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Advent reflections for days of waiting…

Several members of the seminary community offered thoughtful reflections for our readers in keeping with the special season of Advent.

Challenged and confronted…

During this Advent season we are faced with the reality that life in church and society in the past, and also today, is colorful, mixed, and never predictable, and it is with this recognition that we wait and wonder, with eager expectation, to be challenged and confronted by the present and coming One.

However, we are not too sure whether we really want the Lord to come to us.

We are not too sure whether we are prepared to accept the demands that such a coming would make upon us. We are too settled in the familiar and tested patterns of life; settled in the cycle of protest and adjustment; settled in playing the political game for better or for worse; settled and secure in the grooves of life.

We ask: Do you, O Lord, really want to come to us? Why don’t you leave us comfortable in the doctrines that we have developed after much debate and hair-splitting? Why don’t you leave us comfortable in the established patterns of ministry, against which we occasionally chaff and complain, but rarely want to confront; leave us comfortable in the ways we have interpreted health and healing, wealth and blessing; leave us comfortable in the routine predictability and the unchallenging ordinariness of our lives.

It is in this context that we are reminded again about the coming of the Lord, accepting the Good News that our salvation is nearer to us than we have anticipated, and prepare to stand with gratitude and expectation before the Human One and humbly say: “Come Lord Jesus.”

Let us pray:

God of mercy and of grace,

You constantly startle and surprise us;

You shake us out of our complacency and casualness;

You reveal your presence to us

in unexpected places

in unexpected times

through unexpected people and

in unexpected forms.

As we enter the season of Advent,

As we await the coming of your Son;

May this reality enable us to be receptive and responsive,

Awake and alert to the demands of the Gospel.

This we pray in and through the present and coming One,

Jesus, our eternal contemporary. Amen.

Jayakiran Sebastian, Dean of the Seminary

Being present in anticipation

Advent is a time of amazing anticipation and expectation. It is a season of awaiting the second coming of Jesus. It is a time of envisioning who we are called to be in the world in the meantime — in between the first coming of Jesus and the second. But we often want to rush past it to get to the excitement of Christmas. We get wrapped up in the Baby Jesus in the Manger story, the hubbub of holiday happenings, and the secular anxiety of getting the most out of each and every day. We get into the shopping, decorating, and gift buying frenzy. It happens to most of us.

I remember moments in my own life when the craziness of preparing for Christmas meant that Advent got shortchanged. Even pastors get caught up in it. There is so much to do, and it seems like there is so little time to take care of it all.

But remembering to stop and be present in the many miraculous moments of Advent is important. Being present means to be connected to the moment you are currently experiencing, to be aware of what is happening around you, and to be happy and at peace in those situations.

Being present in anticipation means to sit in the midst of the waiting and expectation. There are two kinds of waiting — passive waiting and active waiting.

Passive waiting means you allow things to happen around you without intervening or doing anything in the middle of that wait to help time move along. It means simply letting things happen around you without action. It can be relaxing to let this happen, but it can also be tough for some of us “Type A” personalities.

On the other hand, active waiting means to be physically, emotionally, and psychologically active in the moments, helping with the wait by being actively part of the world around you, and engaging the people and places in your life. Active waiting means prayerfully preparing your heart and mind, and it means attending to the faith traditions of your community of faith to be present. This is more my type of waiting.

This Advent season, take time to be present. Spend time in the moment — not in the busyness of preparing for what’s to come. Whether you are actively or passively waiting — do it intentionally. Be present with the people in your life. Be present in the moments that are happening around you. Be present. Let that be your Advent Miracle.

Dr. Karyn L. Wiseman, Associate Professor of Homiletics

What are we waiting for?

(Based on Isaiah 1: 10-20)

Here we are. Advent is upon us. And so we wait.

In our recollection, we await the birth of our promised savior. We journey to Bethlehem.

In our expectation, we await the return of our risen Lord. We yearn for the New Jerusalem.

Or, if we’re like my little boys, we simply await the countdown to Christmas toys.

But what are we waiting for?

Our candles and the liturgy of their lighting tell us we are waiting for hope, for joy, for love, and for peace. And we are.

We are waiting for hope because our days are dark, not only because winter is here. Our days are dark because we live in fear. Our days are darker still because we face these fears alone. Whether because we are too proud to admit them to one another, or because we are too busy to see each other as we are even as we sit side by side in class, in worship, and at table. So we wait for hope.

We are waiting for joy. Too often we’ve cried. Not often enough has anyone heard. Each new day seems only to bring new pain. Though we would count our blessings, our griefs overwhelm us. Sorrow has been our bread. Adversity has been our cup. So we wait for joy.

We are waiting for love. Too often we’ve been left out. Too often we’ve been left behind. We always seem to find ourselves alone. And this, no matter how many people surround us. Indeed their presence oddly seems only to increase our distance from them. So we wait for love.

And we are waiting for peace. Our world is at war. Our nation is engaged in a war without determinate ends that, thus, has no end. Our communities are in strife. We are enraged that our neighbors seem so callously indifferent to the sanctity of human life. We are divided from one another even as we are divided within ourselves. So we wait for peace.

But what are we waiting for?

Advent, we are told, is a season of preparation. So, we are waiting to be ready…

Yes, Advent is a season of preparation. But in truth we turn every season into an endless preparation. Though, many times, I am not sure we ourselves know for what it is that we are preparing. Still, we’re waiting to be ready.

But what are waiting for?

Even as we prepare ourselves, while we wait for all these things, Isaiah suggests God is waiting for us. In the midst of all our spiritual regeneration and liturgical celebration, in the midst of our vocational preparation, the prophet brings us a different word.

What, Isaiah asks, is all of this?

To what does all our recollection and expectation amount?

Who cares about Advent, about purple banners and candelabras?

The Lord asks us, what are you waiting for?

What difference does another season make?

What matters another special service?

The Lord asks, what are you waiting for?

If you are waiting for hope, do justice.

If you are waiting for joy, be merciful.

If you’re waiting for love, love your neighbor.

If you’re waiting for peace, forgive your enemy.

If you’re waiting to be ready, do something.

What are you waiting for?

Another war in which our security comes at the expense of solidarity with widows and orphans

Another trial in which public order comes at the expense of public justice

Another election in which the money of the few drowns out the voices of the many

Another policy in which profits are privatized while losses are socialized

What are we waiting for?

Another liturgical season

Another uplifting sermon

Another spiritual practice

Even as we are waiting for the Lord,
the Lord waits for us

God’s delight is not in our spirituality.
God delights rather in our doing justice.

God’s pleasure is not in our liturgy.
God is pleased in our rescuing the oppressed.

God’s joy is not in our theology.
God takes joy in our defense of the least and the last.

What are we waiting for?

In a world in which those charged to serve and protect shoot first and ask questions later.

In a world in which a jury of peers looks utterly unlike the one owed justice.

In a world in which the leader of the free world condones torture and commands the targeting of civilians.

In our world,

We might do better to observe Advent in the streets than in our sanctuaries,

We might do better to make our prayer by way of making protest,

We might find that the things for which we wait can’t be found in the friendly confines of the Church, but might readily be found in the strangeness of the world.

The prophet tells us what God is waiting for.

Do good
Seek Justice
Rescue the oppressed
Defend the orphan
Plead for the widow

What are we waiting for?

Derek Woodard-Lehman, Visiting Assistant Professor of Ethics.
Dr. Woodard-Lehman preached this message Dec. 1 in chapel at the seminary.

Waiting with those in line with you…

Many years ago, while on my seminary internship, I attended a synod youth event with a group of kids from the congregation.

Lines for the cafeteria meals were particularly long, so I would often sit and look over the program materials for the day, as I was one of the small group leaders. Once the line shortened by a good bit, I would then get my food and still have plenty of time for the next session.

During the final breakfast, I took my usual spot to wait for the line to dwindle. I noticed people walking by me with a menu item that caught my eye. Oatmeal! I love real oatmeal — the kind that is slow-cooked and so thick you have to scrape it off with a spoon. I add raisins, brown sugar, and drown the whole thing in milk.

By the time I got to the pots of yumminess, I was crushed. All the oatmeal was gone. I found the dining hall manager, who told me they were making more. It would just take time. I understood and knew the wait would be worth it.

As I prepared to wait, I noticed other folks were gathering around the empty oatmeal pots, looking disappointed there was none. I went to share the good news with them that more was on the way! Some left immediately, saying they didn’t want oatmeal badly enough to wait for it. As the minutes dragged on, people began to leave one at a time, saying they had places to be. Finally, only two of us were left. We were both oatmeal aficianados and shared our mutual love of the breakfast food as we finally were able to prepare our bowls. A big, steaming pot of of fresh oatmeal had finally been rolled out the door — enough to feed 50 people. Only two of us were fed.

For me that experience is a lot like the Christian life, especially during the season of Advent. We don’t know when Christ will come again. There is nothing we can do to speed it up or slow it down. All we have is the promise that it will happen. In the meantime, we simply remind others that Christ is on the way and encourage them to stick around. Advent is the season to prepare your proverbial bowl, get to know those in line with you, and light a candle of hope.

Tom Henderson, Director of Church Relations

An Advent “foot” note

I have never been one for “putting my feet up.”

Even when chronic allergic asthma forced me into “retiring” on medical disability six years ago I managed with reduced stress and careful attention to a treatment protocol to remain pretty active. The treadmill has been my friend. Because I am a writer/editor by trade, and often thanks to the miracle of modern technology, I have had the blessing of being able to continue a writing career relatively uninterrupted.

That was before the episode of “the foot” began September 2. While walking to meet my granddaughter at the school bus stop I experienced searing pain in my left instep. No twisting or stumbling. I was just walking, mind you. The diagnosis was a “stretched” tendon. It should feel much better in a month or two. But it might take up to a year to completely heal. The injury is not uncommon for someone entering the golden years. I will be 70 in May. Two weeks later I got out of bed and while still barefoot rammed the forefoot on the same foot hard into the curved end of a rocking chair I would have been far better off sitting in. I saw stars at 7:30 am.

Terrific bruising and inflammation quickly emerged with attendant swelling. Over weeks three sets of x-rays and an MRI showed no fracture.  Yet, the two injuries seem to conspire against me. Sometimes my foot has felt better and I have begun to resume activity of the normal kind, often wearing a special shoe, only to find such behavior, especially climbing stairs, makes it angry.

And so this Advent season I am experiencing a second kind of waiting — for healing and a “cure” I have been promised will come if I only behave myself, reduce my activity for a period of time, and take enough of the anti-inflammatories that at sufficient doses do not agree with my stomach. Reduced walking also relieves the discomfort in my hips, left knee, and ankle resulting from an altered gait. As I write this my feet are up.

In the annals of medical history my plight is quite incidental. But it has been a reminder that “waiting” for healing does not come on one’s own timetable, if it comes at all. And waiting of this kind sometimes involves pain and great discomfort, wondering how matters will turn out in the end. As I’ve waited I’ve also seen the pain of others paraded across my TV screen, in Ferguson, New York City, Cleveland, and in our own Norristown neighborhood. Who could imagine that a father of two, walking home at night along a Bridgeport, Montgomery County, street decorated with holiday lights could be run over by not one but two SUVs, and killed? Both drivers left the scene.

O Jesus, is there no end to humanity’s pain? Come Lord Jesus!

And so we wait, in all kinds of ways, for the light of a new season. We pray the darkness in our lives may once more be broken and overcome by the insurmountable Light for our lives.

Mark Staples, Seminary Writer

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