Tag Archives: Advent

Elizabeth Evans Hagan: Third Week of Advent: Expecting, Yet Not Yet Expecting

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Photo courtesy of love sanctuary.com/2015/12/embracing-both-joy-and-sorrow-this-christmas/

 

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10

 

For a woman expecting but not yet expecting a baby, Advent can be a miserable time.

While songs of “peace on earth, goodwill to men” and “joy the world, the Lord has come!” are being blasted on the radio, this time for the wait-ers among us can often feel more like Holy Week than it does Advent.

But it is the holiday season, and most of us want to be happy. We want to be able to put whatever is bothering us aside and rejoice as the scripture exhorts us too. We want joy—even as much as our life circumstances aren’t naturally joyful.

I would love to offer that joy is a formula that can be followed as many preachers offer: Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last. I’d love to suggest that joy is an emotion of the will that we can just pray harder to make happen. Or, if we force ourselves to sing one more Christmas carol or bake one more sheet of cookies, the joy of the Christmas spirit will find us.

Maybe you’re better at joy than I . . . but it has been my experience that seeking joy in the midst of waiting for children does not come through formulas and cookies. Throughout my journey to become a mother, I’ve waited through some of the darkest days of my life.

Read more here.

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Elizabeth Hagan is an ordained American Baptist minister serving churches through intentional interims in the Washington DC area. She blogs about her adventures in non-traditional mothering over at Preacher on the Plaza. Check out her new book Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility recently released through Chalice Press.

Elizabeth Evans Hagan: Second Sunday of Advent: Infertility and Waiting on Jesus

Dear Readers,

You’ll notice we’re a week behind this Advent because . . . well, it’s Advent and things are hopping–as in hopping all over us. 😉 We’ll publish Elizabeth’s Third Sunday of Advent offering this Friday.  Thanks again to Elizabeth for bravely sharing her story with us.

Advent Blessings!

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“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.” II Corinthians 4:1

I was in labor for almost eight years.

There were ultrasounds.

There was blood work.

There was pain: both physical and emotional.

I felt called to motherhood. It’s as strong as the calling I felt to enter the pastorate ten years ago. It’s as strong as the calling that I felt to marry in 2007.

When I first began the journey toward motherhood, I was naïve.

After being married a year, I thought we’d start trying to have kids and then nine months later pop out a beautiful baby. I saw so many of my friends become mothers so easily. My mind and body felt strong. I saw no groaning up ahead. Why would childbirth not happen easily for me?

I had no idea the process of waiting for a baby can extend Advent after Advent, year after year.

To keep reading, click here.

 

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Elizabeth Hagan is an ordained American Baptist minister serving churches through intentional interims in the Washington DC area. She blogs about her adventures in non-traditional mothering over at Preacher on the Plaza. Check out her new book Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility recently released through Chalice Press.

 

Elizabeth Evans Hagan: Advent: Infertility and Waiting on Jesus

Throughout this Advent, we will be sharing Elizabeth Evans Hagan’s blog series from Faith Forward at patheos.com. The series interweaves the stories and symbols of Advent with the journey of infertility, a journey explored in Hagan’s new book, Birthed: Finding Grace through Infertility (Chalice Press). Welcome, Elizabeth, and thanks for sharing your story and reflections with us. We look forward to reading your book and leaning more into ministry and support for all who’ve been on this journey.

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This is the first in a weekly series of Advent devotionals reflecting on what an experience of infertility can teach us about waiting for Jesus here at Faith Forward.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners . . . Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours.” Isaiah 61: 2, 7

Some of my favorite Advent texts to preach on come from Isaiah. I mean, who doesn’t love an opportunity to “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” and “people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light” on Christmas Eve?

Two Advents ago, only a week and a half before Christmas, I lingered extra-long in my sermon writing chair one morning with cup of coffee in hand with my Bible opened to that week’s Isaiah lection #61. I’d read the passage numerous times before and even preached a subpar sermon on the text in seminary. But on this cold morning bundled up in a fuzzy blanket, something about the beauty of the phrase “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted” caught my attention anew. My eyes could not move on to the next sentence. For it was true: this preacher was still so brokenhearted.

On our sixth, going on seventh year of trying to welcome a child into our family after completing IVF 8 times and 2 failed adoptions already—there was just so much to continue to wonder and weep about.

(click here to continue reading Elizabeth’s post)

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Elizabeth Hagan is an ordained American Baptist minister serving churches through intentional interims in the Washington DC area. She blogs about her adventures in non-traditional mothering over at Preacher on the Plaza. Check out her new book Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility recently released through Chalice Press.

Hannah Coe: Pregnant with Hope

Luke 1:78-79:

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.

Christmas Eve worship, 2014. I was pregnant and uncomfortable. I sat, facing the congregation, belly bulging under my robe. I wondered, “How could I possibly have to use the bathroom again?” I lumbered into the pulpit and read Luke 1:46-55, Mary’s Song of Praise.

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A moment I will not forget. A text full of faith, Mary’s faith. A belly full with the hope and promise of new life, my daughter’s life. A congregation full of love and grace, colleagues and family and friends worshiping together.

Yet, I felt uncertain, a little sad, even. My husband and I were in the final stages of discerning a call to a new place and a new season of ministry. As I mentioned before–uncomfortable. In a matter of weeks, my family moving across the country, newborn and all. Christmas Eve 2015 would look different, but how?

In Luke 1, Mary and Zechariah are on their own Advent journey. When Gabriel visits Zechariah in the temple, Zechariah is overwhelmed with fear. At times on this 2015 journey, I have been like Zechariah—fearful, ready to quiz God, unable to believe what’s right in front of me.

When Gabriel visits Mary, she responds by saying, “I am the Lord’s servant.” At times on this 2015 journey, I have been like Mary—faithful, pondering what God is doing, open to what’s next.

Though their journeys are quite different, Luke 1 ends with both Mary and Zechariah praising God.   Praise from the willing servant, Mary. Praise from the unbeliever-turned-believer, Zechariah.

Transition has, indeed, been our family’s primary experience this year. Master’s degrees completed, new jobs begun, a new baby, a cross-country move—a blur. Yet, as Christmas Eve 2015 comes into focus, I am profoundly and humbly grateful. As God did in Zechariah’s heart, God has turned my unbelief into praise and gratitude. As God did in Zechariah’s heart, God has turned my fear into faith.

May praise, gratitude, and faith find you on your Advent journey.

Tender and Merciful Lord, fill our hearts with praise. When we are fearful. When we are faithful. Turn our eyes to the horizon where Christ’s light breaks upon us, from which Christ’s light breaks through darkness and death. Turn our feet, O Lord, toward the pathway of Peace. Amen.

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A Georgia native and graduate of Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology, Hannah Coe serves as Associate Pastor of Children and Families at First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Missouri.  Hannah and her husband, David, are parents to Katherine and Annalina. They enjoy playing, eating, and the occasional nap.

LeAnn Gardner: Advent Mom

Four years ago, in the throes of Advent season, I was 41 weeks, 6 days pregnant and my eldest would soon be served his eviction notice.

During this time, I went to our local abbey, Mepkin Abbey, where a group of Trappist monks live their lives counterculturally, sustaining themselves in every way. I was walking on the grounds when one of the monks spotted me and said in a knowing way, “The time is ripe for you.” Believe me, I had heard many comments up until then- almost everyone stopped to marvel at the “ripeness” of my belly.

But these words came from a man who was living the Advent experience and whose life was finely tuned to God’s time. There was a knowing, a connection there, of his understanding that the gestation of life reflected the gestation of God’s liturgical time. At that moment, I felt emotionally and unequivocally connected to my Lifesource and the rhythms of God’s time.

The very next day, I delivered that red headed bundle and tomorrow we celebrate his 4th birthday.

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Last week, on Advent Eve, before we were all fully awake he asked, “Mama, when is God going to come and take away the world?”

This question floored me on so many levels; we are not an “end times” kind of family, but more of a “God loves you, God made everything, God is good” etc. When I recounted this to others, they chalked it up to having heard something on TV.

But my intuition tells me that children have a deep sense of knowing and in his little, but wise soul, he is already starting to grasp the enormity of our lives. And maybe even Advent.

Perhaps what he is asking is “When will the pain be gone?” Admittedly, he has not experienced much pain at all (thank God), but maybe just simply being human is a reminder that all is not right (yet) with the world.

Maybe even red headed 4 year olds long for the making of all things right.

If I’m honest, I also know that the Advent of 2011 was my own personal Advent of being transformed into a mother. The exit out of the labyrinth of labor/delivery and into postpartum was one of the most difficult, yet profound of my life.

I am still becoming, still learning what it means to help usher another human being (now two) into becoming empathic, kind, Jesus loving humans. We all have our Advents of sorts, ways in which the Divine molds us, refines us and all the while reminds us that we are not alone.

In the throes of details, transitions and meeting basic needs, I need these “God rhythms” to remind me of my true purpose, whose I am and what time I follow. My prayer this Advent is that I can sit still in the waiting, in the longing, while at the same time embracing the hope that Christ’s birth and promise gives me.

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LeAnn Gardner is a right brained social worker and minister married to a left brained engineer. Together they (sometimes) compose a full brain. They have two boys, ages 4 and 1.

Alicia Davis Porterfield: Limping Into Advent

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned . . .                                           Isaiah 9:2

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It was dark, in those days. Very dark. Rome ruled Israel, the latest in a long line of conquerors. David’s line seemed all dried up after a succession of useless kings who led a great people to ruin. Caesar had ordered a new census with an eye toward his coffers.

The more people he could account for, the more taxes he could raise; the more taxes he could raise, the more people he could conquer. And so on and so on.

There was no one to challenge him in those days, no one who could shake the grip of the Roman Empire. Israel was a conquered people doing the will of a Caesar they neither chose nor revered nor trusted.

And so it was that Joseph put Mary on that donkey to take the long trip to his ancestral home of Bethlehem. They were not going for a great family reunion, tables laden with favorite foods and local delicacies. They were not headed home for a religious celebration with its own time honored traditions and deep roots in their faith.

They were doing the bidding of Caesar, whose command had come at just the wrong time for their lives, just when Mary’s pregnancy was coming to an end. When she should have been home in Nazareth surrounded by relatives and neighbors who could help her through the trial of labor, she was far from home, alone with only Joseph to attend her.

There was nothing about this story that seemed right, nothing that felt warm and homey and comforting. Mary got pregnant too early and under circumstances no one could believe. Joseph, confused and angry, was ready to quietly un-engage her, until an angel intervened.

And if that wasn’t enough, Caesar interrupted the whole thing with his call for a census, requiring a trip to Bethlehem, a place far from the home and family they knew. They would travel all that way, endangering themselves and the baby, so their conquerors could collect more tax money. This is not a happy story. Not yet.

If you are hurting or angry or confused this Advent season, you are in good company, at least according to the actual Biblical story. If you are lonely or grieving this Advent season, your story is their story, a people who had been conquered for centuries, wondering if God had forgotten them. If you can’t be full of good cheer and cringe at the thought of crowded malls and gift extravaganzas and to-do lists longer than your arm, you are not being a Scrooge or a Grinch.

In fact, you may know better than most the real struggle in this story we know almost too well. Perhaps those with troubled hearts might just have the ears to hear the depth of pain and longing the “holly jolly” approach has written right out of the story. This is the quiet story, not the one of hustle and bustle and ringing cash registers.

This is the story that makes room for pregnant teenagers and confused husbands and people who wonder what God is up to—or even sometimes, if God is up to anything, but who go anyway. This is the true story, according to scripture, the story that has almost been drowned out by demands for good cheer and forced festivities that actually have little to do with the nativity.

The birth of Christ was as far from a Hallmark Christmas special as it possibly could be. Don’t be snowed by the hype. If you are hurting in any way, if your heart is troubled, if you are limping instead of leaping, this is your story.

Advent is a time to prepare for the light coming into the darkness, which means that there is indeed darkness in the story. It does not have the last word, praise be to God. But the darkness is there, the struggle, the loss, the grief, the disappointment and anger–no matter how hard the marketers push to convince us otherwise.

If you are searching for that light, longing for it amidst the darkness, limping into Advent, you are not alone. The Bible tells us so.

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Alicia Davis Porterfield serves, mothers, and writes in Wilmington, NC. After the recent death of her adored and adoring father, she is definitely limping into Advent.

 

 

Jeanell Cox: Birthing Baby Jesus

I birthed baby Jesus three times. But before you move on to the next Christmas Eve post citing heresy, please bear with me. I have three boys who were each invited in turn to portray the infant Jesus in church Christmas pageants in two different congregations.

I have a distinct memory of being asked the first time. I was terrified as a first time mother at the thought of handing over my weeks old baby to the teenage girl who was playing the part of Mary. What if he was fussy? Hungry? Just wanted his Mom or Dad? What if she had never held a newborn before? Or, more honestly, what if I simply wasn’t willing to let someone else hold him?

I was at the very beginning of figuring out who this little baby was and how to respond to his cries. I had no intention of giving him to someone else for an hour. But I did, swallowing down my anxieties about the whole thing. And it wasn’t long before I figured out why.

As the young woman clothed in blue began to slowly walk down the candle-illumined aisle, my heart welled up and tears fell down my cheeks. There was my boy snuggled up in white muslin blankets, bright-eyed and cooing at the beauty of the lights against the darkened room. I was transformed in that moment.

Suddenly the fear was gone, and a renewed sense of the importance of Jesus’ arrival as a tiny infant filled me. The world needed an infant to see the love of God so mystically expressed in bright big eyes, round cheeks and snuggles. My sweet baby boy ended up quietly asleep in the arms of his caregiver for the rest of the pageant.

And the second and third times I handed my baby boys to the teen portraying Mary, the fear was gone, but the transformative tears remained.

Bearing babies into the world is hard work, whether they come by fostering, adoption, marriage, or otherwise. Bearing Jesus into the world is sometimes painstaking work.

It may require relinquishing the things that we most fear. It may ask of us things that we never thought possible. It may require working to manage the demands of ministry and the deep desire to care for one’s spouse, child, pet, or self.

It may sometimes require more energy or investment than we think we can muster. It may feel futile, even when God is most at work. It may feel like a risky adventure in uncharted waters. But in our persistence and our willingness to face the fears that come, we are transformed.

Yet we have the opportunity to discover that each and every time we bear Jesus into the world once more, he is also born anew in us.

Perhaps Meister Eckhart says it best:

“We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us.”

Go forth, and may Jesus be born in you and in the world once more this Christmas.

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Jeanell Cox is a mother of three boys and a Board Certified Chaplain. She is currently a CPE Supervisory Education Student at Duke Hospital in Durham, NC.

Jenny Call: Oh, Joy

As we circled the dining room table to light our family’s Advent wreath, the kids got into a fight over who would light the pink joy candle.

I was not feeling very joyful after a full day of trying to keep them engaged and at peace along with working a few hours, attending an evening church service, and participating in our annual tradition of driving around to see the Christmas lights.

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I was tired and frustrated, and wondered why the reality of our family traditions never matched the glowing image in my head of how it “should” be. I was ready to give up on the Advent candle-lighting entirely, but my son reminded me that we had skipped our Bible story reading the night before and had promised to do two tonight.

Should it really be this hard for us to have regular devotions in a family where both parents are ordained ministers? I often feel like I’m failing in the spiritual development of my children, a difficult irony as I have devoted my life to faith and ministry.

The expectations for ministry, discipleship, and parenthood are set exceedingly high for Advent and Christmas. Not only do we preach on waiting, but on the lofty gifts of the season: hope, peace, joy, and love. Meanwhile, the only gifts my kids can think about are American Girl dolls and Legos, and the waiting is excruciating for them.

We speak about light, but our world seems engulfed in darkness as we struggle with reports of torture from within our own government, racial injustice in our law and courts, and increasing allegations of sexual misconduct in our universities.

I remind the college students I serve who are going through finals about the importance of self-care and rest, but my own calendar is full of events with little space for Sabbath renewal. We talk of the joy of the season, but so many people are grieving, hurting, and lonely. We work hard to create magical memories for our children, but worry that it will lead to selfishness and entitlement.

It can feel like too much, and the demands and expectations become a burden instead of opportunities for joy and celebration. Meanwhile we are all waiting to feel something different . . . to be fulfilled.

Our family is in the process of joining a new church. As we were talking to the Associate Rector about the membership process, she asked how the church could help support and nurture us in faith. We answered that they were already providing what we needed.

I asked (with a little hesitation) how we could better serve the church. I want to be actively involved in serving the church, and yet part of me is so weary that I wonder what I have left to give.

But her words were thoughtful and encouraging. She responded, “Just keep doing the ministry you are doing. You are doing the work already. In fact, your most important work is in the ministry of parenthood, and that is so hard. Let us feed you so that you can keep ministering to those in your care.”

I felt both the relief and the challenge in those words.

Too often, I find myself depleted and find it difficult to serve the ones closest and most important to me. I am short on patience and short on faith that the seeds we are planting will take root.

But that’s where the meaning of Advent hits me.

I have always loved the mystery and tension of the “now…but not yet” nature of waiting for something that has already happened. We share the Gospel, knowing that it is true because we have already experienced it in our own lives.

But we wait for fulfillment, when the good news will truly be born in our hearts and transform us. We light candles to remember the light that shines through us from Christ, even in the darkness that surrounds us. We wait, and yet we already have the gifts of hope, peace, joy, and love; they are just waiting to be accepted and opened.

I see these gifts in the wonder of children waiting on Christmas. I see it in my daughter who takes a communion wafer, breaks it, and whispers to me, “The body of Christ.” I hear it in my son singing wholeheartedly with the Christmas hymns. I feel it in the welcoming community of a church that accepts us for who and where we are in our journey.

I know it in the joy that is revealed to me when I understand that God is already present in our messy beautiful lives, just as they are. Emmanuel, God with us. Thanks be to God.

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Rev. Jenny Call is the chaplain at Hollins University in Virginia, a mother of two school-aged children and part of a clergy couple. Her essay, “Letting Go” appeared in A Divine Duet: Ministry and Motherhood (www.helwys.com). She blogs at www.hopecalls.blogspot.com.   

Lynn Brinkley: Advent–This is About Hope!

I spent my Saturday after Thanksgiving watching ESPN’s “30 For 30” documentary on the 1983 NC State Basketball team. The documentary came on back to back, and it was so good, I watched it twice! An amazing story of how an unexpected “Cinderella team” managed to win the National Championship under the legendary coach, Jim Valvano.

In the documentary, “Jimmy V” said he often inspired his team based on the idea that “ordinary people do extraordinary things!” His ’83 team certainly proved that philosophy.

One of his players, Thurl Bailey, (who many deemed an “ordinary” center and no match for the 7-footer from Virginia, Ralph Sampson) shared a letter the team received from a wife whose husband was battling cancer. She became inspired by the ’83 team and played the games for her husband on TV. The wife hoped her husband would hear the progress of his favorite team as he laid in his hospital bed in a coma.

After sharing this letter, Bailey said, “This isn’t just about us winning games, this is about hope!”

This year, I found the transition from Thanksgiving to Advent disappointing to say the least. After a joyful season of giving thanks, observing the beauty of God’s creation in the trees and leaves, and spending time with family and friends over a bountiful meal, I felt overwhelmed with the commercialism of “Gray Thursday,” “Black Friday,” and “Cyber Monday.” I felt saddened over what is happening in Ferguson, MO, and our inability as a nation to deal effectively with racial discrimination, racial profiling, race relations as a whole, and issues regarding immigration.

Despite what is happening in the present world, I have the audacity to hope!

Mark’s Gospel, Chapter 1, vv. 6-7, reads, “Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.

John would have been deemed an “ordinary” citizen in his day. After all, his clothing and his diet seems to suggest that to be true. Yet John saw himself as an unworthy servant who proclaimed One that would come and do extraordinary things. One that would come and restore Israel and the weight of the government would fall on his shoulders. He would be born to a poor peasant mother who would be favored by God to birth the Messiah.

“Ordinary people do extraordinary things!”

He will give hope to those who lie in hospital beds. He will give hope to those who feel inferior or disenfranchised. Most of all, He will give hope to those who are in need of a Savior.

Let us remember Advent is a sacred time on the Christian calendar. The Season of Advent is not about getting good bargains and waking up early to beat the rush. Advent confronts a troubled society and cradles it through a God in the crib.

May the God who calls “ordinary people” to do extraordinary things call us to be unworthy servants like John. May we proclaim to all who are in need that “this is about hope!” Hope in the one who was, and is, and is to come!

 

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Reverend Doctor Lynn Brinkley is mother to Taylor and Director of Student Services at Campbell University Divinity School, where women’s gifts and calling are celebrated. An experienced preacher, Dr. Brinkley utilized her DMin studies to create a manual for preaching etiquette for guest preachers and host churches.