Come to Bethlehem and be Nourished

Advent’s Hunger Gives Way to Christmas’ Fulfilment

An introduction written by by Donna Frischknecht Jackson, Editor of Presbyterians Today, providing the backdrop to a series of short, inspiring daily devotions through Advent and Christmas 2021.

I was hopeful at the start of 2021. Vaccines for a global pandemic were available. Businesses and churches began reopening. Weddings

that were put on hold resumed. As the months passed, though, hope began to wane. Coronavi- rus variants emerged. Debates on mask wearing escalated. Those tirelessly working for justice grew weary. I found myself searching for cer- tainty in a still uncertain world. And now, as the year ends and the Advent season begins, I find myself, like my biblical forebears, walking in darkness. Perhaps you are walking with me, too.

Now more than ever, we need to hold on to the Advent truth Isaiah proclaimed that “those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined.” And we hold on to that prom- ise together — in a community rooted in prayer and marked with compassion and forgiveness. We cannot walk alone. Nor should we.

We need to find our strength in the Good News of that holy night when a Savior for all humankind came to save us. We need to help one another bolster an all too precarious faith, especially in a world that seems to be emerging from a global crisis no better than it was before. Tempers are rising, patience is shorter, and self-preservation seems to be the star guiding businesses, governments and churches.

During this Advent, what if we seek to be the builders of that peaceable kingdom foretold, boldly committing to build a community that cares for the unloved, the unseen and the unheard? What if we discover once again that all we hunger for is in that ancient feeding trough that cradled a precious gift — a babe who would one day say, “I am the Bread of Life.”

Hearth, home and a loaf of bread

Bread is a key theme for this year’s online devotional, which will continue beyond the four weeks of Advent through the 12 Days of Christmas and end on Epiphany, Jan. 6.

The inspiration for this devotional came from an experience I had just before the pandemic uprooted our lives. For three days, I lived in a community without running water and electricity, mastering the skills of 18th-century open-hearth cooking. I slept on a rope bed with a straw mattress. I washed my face with a bucket of cold creek water. And I baked to feed not only myself, but the many others who were on the same colonial campus participating in other primitive life skills classes.

I didn’t just learn how to make bread in a variety of ways: in a Dutch oven over glowing coals, in an outdoor clay beehive oven and in a bread oven in an old stone fireplace. I was struck with a profound awareness that I should never take for granted my daily bread.

This experience revealed how I needed the help of others to make one loaf of bread even possible. It took many hands to cut wood for the fires, to stoke the embers, to mill the grain for flour, to knead the dough, to wash the pots, to set the table and to offer grace. (Perhaps you can guess which task I gladly took on.)

Howard Thurman joins us

Like Presbyterians Today’s 2020 Advent and Christmas devotional based on Howard Thur- man’s “I Will Light Candles This Christmas,” we will once again be warmed by the wisdom of Howard Thurman. Each week we will reflect on a verse of his lesser known reflection, “The Sacrament of Christmas.”

Thurman — an African American theologian, preacher and activist known for his deep spirituality — viewed the seasons of Advent and Christmas not only sacramentally, but as a time for taking stock of and adjusting our lives. I be- lieve the 2021 Advent and Christmas seasons are asking us to do exactly what Thurman observed: It is time to take stock of and make adjustments in our lives so that we, the body of Christ, can be loving and relevant in the world.

Daily morsels of hope

As Thurman’s wisdom feeds us, we will also break open God’s Word, with daily Scripture verses to ponder, followed by a reflection and prayer. We will journey to Bethlehem, which in Hebrew means “House of Bread” and in Arama- ic means “House of Meat.” We will also make bread and share those loaves with others. We will discover how the placing of our newborn Savior in an animal’s feeding trough, because there was no bed available for him, was symbolic of how — in him — all our Advent hungers would indeed turn into Christmas joys.

If you are entering this holy time weary and worried, you are not alone. I am there with you. Let us go to the House of Bread. Let us read, listen and share. Let us light the candles around the Advent wreath. Let us bake bread. Let us share those loaves with others.

Let us find hope again — together.

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Published by St Johns Papatoetoe

Presbyterian Church, Hunters Corner, Papatoetoe, Auckland, New Zealand belonging to Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ).

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