An Advent Devotion: Let it Be With Me by Stephanie Little Coyne

This devotion is based on 2nd Samuel 7:1-11 and Luke 1:26-38, two of the lectionary texts for December 21, 2014 – the fourth Sunday of Advent. 

After a disastrous breakfast time, full of food-throwing and kicking legs (two sets of legs), I announced to my family—my husband, my 4-year-old and almost 2-year-old—“I am taking a bath. I don’t want anyone to join me. I don’t want anyone to knock on the door. I don’t want to see the door handle move. I don’t want anything slid under the door. If anyone has to go potty, she may use the OTHER POTTY—there are TWO in this house.”

Hopeful, but realistic about my early morning demands, I turned on the bath water, added a few drops of baby oil, lit a 10-cent tea candle, and pulled out a jar from a secret stash labeled “calming sugar scrub.” We shall see, oh jar.

After fishing out a toy boat, a mermaid, and a racecar, I stepped into the bathtub. Slowly, I sank further into the warm water and felt a graininess lining the bathtub’s wall. The leftovers of the previous night’s de-sanding of the children had not been properly rinsed away. Oh well, I thought, people pay money for mud baths.

I leaned back and suddenly felt a drop of cold water on my forehead. I looked up to see the saturated red locks of the mermaid Ariel leaning over the edge of the bathtub catchall. Annoyed but determined, I declared, I will not be moved! Well emotionally, I would not be moved. Physically, I shifted my backover a little and let my hair and ears move below the water’s surface.

All I could hear was the movement of the water. Whatever might be stirring up outside of the bathroom was no longer of concern to me. And as I sat, warmed and on my way to a brief moment of quiet relaxation, I let a smile of gratitude slide over my face. I was beginning to forget the chaos outside—the cream cheese-filled hair, the piles of soggy cereal, the argumentative transition of pajamas to school clothes—and remembering the random declarations of “I love you, Mommy,” the soggy kisses, and the drive-by back hugs.

I was grateful. I am grateful. I am grateful for the season of chaos, in life and in this time of year. I love the Christmas season. I love red bows and bright lights and familiar tunes. But I feel something different this season. It’s not indifference; I feel just as giddy as in years past thinking about watching loved ones open presents.

This year, I hear a call back to focus on the covenant mentioned in 2 Samuel. Embedded in these verses is a continuance of God’s relationship with the people of Israel. And it’s in that relationship—build God a house and God will make you a home—that I hear God saying, “Eh, Christmas? You can have Christmas. Give me your moments and your days.”

I believe that the Advent season is important, the focus on Hope and Joy and Peace and Love is a beautiful time of reflection on and for our faith! But when we have the opportunity to come up out of the waters renewed, it is important to remember that we have an active part in the moment by moment and day by day relationship with God. This is the substance of this holy experience called Life, which exists from birth to death.

This is the thing that we take with us, into the temporary chaos of typical mornings and into the overwhelming chaos of global tragedy.

I hear commitment to this relationship in Mary’s words—the girl who carried the embodiment of God’s promise—I hear in her words a bold faith: “Let it be with me.”

Oh yes, dear Lord, I will make room for you. Let it be with me.

Stephanie Little Coyne is associate pastor for administration and family ministries at St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church, New Orleans, Lousiana. You can read more of her work on her blog, A Redhead’s Revelations

AN ADVENT DEVOTION: It Could Happen by Ashley Robinson

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.—Isaiah 61:1-3

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.—John 1:6-9

I am a storyteller by trade, so naturally my default gaze is set directly inward looking for new stories to share. But, this frequent introspection also offers me a view of a great deal of doubt and precious little hope when my tired stories don’t seem to offer much light to a world that constantly finds itself in a hauntingly familiar, yet fresh wilderness. While many of my conversations these days are centered around our country’s entrenched system of oppression and violence, and I so often feel discouraged, I must cast my gaze outward, upward, anywhere but inward, to remember that “I am not the light, but I can testify to the light.”

Directing my gaze outward to see the light in the wilderness takes effort and practice. But, when I do look outside of myself, I find that this great gospel story is alive, and at work, in spite of me and my tendency to remain enshrouded in all of my me-ness.

Sure, much like John, I often feel like just another voice crying out in the wilderness, and my proclamations usually emerge in the form of questions. “Good news to the oppressed? Liberty to the captives? Really?”

Consider, for a moment, though, that our questions could be the proclamation. For, when I allow myself to question, I find that hope always gives me a wink and answers, “Yes. It could happen.”

When I fix my gaze outward and let my questions flow freely, I find stories, like this one of a young black boy hugging a white police officer in the middle of a protest, that show the audacity of the light to show up right in the middle of the darkness. . .

peaceitcouldhappen

 

or this story, of Missy Ward Angalla’s work with some pretty amazing refugees, that shows the tendency of hope to show up and rearrange broken lives into something beautiful. . .

liberationitcouldhappen

or this, from blogger Glennon Doyle Melton, that shows the power of the light to break through the darkness of addiction. . .

freedomitcouldhappen

When I open my eyes and fix my gaze outward, I find that this gospel story isn’t just ancient history, offering a few pretty words to scribble onto a greeting card. I am reminded, when I make an effort to look outside of myself, that hope is alive and well and that peace, or liberation, or freedom—well, it could happen. And that’s good news.

Ashley Robinson is the executive assistant at Baptist Women in Ministry.

AN ADVENT DEVOTION: Waiting in Hope by Molly T. Marshall

This devotion is based on Isaiah 64:1-9 and Mark 13:24-37, two of the lectionary texts for November 30, 2014–the first Sunday of Advent.

Pleadingly, the prophet writes, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down . . .” (Isaiah 64:1). If writing today, he might put it this way: “We desperately need you to show up, O God! Where are you in the midst of bloody Ferguson? Do you care about the countless drones launched by our government?”

This reading from the Hebrew Scriptures for the First Sunday of Advent begins with lament over the sin of the people and the seeming absence of God. Written during the time after the destruction of Jerusalem and prior to any rebuilding of the temple, this text offers frank acknowledgment that the covenant relationship between God and the returning exilic people is gravely threatened. If only God would perform mighty acts as in the past at Sinai, then the people would be able to believe anew and turn from iniquity.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer had a similar struggle as he reflected on God’s lack of intervention during the Holocaust. God had delivered Israel from Egypt; why would God not come to the aid of six million Jews? He concluded that God desires that Christians mature and offer themselves in God’s place, for in Christ God has been “pushed out of the world and onto the cross.” And yet, when he faced death himself, he did so with radical trust in the faithfulness of God. Like the prophet, he believed that God “works for those who wait” (Isaiah 64:4b).

Waiting in hope is an active spiritual practice. It requires a fundamental trust in God’s faithfulness and the humility to allow the mystery of God’s work to unfold over time. Trying to force the Holy One to function now, as in prior days, displays a desire to control God; it also demonstrates an unwillingness to perceive God in the surprising ways God may choose to reveal divine intention in the present. So we act in God’s stead, trusting the guidance of the Spirit.

The Gospel lesson offers a bracing warning: keep awake!  Be on the watch!  Mark’s apocalyptic text suggests that humans do not have unlimited time to do the work of God. Like in the earlier text, the destruction of Jerusalem figures prominently.  Over and over in Scripture, God’s people must reconsider the grounding of their identity; it cannot be in place or possession, rather it must be in God. And our diligent actions as mature Christians illustrate God’s faithfulness in contexts that might otherwise be deemed hopeless.

St. Augustine offers a perceptive insight to guide our action:

Hope has two beautiful daughters

            –anger to see things the way they are

            –courage to change them to the way they should be.

Attentiveness is the only faculty that gives us access to God, according to Simone Weil. During this Advent, let’s be on the watch to balance anger and courage as we wait in hope, for God will show up.

Molly T. Marshall is president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Shawnee, Kansas. 

 

 

 

Pretzels for Lent by Tammy Abee Blom

On the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, Eve, Audrey, and I made pretzels. I showed my daughters how to roll the pieces of dough into long strips, bring the arms up to make a U shape, twist the arms, and fold them down. As we rolled and twisted, I demonstrated how the folded arms of the pretzel look like arms folded over the chest in prayer. I told them about the priest who, while making bread during the season of Lent, baked pretzels as treats for the children, either as rewards for saying scripture verses or as reminders for prayer. As we worked, we talked about how Lent is the forty days preceding Easter and how Christians for centuries have offered penitent prayers during these forty days. We concluded our afternoon gathered around the kitchen table snacking on warm, salty pretzels. As we sat there, I thought about this tradition being passed from 7th century priests  to modern Christians, and I recalled who passed the tradition to me.

While in seminary, I met Joyce MacKichan Walker, minister at Nassau Presbyterian Church and walking archive of resources for Advent and Lent. Best of all, she is willing to share those resources. She gave me packets of resources from her Lenten Journey, a treasure trove of hands on activities, prayers, suggested hymns, and good ideas.

Using her resources as inspiration, I shared the tradition of baking Lenten pretzels with the church family of Bridgewater Baptist Church, where I served as a seminary intern. I have since shared the tradition with youth in North Carolina, minister friends in Tennessee, my current Sunday school children in South Carolina, and with my two girls. Because Joyce was willing to share her time and resources with a seminary student, the tradition of the pretzel has spread through many states.

Joyce and the priest of long ago are kindred spirits. They took their love of God and their joy of teaching and put it in the hands of those willing to learn. I am thankful for those mentors who share their talents and their experiences freely. During Lent, I plan to pray the names of the mentors who have shared their love of God and their joy of ministry with me. As I anticipate Jesus giving his life for us, I will offer thanksgiving for those who have given their stories, time, and guidance to me.

And I will eat pretzels. . .warm and salty.

Tammy Abee Blom preaching

Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.

Imperfection by Tammy Abee Blom

I finished a handmade Christmas gift for a friend. So excited to have it completed, I held it up to admire, and the art was off center in the frame. Off center equals imperfection, and what I had thought was completed now required another attempt.

ornamentsThe decorations on the Christmas tree are imperfect this year. The girls love decorating the tree and have hung the ornaments for the past five years.  Most years the obviousness of a child’s decorating ability is charming. This year, Audrey intentionally gathered all of her musical ornaments and arranged them in a cluster at the bottom of the tree. No amount of reasoning or cajoling can convince her to spread out the ornaments. Her claim is, “This is the way I want them.” All those heavy ornaments pulling at the bottom branch of the tree make me twitch.

And, I thought I was going to have an imperfect birthday cake this year. Doug and the girls queried me for my favorite kind of cake, and I asked for a two layer white cake with buttercream icing. The three of them convened in the kitchen for serious moments of precision measuring and taking turns running the mixer. When the layers came out of the oven, the three of them gathered to flip the layers onto cooling racks. One of the layers came out completely bald with a thin veneer of cake clinging to the pan. The other came out half cleanly and half bald. I took one look at those layer cakes and thought, “My cake will be a lopsided, imperfect mess.”

cakeImperfection seems to be the theme of my Advent season, and some days I handle it better than others. Last Sunday, I sat in worship and prayed for the peace to let things be imperfect. Later in the service the pastor read the story of the birth of Jesus, and I thought about Mary, who must have known that there were some imperfections with leaving home when the baby was due, giving birth without the comforts of her female relatives at her side, and then wrapping such a precious new baby in bands of cloth rather than the wool blanket handed down from her mother and her mother before her. I thought about Joseph, who must have felt anxious to provide shelter and support but instead faced closed doors almost everywhere he went.  I thought about the innkeeper, who counted an infant among the inhabitants of the stable and wondered if he felt remorse at not making room in the inn. I thought about how the birth of Jesus had imperfections, at least from my vantage point. But somehow it didn’t matter at all that Jesus was born in a stable; he was still the Messiah, and his story changes hearts to this very day. If the Messiah can be born in a stable, surely our imperfections will be alright in the end.

after cakeMy birthday cake was better than alright.  After a heavy layer of frosting by Doug’s deft hands, we all sat down to sing, “Happy Birthday” and cut the cake. The cake tasted delicious, and I got to hear the girls tell me, “I measured the flour. I ran the mixer. I cracked the eggs.” I looked at Doug, Eve, and Audrey and realized there was nothing imperfect about this moment at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.

 

 

 

Humming a Tune by Tammy Abee Blom

I have a song stuck in my head. Actually, it’s a refrain from a song but it circles and circles through my brain.

“I will arise and go to Jesus; he will embrace me with his arms.”

hands of god and adamAfter about a hundred revolutions, the refrain sparked an image. The recent conclave meeting in Rome must have prompted the image, because I was reminded of Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel. One of the most famous frescoes depicts God stretching a hand toward Adam and Adam likewise stretching a hand toward God. The two almost brush fingertips.

So, as I have carpooled kids, cooked dinner, and prepared my lesson plan for Sunday school, I have been humming, “I will arise and go to Jesus,” while envisioning the two hands reaching for each other.

In seminary, one of my professors said, “The image of God reaching for you while you reach for God” epitomizes the Christian journey. Always, God extends the hand of mercy and grace to us. Always, it is our role to reach for God. The moments of joy are when the hands connect.

The refrain in my head is from Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy. Written by Joseph Hart, a preacher and writer in the mid 1750s in London, he juxtaposed the Christian’s reticence to go to Jesus, particularly holding off “till you’re better” with the gracious invitation of always being welcomed in Jesus’ arms. So having tarried long enough, his refrain echoes that of the prodigal son, “I am going to get up and go home. I will arise and go to Jesus.”

Lent feels like a journey home. While Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem, we are walking the dark road to hope. Some days I feel like I am standing on a stool on my tiptoes with fingers stretched out hoping to brush the hand of the divine. Being home feels a lot like being at peace with God.

While visualizing Michelangelo’s hands reaching for each other, I have hummed the refrain, “I will arise and go to Jesus.” I have thought about why and when I forget to stretch out my hand to God. I have questioned why I think God may have forgotten to reach for me. And I have offered thanks for a writer and an artist, Hart and Michelangelo, who persevered in imaging how humanity strives for God and likewise God strives for us. I am thankful for their witness as I walk the Lenten journey.

Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.

 

The Light Shines in the Darkness by Tammy Abee Blom

Note: For the four weeks of Advent, this blog will highlight one scripture from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C for each week. A discipline for the week will be suggested. It is in intended the discipline will fit into your daily life and utilize resources you already have on hand. I look forward to sharing this journey with you.

My favorite part of Advent is the growing light. As the Advent wreath moves from one to four lighted candles, I relish how that added light shines brightly at our dinner table. As neighbors hang Christmas lights, I enjoy watching a dark street become brightly illuminated. And I find comfort in hearing the click of the timer on our Christmas tree because a room that is ordinary becomes festooned with light in a single click. I rejoice in the light of Advent.

Two of the scripture passages, Luke 1:39-45 and 46b-55, from this week feature women who rejoiced. Elizabeth cried out when she saw the pregnant Mary. As someone who had experienced the miracle of pregnancy, she was open to Mary’s miraculous claim of carrying the Christ child. And Mary, having every reason to believe her future was dark, claimed the light by rejoicing in being chosen by God. Rather than wallowing in the darkness of “I have wanted a child my whole life and now I’ll be too old to enjoy him” or “I was looking forward to being a bride and newlywed and now I will be a mother much sooner that I had planned,” Elizabeth and Mary chose to embrace the growing light of new life. They chose to rejoice.

In this fourth week of Advent that is shortened to just two days, I want to remember to rejoice on Wednesday, after the Christ candle is lighted on Christmas day. Even though the tree will look less festive with the gifts removed and some of the neighbors will stop lighting their Christmas lights, I want to live in a place where the light expands and grows. The writer of John said, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.” (John 1:5)  As I embrace the coming of the Christ child, I want to remember that he brought light into the world in the form of hope and that hope cannot be overcome by the darkness.

As the days unfold into a new year, let us light a candle each day to remember the brightness of hope. Locate either a fancy Christmas candle you never use or the stub of candle kept in the junk drawer. Choose a time that works best for you and light the candle while you pray, share your family meal, or hover over the first cup of coffee before the house guests come down for breakfast.

Elizabeth and Mary rejoiced in the light when they could have complained in the darkness. Let us rejoice that light has come into the world.

Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.

 

Advent Waiting by Aimee Day

ad·vent  (ˈadˌvent) noun : the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event. In Christian circles, we commonly use this noun to describe the four weeks leading up to Christmas, in which we “wait for the coming of Christ.” We wait for the Advent, the arrival of, perhaps, the most notable person. But what does it mean to wait for someone who has already arrived, with whom we already have relationship? And, how should we wait for this experience to come?

This Advent I have been waiting. I have been waiting for the coming day when I will marry my best friend and true love, January 5, 2013. On that day, I will wear a beautiful dress, and take vows before my family and friends. I will become a wife and John will become my husband. I am anticipating and waiting for that day. And, in this waiting I have learned a few Advent lessons.

First, I am waiting, but it is not a passive waiting. It is a very active waiting. Before any of the events of our wedding day can occur, there is a lot of planning and preparation that has to take place. Thought goes into every detail, and I have to take time from my busy schedule to meet with vendors and work on projects, and attend counseling sessions and dress fittings. I cannot just sit back and hope that everything goes smoothly. I must dedicate my time and energy to this event, even while I am waiting for it to actually come about.

The same is true for us as we await the Advent of Christ. We cannot just sit back and let the season overwhelm us or just pass us by. We must be active participants in it. This means, we should be dedicating time to reading scripture and Advent devotionals. We should actually attend the Christmas Cantata or the “Walk through Bethlehem.” (Who knows, we might actually receive some blessing from them.) We should spend some time in prayer. Christmas will come, and Christ will be offered to us anew, but we should not just passively await that truth. We need to become active waiters.

Second, as I wait for my wedding day, I realize that I am waiting to have a relationship with someone with whom I already have a relationship. You see, I have a relationship with John. He is my fiancé. But in this period of waiting, I anticipate a new relationship with him. In just a few short weeks, he will be my husband. So, I am waiting for a new, different relationship with someone with whom I already have a relationship. This is the most exciting part of waiting for our wedding day.

As we wait for the day when we will light the final Advent candle, I hope we eagerly anticipate the ways in which we might enter into a closer, more intimate relationship with Jesus. Yes, Jesus has already been born. Yes, we already have a relationship with him. But, I think I can speak for all of us when I say, our relationship with Jesus is not as intimate as it should be. In fact, my relationship with Jesus is far from being the most intimate relationship in my life. In this period of Christian waiting, let’s find ways in which our relationship with Jesus can become a new, more intimate relationship.

This year, as we actively await Jesus’ birthday, I pray that our efforts throughout this season will help us grow more in love with Jesus and the people whom he loves.

Aimee Day is a student at McAfee School of Theology and executive assistant for Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia. 

Where is Home for You? – Zephaniah 3:20 by Tammy Abee Blom

Note: For the four weeks of Advent, this blog will highlight one scripture from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C for each week. A discipline for the week will be suggested. It is in intended the discipline will fit into your daily life and utilize resources you already have on hand. I look forward to sharing this journey with you.

While driving from store to store for Christmas shopping, I listened to Karen Carpenter’s “There’s No Place like Home for the Holidays.” As I was humming along with her melodic voice, I recalled the passage I had read that morning in Zephaniah, “I will bring you home.” Connecting the music and the text, I started listening to the many references to home as related to the holidays. On Facebook, college and graduate students are posting, “I am on my way home for Christmas!” School children are counting down the days until they can be home for Christmas break. My hair stylist, medical doctor, and pastor all asked, “Are you traveling home for Christmas?” Home and holidays are intimately interconnected for most people.

Yet home can be difficult to define. The writer of Zephaniah describes home as “gathered to God.” He proclaims, “I (God) will bring you home. I will gather you.” Coming home is being with God. Maya Angelou describes home another way, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go and not be questioned.”  For both writers, home is a safe place where we are gathered and welcomed.

Often we think of home as the place where we grew up or the place where our family of origin lives. But this holiday, I want to explore a broader sense of home. I want us to look for the places where we feel gathered to God and for the places where we feel like we are accepted for whom we are. I want us to collect these moments of home and hold onto them. To do so, cut a one inch strip from a sheet of copy paper. Write, “I am gathered home.” Then, draw a musical note on the strip each time you recognize being at home. Keep the strip in your planner or use as a bookmark. Remember to add your notes of home.

At the conclusion of the third week of Advent, offer a prayer of thanksgiving for all the places you felt at home and remember the home where you will attend Christmas festivities. Pray that you will offer a sense of home to those with whom you gather.

Home can be elusive because we think of it as a set place. Yet, home can be all around us if we anticipate being gathered and welcomed.

Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.

Peace, Zephaniah 3:14-20, by Sarah Holik

Peace. We desire peace among nations and ethnic groups, but we also seek other forms of peace—from conflict in our family, from disagreements over theology and worship, from the endless “to do” list, from the children bickering in the back seat, from the war within ourselves.

Peace in the future requires effort now. Christmas offers many of us a vacation, but we have to complete projects before we leave town. We must purchase and wrap gifts and pack suitcases and cars. Getting to rest requires some work first.

In worship, Advent comes before our celebration of Christ’s birth. While preparing for Christmas, we look forward to the ultimate peace and celebration that will come with Christ’s return. Yet if we allow ourselves to calm down in the presence of God, we’ll find God doing the work of preparation this Advent.

Our peace comes in more fully celebrating Christ’s presence as well as preparing for his earthly return. We mark the beginning of a new liturgical year in our worship and soon a new calendar year in our lives. We often recognize the coming of a new year by making resolutions that impact our physical lives, but perhaps there is a spiritual new year’s to be celebrated as well. Though the debts are great, Zephaniah says, “The Lord has taken away the judgments against you.” These scriptures remind me to allow Christ to once again transform my life, even if that looks like beginning again completely. This time of celebration of the Christ child, of the Immanuel with us, and of expectation illuminates the continuous, refining nature of salvation.

Let’s begin again, living in the truth of God’s mercy and forgiveness. I pray that we will allow this time of Advent to make us more aware of Christ’s peace, refreshing our spirits and our hope for Christ’s return. May Christ’s presence then be more visible to those around us, spreading the hope of Christmas, Easter, and Advent.

Sarah Holik is children’s minister at First Baptist Church, Fitzgerald, Georgia.