Advent Readings Week 2

Prayer for the Second Week of Advent:

“Lord Jesus, come yourself, and dwell with us, be human as we are, and overcome what overwhelms us. Come into the midst of my evil, come close to my unfaithfulness…Be my brother, Thou Holy God…Come with me in my death, come with me in my suffering, come with me as I struggle…make me holy and pure, despite my sin...” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer                                       

Readings for the Second Week:

“In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself.”                             -Mother Teresa

“It is impossible to meet God without abandon, without exposing yourself, being raw.”                                                                                             –Bono

“The Good News of the gospel of grace cries out: We are all, equally, privileged but entitled beggars at the door of God’s mercy!”                     -Brennan Manning

“Confession propels the community to imagine a world beyond their current state of sinful existence. Lament that recognizes the reality of brokenness allows the community to express confession in its proper context. Confession acknowledges the need for God and opens the door for God’s intervention. Confession in lament relies on God’s work for redemption.” * -Soong-Chan Rah

“Surrender your own poverty and acknowledge your nothingness to the Lord.  Whether you understand it or not, God loves you, is present in you, lives in you, dwells in you, calls you, saves you and offers you an understanding and compassion which are like nothing you have ever found in a book or heard in a sermon.” -Thomas Merton

Hymn of Bethlehem

“Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright. Round yon virgin, mother and child.  Holy infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace. Silent night, holy night, shepherds quake at the sight. Glories stream from heaven afar, heavenly hosts sing, “Alleluia!” Christ the Savior is born. Silent night, holy night, Son of God, love’s pure light. Radiant beams from thy holy face. With the dawn of redeeming grace. Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.”

Dec 9: Light the purple candle of Love or Bethlehem. Read Luke 2:1-7

The Savior of the World is born in a Manger; love incarnate has come!

Dec 10 Matthew 1:18-25

Dec 11 John 1:1-18

Dec 12 Luke 1:11-38

Dec 13 Luke 1:39-56

Dec 14 Luke 1:57-79

Dec 15 Luke 2:1-7

Advent Readings Week 1

During the season of Advent, each essay will consist of daily Scripture Readings and a weekly prayer, hymn and reading. I pray this guides your time as you recognize your own longing for wholeness and anticipate the coming of Christ. I will post each week’s scriptures to the website on Sundays, so visit there if you do not want to wait for Tuesday’s emails. Merry Christmas!

Advent 2018

For many imitators of Christ, who try to bear witness to the life he lived and lives in the way we function in the world, Advent is the name we give to the Christmas season. The Latin roots mean “to come toward” or “coming,” and Advent offers some space to reflect on the coming of Christ, the coming of hope, the coming of joy, and the coming of Christmas. This year the readings remind us of the context that the Messiah came out of and into; Christ is the fulfillment of God’s covenant with us; He is the manifestation of the Word—the prophecies and scriptures—that came before Him. We begin at the beginning, and move toward the coming hope of the Messiah, waiting expectantly with creation for the final story that becomes our new beginning. For people dependent on Jesus, we must contextualize our love of work and independence with a deeper loyalty to merciful rest and interdependency. We need a God who never leaves us, and we need people to hope with and around us.

This year, I have been reminded again and again that healing and hope come in the middle of pain, not when it ends. We become healers when we see and hold our own vulnerabilities. Part of waiting on God, part of actively hoping for Him, begins with my honest lament over all the brokenness in and around my life. It is not unfaithful to be scared or disappointed or angry or brokenhearted—these are conditions of humanity. During Advent, we celebrate the One who “comes toward” us, not just as a baby—the Son of God—2000 years ago, but also as the redeeming One who will come to make “all things new”, and, importantly, as One who offers healing and wholeness right now. As you approach Advent, can you first realize the places in your own heart, relationships, city and world that need the healing and wholeness Christ will bring?  Advent is a season to remember what it means to hope in our own hard places, and to expectantly wait for Immanuel to be “God with us.”

My prayer for all who read these words:

Like Mary, patiently wait for God to bring new life into broken places. 

Like the Wise Men, study the Scripture and learn to look for Christ, especially in unexpected spaces in your family or town that have little hope. 

Like the Shepherds, wait expectantly for the Glory of God to visit your ordinary lives, and then actively follow Christ by moving toward humble others. 

Thank you for being a God who comes, who moves with us, who refuses to leave us alone. Give us a rhythm of confessing our need for you as we feel the longing for your presence. Thank you for the crazy mystery of Christmas, for knowing our worst but seeing our best. Teach us what it means to know you come toward us in the year to come.

A note on the structure

There are daily scriptures, divided into weekly themes (Each theme has a prayer, a hymn, and other readings). Each day, read the prayer and daily scripture listed (bottom of page). You can use the optional readings once per day, all together, or not at all. If your tradition uses an Advent wreath then each Sunday, light the candle, read the scripture, and sing or listen to the hymn listed for that week.

 With big love from a heart often breaking and hoping,

Brandi

Prayer for the First Week of Advent:

“Lord, may you now let us this year once more approach the light, celebration, and joy of Christmas Day that brings us face to face with the greatest thing there is: your love. What could we possibly bring and give to you? So much darkness in our human relationships and in our own hearts! So much over which you cannot rejoice, that separates us from one another and certainly cannot help us! So much that runs directly against the message of Christmas! What should you possibly do with such gifts? But all of this is precisely what you want to receive from us and take from us at Christmas—the whole pile of rubbish and ourselves, just as we are—in order to give us in return Jesus, our Savior, and in him a new heaven and a new earth, new hearts and a new desire, new clarity and a new hope for us and for all people. Be among us as we once again…prepare to receive him as your gift. Amen.”                                     -Karl Barth

Readings for the First Week:

“The blessedness of waiting is lost on those who cannot wait, and the fulfillment of promise is never theirs. They want quick answers to the deepest questions of life and miss the value of those times of anxious waiting, seeking with patient uncertainties until the answers come…Not all can wait—certainly not those who are satisfied, contented, and feel that they live in the best of all possible worlds! Those who learn to wait are uneasy about their way of life, but yet have seen a vision of greatness in the world of the future and are patiently expecting its fulfillment. The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come. For these, it is enough to wait in humble fear until the Holy One himself comes down to us, God the child in the manger. God comes, the Lord Jesus comes, Christmas comes.”                                                                                                     -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“In the biblical world, hope does not emerge from the self-aggrandizing act of recounting our successes. It is the desperate plea for God’s intervention that arises out of lament that reveals a flickering glimpse of hope. What about us? Even after tasting God’s fury and wrath, do we still have hope? Do we still have the ability to worship even as our faith is being tested?”                                                                                    -Soong-Chan Rah

“We are not elevated above God or even above God’s creation. We do not stand in the place of Christ, able to incarnate ourselves into another community as if we could operate as the Messiah. Our only hope for meaning and worth is in the fullness of Christ as God’s created beings. Lament recognizes our frailty as created beings and the need to acknowledge this shortcoming before God.”                                                                                 -Soong-Chan Rah

Hymn of Prophecy

“For unto us a child is born, unto us, a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Hallelujah, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. The kingdom of this world, is become. The Kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever. King of kings, and Lord of Lords.  Hallelujah.”    -Handel’s Messiah

Daily Readings: Week 1

Dec 2: Light the purple candle of Hope or Prophecy Read Isaiah 7:14, 9:6-7

Christ is the Hoped For One, the fulfillment of prophecies and the law.

Dec 3 Deut 18:18; Psalm 45:6-7      

Dec 4 Gen 3:19-21; 9:4-12

Dec 5 2 Sam 7:11-16; I Chron 17:11-14

Dec 6 Gen 15:1-6, 22:1-18

Dec 7 Exo 3:13-15

Dec 8 Isaiah 7:14, 9:6-7


This is not who we are!! Right?!

This week US Border Agents sprayed tear gas on men, women, children and babies trying to illegally and legally enter our country as immigrants or asylum seekers at our Southern border. In Alabama, at a mall crowded with holiday shoppers, police shot and then refused medical intervention to a black man—a veteran—who was there. They mistakenly assumed he was killing people, while the real shooter escaped unharmed. In elections earlier this month, we elected leaders who openly use dehumanizing language to describe non-white people or who were credibly accused of sexual assault or fraud.

As we view this recent history, our responses vary. Outraged, some protest, screaming, “This has got to stop!” Others grieve, sobbing, “Lord, have mercy.” Many refuse to look, calling it “fake news.” Overwhelmed, some shrug their shoulders, choosing apathy instead of compassion. Still others, bewildered, utter a desperate plea: “This is not who we are! Right?!”

This is exactly who we are, though. An examination of our history (importantly, not the history reflected by most secondary school standards) reveals that our country, our wealth and our cultural norms are built at the expense of people who are neither white nor Christian. I don’t say this as political accusation or hyperbole, but as a person who has studied a country and a church that I love. We are faithful and brave and willing to sacrifice for others. We also have a history of choosing ourselves first, of excusing unspeakable horrors in the name of God’s blessing to us. The protestant underpinnings of our founding affirm racial hierarchy as part of God’s good design. This led us (and leads us) to justify mission work toward and violence against people of color who were not aligned with the faith. These beginnings are rarely acknowledged, and despite the fact that we continue to take steps toward equality and universal human rights, our majority is suspicious of non-white people, and our cultural norms protect this perspective.

Interested in our national cognitive dissonance—we support a status quo of racialized injustice, while also insisting we do not have a race problem—I think a lot about how we got here, and believe we privilege greedy theologies and nationalistic governance. The great news is that we don’t have to stay here. You can decide to be different today, and you can start by examining our collective history, your individual bias and instinctive beliefs about others, about normal, about right. If we do not engage in these ways, we’ll stay here, and the news of this week will continue, indefinitely.

We have to learn to speak up, not just for the bad, but for the good. As my mom often reminds me, speak up for the good you see, for the choices that value life and honor dignity! Celebrate courage and quiet generosity. Do justice and love mercy. We the people are forming the America we live in. If you think we are better than our most selfish, grasping instincts, then you must develop a capacity to acknowledge and confront those instincts in yourself. We are the people we complain about and those we believe in, and we need to examine how we got here in order to agree with the direction we are heading. If we understand American culture and wealth is built on hierarchies, we can begin to engage in rejecting the fruit that grows out of those systems.

If you find the courage to name and challenge the poison of assumed superiority, though, you might lose your own capital in the process. We tend to demonize folks who challenge the status quo because it can lead to changing the status quo, removing any comfort found there. It is worth noting that cultural norms typically do not support points of view that challenge unacknowledged bias. Consider with me a group of wealthy men gathering for poker or to fish or for drinks, who feel they don’t have to be “careful” in their environment. Imagine one of them referring to women in less-than-honoring ways, and uttering statements about other races or ethnicities based on uninformed stereotypes. His derogatory speech offends those around him. He dehumanizes fellow humans, adhering to notions of gendered and racial hierarchies that are outrageous and inappropriate. It is not okay, ever, under any circumstances to speak of another human the way that he does. The men hanging out with him KNOW THIS to be true, but they freeze, caught between what they know to be wrong and what cultural norms approve. If a man finds the courage to speak up, to confront him or even engage him in conversation, quietly confessing he is bothered by this language, that brave man would ruin the moment. Cultural norms are so powerful that they absolve the racist, sexist man and indict the man who dares to say, “I’m bothered by the way you speak about the women and people of color with whom we all work and worship and live.” The man who speaks up becomes the man who steps out of line, not the man who uttered hate speech. This is the power of cultural norms to destroy us all.

In order for equality and universal value to become normal, we have to challenge every norm that asserts the opposite. It is tempting for some to choose apathy, to stand aloof, to shrug our shoulders when we see evidence that we are erasing our history or assuming value based on race or gender; nevertheless, choosing apathy props up the America we all claim does not exist. Others are tempted to protest, to launch a non profit, to wage war on Twitter or reddit, even while they remain silent when a colleague, churchgoer or family member speaks with bias against another group. We must learn to speak up in every arena we enter.

 We are actively creating the America we inhabit, and as long as we give biased norms the most power, they will control and divide us. We will stay exactly as we are, in hierarchies of race, gender and wealth that refuse to acknowledge themselves, unless we take the brave steps required to change our norms. For the past few weeks, these essays have discussed the courage and independence required to challenge the status quo. I’ll end this series with this final thought: If we want to be a country where everyone is treated as a valuable human, then we must take responsibility for, and speak up against, messages we hear that conflict with this idea.