRATION. In her poetic reworking of the text, Duck emphasizes the goodness of God but includes (stanza 3) a clear reminder: until those beaten down and suffering are restored to their full humanity, we are called to continue praying and working for justice.

Prayer

When God restored our common life, our hope, our liberty,
at first it seemed a passing dream, a waking fantasy.
A shock of joy swept over us, for we had wept so long;
the seeds we watered once with tears sprang up into a song.

We went forth weeping, sowing seeds in hard, unyielding soil;
with laughing hearts we carry home the fruit of all our toil.
We praise the One who gave the growth, with voices full and strong.
The seeds we watered once with tears sprang up into a song.

Great liberating God, we pray for all who are oppressed.
May those who long for what is right with justice now be blest.
We pray for those who mourn this day, and all who suffer wrong;
may seeds they water now with tears spring up into a song.
Amen.

Hymn text © 1992 GIA Publications, Inc. (OneLicense #A-716222)

 

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Rev. Michael A. Smith, McGee Avenue Baptist Church, Oakland, CA, ABSW ‘2010; President of the Berkeley Black Ecumenical Ministerial Alliance (BBEMA) and the Executive Director of The Center for Food, Faith & Justice.

The Shifting Sands of Restoration

 Scripture

Isaiah 35:3–7

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.

Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;

the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes. (New Revised Standard Version – NRSV)

 Devotional

Several years ago during an Advent Bible Study lesson, I noticed a friend uncharacteristically subdued as the group began engaging a lively discussion about the themes of anticipation and expectancy. Later I facetiously asked, “Where is your joy?” She exclaimed “What’s wrong with you? Have you looked at the world lately? Who can be happy in times like these?” My friend’s cynical outburst led me to take a harder look at joy as opposed to happiness. For many people happiness is fully dependent on whether life is “all good.” Happiness goes up and down based on our perception of the difficulties we encounter at the time. Problems rise; happiness goes out the window. Troubles begin to go away; the happy scale starts to climb. Conversely, joy is not held hostage to situation and circumstance. In fact, joy can become strongest when trouble comes.

Unlike happiness which is often temporal, Joy locates God’s promise within every human lack, every deficit and every desolation. Joy locates God’s promise within a complex history of oppression and redemption, failure and faith. This is the message of Isaiah 35. Prophesying about joy to an oppressed people in exile may appear empty on the surface. Like my friend, I can envision people screaming at Isaiah, “What’s wrong with you?” Yet, Isaiah stands in the moment looking back on what God has done and proclaims what God will do again. Take a moment to read again vs. 5–7 above.

The future time of Isaiah’s vision is also a shift from the past of despair to the present of restoration. The Joy of Advent lives in the knowledge that our God is the one who moves us from pain and sorrow to peace and singing. Tell them, says Isaiah, “Be strong, do not fear.” And the prophet gives a reason, drawing attention now to the one source of strength and salvation. If you open your eyes and look, you will see that right here is your God (35:4a). Lord as we anticipate and expect your coming joy lives in our souls despite life’s disillusionment, despondency and despair, O Come, O come Emmanuel!

Prayer

Come and dwell within me that I might know the everlasting joy that comes from you, my God. Amen.

 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Rev. Dr. Sam Park, Professor of Preaching and Director of Doctor of Ministry Program at American Baptist Seminary of the West, and Pastor of Albany United Methodist Church, Albany, CA.

 Finding an Empty Space

 Scripture

 Isaiah 12:2-6

Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day:
Give thanks to the Lord,
call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations;
proclaim that his name is exalted.

Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.

Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel. (New Revised Standard Version – NRSV)

Devotional

The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said that we mold clay into a pot, but it is the empty space inside that makes the vessel functional. As we journey through this season of Advent and prepare ourselves for the coming of the Messiah, it is essential that we turn our attention from what we see and hear outside of us to the inside and make an empty space. Yes, we will later join the crowds to be part of the biggest celebration of the year: Christmas. But now, it is time for us to pause and reflect on what is inside of us and clean it up.

Both prophetic books of Isaiah and Amos were written in the 8th century BCE when the nation of Israel was faced with crises both inside and out. Internally people turned their backs on God.  Oppression of the poor and neglect of orphans and widows were the defining reality of the day. Outwardly the nation was on the brink of collapse by the impending military threats from the surrounding super powers of the region. In those moments of urgency, God spoke to the people through harsh words of Isaiah and Amos and urged them to turn their attention to their insides and make an empty space. Certainly, God was unhappy with the way things were and God wanted them to turn around. But what strikes me is this; even in this harsh language are these words: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid… With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”

The same is true with Paul’s words to his beloved saints at Corinth: while there was disappointment and concern with people’s unfaithfulness to his teaching and his own leadership, Paul’s love for them is unchanging when he says, “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

The mid-term election was over a few weeks ago. But as the cultural war continues, we feel numb inside and out. It is time for us to pause and make an empty space inside; it is time for us to wait for the Word, the Word in Flesh.

Prayer

Gracious God, hear us as we come to you out of the busyness of our lives, when we try to squeeze one more thing into an already hectic schedule. We so often allow our minds to overrun our hearts. Listen to our hearts this day. Hear our desire to create an empty space where we may meet you and be known by you. Amen.

 

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Rev. David Roberts, Retired American Baptist pastor, member, Board of Trustees, American Baptist Seminary of the West, ABSW ‘73

Where is there hope in the land?

Scripture

Amos 8:4–12

Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,

saying, “When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,

buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”

The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.

Shall not the land tremble on this account,
and everyone mourn who lives in it,
and all of it rise like the Nile,
and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?

On that day, says the Lord God,
I will make the sun go down at noon,
and darken the earth in broad daylight.

10 I will turn your feasts into mourning,
and all your songs into lamentation;
I will bring sackcloth on all loins,
and baldness on every head;
I will make it like the mourning for an only son,
and the end of it like a bitter day.

11 The time is surely coming, says the Lord God,
when I will send a famine on the land;
not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the Lord.

12 They shall wander from sea to sea,
and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord,
but they shall not find it. (New Revised Standard Version – NRSV)

Devotional

Where is there hope in the land?

A little more than half way through this season of Advent, preparing for the coming of the Messiah, and we are confronted with the words of Amos. Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrases vs. 4 as “Listen to this, you who walk all over the weak, you who treat poor people as less than nothing.”

This is being written shortly after the mid-term elections in which $27 million was spent in one congressional race in the state where I reside. After such expenditures, who will have the ear of the elected one? The homeless person with her cardboard sign sitting by the side of the road? The mentally ill person babbling as he pushes a cart down the sidewalk? The corporate CEO billionaire whose warehouse workers make minimum wages with few, if any, benefits?

Where is there hope in the land?

 God says through Amos that things were so bad in that time that God was threatening a walk out. “Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.”

With such immense issues facing our nation, it is tempting to say, “But what can I do?” Perhaps a place of beginning is to revisit yesterday’s devotion and create an empty space within our lives where we might have opportunity to hear the word of the Lord. Then we may be able to walk in the world as the people of God. That can make all the difference.

Prayer

May your Spirit enable us to walk with you, Holy One, in this world. We desire to hear your voice. Help us to be courageous in our hearing and in our doing. Amen.

 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Rev. Paul J. Schneider, II, Pastor of Burien Community Church, Burien, WA, Founder and Director of the Oasis Project, ABSW ’17

Seeking the Word of God

 Scripture

 Amos 8:4-12

Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,

saying, “When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,

buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”

The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.

Shall not the land tremble on this account,
and everyone mourn who lives in it,
and all of it rise like the Nile,
and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?

On that day, says the Lord God,
I will make the sun go down at noon,
and darken the earth in broad daylight.

10 I will turn your feasts into mourning,
and all your songs into lamentation;
I will bring sackcloth on all loins,
and baldness on every head;
I will make it like the mourning for an only son,
and the end of it like a bitter day.

11 The time is surely coming, says the Lord God,
when I will send a famine on the land;
not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the Lord.

12 They shall wander from sea to sea,
and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord,
but they shall not find it. (New Revised Standard Version – NRSV)

Devotional

 Amos’ words ring out harshly against the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and they should. The kingdom built its strength on the bowed backs of the poor, planting its feet to proclaim its greatness, trampling the orphan, widow, and foreigner. If these words seem painful, perhaps it is because we recognize in them the ways we treat those whom Jesus would call his own. It’s tempting to gloss over words like these in a season of hope and incarnation. Yet it is precisely the discomfort that these words invoke in us that makes them worth thinking about.

Hope is found in this famine and thirst that God promises to inflict on the people of God. A famine and thirst for the word, which sends them out seeking that word. And even though the search is difficult, and the words they seek for not heard, it is prelude to promise: all will be restored when the people remember justice, when the people turn from seeking wealth to seeking this word.

Jesus pointed out again and again how the people listened but did not hear. Therefore let us take a moment to repent of the hardness of our heads and hearts, and not just listen but actually hear. Good News! The Word is made human in this season. Let us seek and hear the word, and share God’s Love which has been birthed not only into First Century Palestine, but also into this day and age, in all we meet.

Prayer

God of all peoples and all times, open our eyes and our ears. Help us to see the ways we are complicit with injustices which break your other children. Help us to hear the cries of those we would otherwise ignore, and hear your voice in their pain. Soften our hearts which have been hardened by a hundred small cruelties inflicted on us and by us, hearts made stony by perpetual exposure to the suffering of others. Renew us and make us seekers of your Word, and bearers of Good News to those who need it most. Amen.

 

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Rev. Robert Wilkins, retired CEO of East Bay YMCA, Oakland, CA

What Should We Do?

 Scripture

Zephaniah 3:14-20

14 Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!

15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.

16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.

17 The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing

18 as on a day of festival.
I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.

19 I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.

20 At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the Lord. (New Revised Standard Version – NRSV)
See also: Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippines 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

Devotional

 What should we do? This nagging question looms heavy and easily when dark and difficult circumstances visit our lives. The answer to this vexing query requires disruptive action – a forceful reversing of fortune from an unpleasant outcome that seems certain to occur.

These seemingly unrelated passages [unrelated to each other and surely unrelated to the season] are bound together by unfavorable circumstances. Isaiah writes from lonely exile in Babylon; Zephaniah speaks to a nation awash in sin, idolatry and oppression; Paul pens a letter from a prison cell and John scolds a complacent, greedy and hypocritical people. “What should we do?” they all surely must have asked.

Somehow, despite the odds they faced, they all speak emphatically of joy…and rightly so, since the third Sunday in Advent has come to be known as Gaudete {“joy) Sunday. This joy is not mere happiness, but rather a defiant shout of celebration in the face of an indifferent and recalcitrant world. This joy disrupts self-pity, self-interest and doubt, and proclaims the certain coming of a new day in God.

Advent is God’s disruptive act to the unruly, materialistic and violent rhythms of the world…. Advent is Joy. What, then should WE do?  DISRUPT…. REJOICE!! .

Prayer

O God, help us with the decisions we make; that we might resist the temptation to give in, give up, give out. Help us to embrace the joy you offer to us through Jesus. Amen.

 

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Rev. Paul J. Schneider, II, Pastor at Burien Community Church, Burien, WA, Founder and Director of the Oasis Project, ABSW ’17

A World Unlike Our Own

 Scripture

Isaiah 11:1-9

 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;

but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea. (New Revised Standard Version – NRSV)

Devotional

These words from the prophet Isaiah are remarkable. Not for the way they speak of the overcoming of the natural order: the wolf and the lamb living together, the leopard and the kid resting peacefully, the lion eating straw and not preying on the other animals. Nor for the way they speak of one to come who will be of the Spirit of God: one full of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might, of knowledge and awe of God. Nor even for the way it speaks of a new peace found even between enemies set at the dawn of time, like the child of humanity and the serpent. These words are remarkable for the way they proclaim that knowledge of God will be over the whole earth like waters cover the depths.

The season of Advent is a season of incarnation, but also one of holy imagination. It is nearly impossible for us to imagine a world where knowledge of God surrounds us like the air we breathe. Yet, that very promise is the world we strive to create in building the Heavenly Realm. We must overcome our disbelief that such a world is possible, and instead let God breathed imaginings inspire us to help create a new reality. For such a time as this our Savior came as one most helpless, yet most connected to God. For such a time as this we must learn to see a world unlike our own in the most remarkable ways.

Prayer

God who made all things, inspire us to see the world as you envision it. Let your pneuma, your breath and spirit, surround us like air. Help us to overcome our fears, our factionalism, our hatreds, and our disbelief. Make our tongues ready to proclaim your love for all people, and speak of the one who came to incept the Heavenly Realm with grace, peace and truth. May we also speak, to encourage holy imagination in the others we encounter, to create together a world unlike our own. Amen.

 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

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

The End of Paul’s Story and Ours

 Scripture

 Acts 28: 23-31

 23 After they had set a day to meet with him, they came to him at his lodgings in great numbers. From morning until evening he explained the matter to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the Prophets. 24 Some were convinced by what he had said, while others refused to believe. 25 So they disagreed with each other; and as they were leaving, Paul made one further statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah,

26 ‘Go to this people and say,
You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
27 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.’

28 Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” 30 He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. (New Revised Standard Version – NRSV)
Also see Isaiah 11:1–9, Numbers 16:20–35

Devotional

Just mention changing voter ID laws and blood pressures will go on the rise. Trying to restrict and marginalize voters to favor one group over another gets our ire up. The book of Acts ends with Paul in Rome, awaiting trial for preaching a message that believer ID laws should make faith in God available to all rather than a select few. That was the message he gave his life to advance. We hear him speaking to the local Jewish leaders of the synagogue in Rome, urging them to grasp that both Moses and the Prophets saw that a day would come when the believer ID laws of the Kingdom of God would be forever changed. He shared with them that Jesus was the promised one, the “candidate” who forever changed the rules for who could be counted among the elect people of God. With the cross, the rule and reign of God was redistricted for the good of all humankind. Jewish leaders should no longer teach that God belongs to only one race. The salvation of God belongs to all who will listen and believe.

Luke leaves the story there, but it doesn’t end there. Just as a biographer of John F. Kennedy ended his book with the presidential couple joining Governor Connally and his wife for the motorcade through Dallas, Luke’s readers knew what happened to Paul. Luke ends his story with the message that does not end: Paul’s Gospel of reconciliation with God—that all people, all classes, all races, all genders, all ages are welcome as God’s citizens. Thanks be to God.

Prayer

O God, may the story of our life be told, like that of Paul’s story, in how we made a difference in people’s lives. Help us this, Advent, to reflect not just our own end, but the end to which our lives are recreated each day as we commit the day to you in service that welcomes all whom we meet as people worthy to be citizens of your loving care. Amen.

 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Rev. Dr. Valerie Miles-Tribble, Associate Professor, Ministerial Leadership & Practical Theology, American Baptist Seminary of the West

Sweet Little Jesus Boy (We Didn’t Know Who You Were)

 Scripture

 Luke 7:31–35

31 “To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,
‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not weep.’

33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’; 34 the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.” (New Revised Standard Version – NRSV)

Devotional

Jesus looked upon the humanity of the crowd that stood or sat before him, some eager to learn and others still doubting that what some proclaimed – Emmanuel (“God who will come”) – was the one who dwelled among them, teaching and healing. When Jesus looked upon them with love yet knowing that the world did not know who He truly was, perhaps his words recorded in Luke remind us to seek for the truth and take stock of the goodness in one another rather than place so much emphasis on rituals and rules.

In 2018, in a world of societal divisions, the religious fervor of Christmas must also amplify the prophetic teaching of Jesus to love the Lord God before all else and to love each other as neighbors. What is it I hope that Jesus could see? People that realize the words of John the Baptist proclaiming the coming of the LORD still ring true.

I hope we realize the urban poor, the hopeful immigrants, the black and brown bodies, all targeted by “otherness,” are nevertheless found worthy of love in the sight of God. Such is the promise proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah of one who would come to judge the poor with righteousness and with equity for the meek of the earth. (Is 11:1-9, NRSV). Such is the promise of the Gospels proclaiming that God is with us. This Advent, may we live into that promise with love toward one another.

Prayer

May you open our eyes that we might see you, O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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!

1Source: 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.

 

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 fiancés 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.

 

Monday, December 24, 2018

Carol Wheeler, member Board of Trustees, American Baptist Seminary of the West, Berkeley, CA

Finding a New Song

 Scripture

 Psalm 96

O sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.

Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.

Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples.

For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be revered above all gods.

For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.

Honor and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering, and come into his courts.

Worship the Lord in holy splendor;
tremble before him, all the earth.

10 Say among the nations, “The Lord is king!
The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved.
He will judge the peoples with equity.”

11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;

12 let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy

13 before the Lord; for he is coming,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with his truth. (New Revised Standard Version -NRSV)

Devotional

“Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord all the earth.” (v.1)

It is Christmas Eve, and Christians worldwide are filled with anticipation as we await the celebrations of the arrival of the Baby Jesus. The events narrated in Luke 2:8-14—the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks at night—are thought to be reflective of the spring of the year by many Bible scholars. Lambing season, sowing, birds nesting, earth reawakening from winter are all signs of the promise of new life. It is thought that early Christian communities of the northern and western regions of the Roman empire re-imagined these events “in the bleak midwinter.” Yet, in spite of dire, dark circumstances, they dared to hope, to sing a new song.

The Jewish people navigated a perilous course, under the suspicious eye of the Roman empire. The Romans were in charge, King David’s dynasty was a distant memory, so who could dare believe, let alone “Say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns’”? (v.10) After all, what would Caesar do if he heard? Herod slaughtered innocent children to maintain his power (Matt. 2:16-18).

What about today? What must the victims of war and violence be thinking today? What must the refugees and separated families be feeling today? Yet, on this holy day we dare to “Say among the nations, The Lord reigns.” With hope we “sing to the Lord a new song” (v.1) and proclaim “He will judge the peoples with equity” (v.10).

Prayer

May your Spirit enable us to sing a new song. May your Spirit enable us to continue to sing through the dark mid-winter. Amen.

 

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The Rev. Dr. James E Brenneman, President, American Baptist Seminary of the West, Berkeley, CA

Swaddled to Earth

 Scripture

 Luke 2:8-20

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (New Revised Standard Version – NRSV)

Devotional

 Heaven has been swaddled. Swaddled to Earth. And heaven doesn’t much like it. Heaven is that other world up there, far above earth, where the biggest, baddest, strongest gods rule and reign from heavenly throne rooms gilded in gold, silver, rubies and glitter. Heaven is nothing, if it isn’t, well, heavenly.

But our Christmas lesson does a number on such otherworldly notions by swaddling heaven to earth forever. The heavenly angel says to flummoxed shepherds, “this will be a sign to you: you shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (2:12). “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly hosts praising God,” (2:13) after which, the angels leave the shepherds behind and go back to heaven (2:14).

On this Christmas morn, when we with the angels sing of “Christ the newborn King,” who is “true God of true gods,” we proclaim to all who hear it, the fusion of horizons between earth and heaven. We sing of a God whose infinite divine presence narrows laser-like to swaddle itself to refugees – to a newborn baby lying in a manger in occupied territory in a backwater town in Palestine. We sing of a Heavenly King, whose crown is made of thorns, whose way is love that “stoops to rise.” On this Christmas morn, we run with haste as did the shepherds of old to the manger where God in Christ comes swaddled to earth in love. And having visited there, we “make known what was told about this child” (2:17,18,14), that “all who hear it may be amazed by what [we] proclaim, “Glory to God in the highest heaven and peace to all people on earth!”

Prayer

On this Christmas morning, Lord of swaddling infants, help us now some two thousand plus Christmas mornings later, to embrace the vulnerable, the poor, the refugees, the children and their parents, who are a sign to us of your amazing love for the least among us and so, for us all. Amen.