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  • Advent Devotion – Tuesday December 25

    December 25, 2018 ~ Carolyn Matthews

    Tuesday, December 25, 2018

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



    Swaddled to Earth


    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)


    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!”


    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.

  • Advent Devotion – Monday December 24

    December 24, 2018 ~ Carolyn Matthews

    Monday, December 24, 2018


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


    Finding a New Song


    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)


    “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 (Matthew 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).


    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.

  • 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


    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.


    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!


    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


    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.