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  • 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


    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)


    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


    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!


    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)


    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.


    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 


    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


    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.


    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.

  • Advent Devotion – Wednesday December 19

    December 19, 2018 ~ Carolyn Matthews

    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)


    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)


    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.


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