God Words - Advent 2018

During Advent, God reveals the holy to us in unexpected ways. This year, BWC’s artist-in-residence, Bresean Jenkins, and his students explore the coming of Christ in the intersection of stained glass and graffiti . Leaders from the Conference offer their thoughts on hope, peace, faith and love.

The Fourth Week of Advent: love

By Rev. Chris Owens

To Believe

Mary said, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
He shows mercy to everyone,
from one generation to the next,
who honors him as God.
He has shown strength with his arm.
He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty-handed.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
remembering his mercy,
just as he promised to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”
Luke 1:46b-55 

To Ponder

Throughout Luke’s telling of the birth of Jesus, there is one word strangely missing from the text: love. Isn’t that odd? If God’s gift of Jesus Christ a great, definitive act of love, why doesn’t the story say so? After all, we Christians talk a lot about love this time of year.

And maybe that’s the problem. We talk a lot. We speak the word “love” quite often. But perhaps there is something deeper within Mary’s Magnificat that points us to love without using the word. In fact … there is!

Our Jewish older cousins of the faith would highlight a powerful word within Mary’s Magnificat that points directly to the love of God. In Luke 1:50, she celebrates God’s mercy. In Greek, the word is eleos and its closest Hebrew equivalent is a very special biblical word, chesed, which is often translated as God’s “faithfulness” or better yet, “lovingkindness.”

Here is Mary, a humble servant of God, praising God on behalf of all who call themselves faithful servants. She is carrying the embryo of the world’s Messiah in her womb, passionately praising Adonai God for God’s chesed. This is the same God who time after time has shown us lovingkindness by doing mighty deeds, scattering the proud and haughty, feeding the hungry with good things, lifting up the humble, and never ever forgetting God’s own people.

If that isn’t love in faithful action, I don’t know what else it could possibly be!

This Advent and Christmastide, let’s do a little less talking about love, and become a living incarnation of God’s chesed with our families, immediate neighbors, and the wider world. Mary has left us a vision of God’s loving-kindness within her beautiful Magnificat. Together, while it is still today, empowered by the Holy Spirit, let’s make her words into a flesh and blood reality. 

To Pray

Adonai God, with Mary, we praise you for your unceasing lovingkindness. We could praise you all day and night for the wonderful you have done and will do. Fill us to overflowing with the joy of your love, that your gift of Jesus Christ to the world would be made known through the faithful, loving-kindness of us, your holy church. For we pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Rev. Chris Owens is pastor of Trinity UMC in Annapolis, and one fantastic bass player.

The Third Week of Advent: Faith

By Ianther Mills

Advent Faith

Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord Godis my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day:

Give thanks to the Lord,
call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations;
proclaim that his name is exalted.

Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be knownin all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.
Isaiah 12:2-6, NRSV 

Isaiah speaks to a people whose faith was waning as they awaited the coming and deliverance of the Lord God. Isaiah assured the people that Israel's hope and salvation lay not in political alliances, but rather in the God who created all things, made covenant relationship with them, and had proven faithful. Isaiah reminded them that the God who acted before on Israel's behalf can be trusted to act now and in the future. God can be trusted to be faithful.

Like the people of Israel, we are in a time of waiting, for Advent is just that – a time of faithful waiting. We remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus, that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and that the Savior was born and longs to be born in our hearts and lives. And, we look forward to the coming again of Christ when all of his promises will be fulfilled. But Advent faith is more than hoping and waiting. Advent faith is living active hope. 

Dr. Claude Alexander explains faith in this way: “When the meteorologist predicts the weather, we act on that prediction. If the weather forecaster say there’s a hurricane coming, you start acting like it is coming before you see it. You go to the store and start buying bread, water, and all that stuff. You act like you’ve seen it before you’ve seen it, until you see it. All that is based — not on what you’ve seen — but on what you’ve heard. Faith is acting like you’ve seen it before you’ve seen it, until you see it.” (Claude Alexander. “Faith” The African American Pulpi, Winter 2006-2007: p. 59) 

Advent faith is grounded in and claims the faithfulness of God. Therefore, we prepare with certainty for the coming of Christ in our hearts and lives this Advent season.

Prayer: God of our salvation, Holy One among us, thank you for your faithfulness. Hope of the world, Christ Jesus, come!

The Rev. Ianther M. Mills is senior pastor at Asbury UMC in Washington, D.C.

The Second Week of Advent: peace

By Niki Green

To Believe:

I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers. I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it’s always a prayer full of joy.  I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed it until now.  I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus.  I have good reason to think this way about all of you because I keep you in my heart. You are all my partners in God’s grace, both during my time in prison and in the defense and support of the gospel.  God is my witness that I feel affection for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.

This is my prayer: that your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight.  I pray this so that you will be able to decide what really matters and so you will be sincere and blameless on the day of Christ. I pray that you will then be filled with the fruit of righteousness, which comes from Jesus Christ, in order to give glory and praise to God.  — Philippians 1:3-11

To Ponder:

The word “peace” appears frequently in the Bible. It is an important theme that God wants us to understand. Understanding it will help us understand the Word — God’s word.

From my life experiences, I think peace means to trust in God, not worry, and just relax. Although there are many things in life that we tend to stress about, such as school, relationships, and the future, God has it under control. God has a plan for you, one that God created before you were even born. 

You can worry your life away about things that you cannot control, or you can set your mind at peace and trust God because you know that God will provide and take care of you. God doesn’t set you up to fail; trust not only God’s plan, but also God’s timing.

But peace in the Bible also has another, more literal meaning: the absence of war. 

The Bible often mentions making peace, which refers to not fighting with others. God doesn’t want us to fight; God wants us to love and support one another. Even though, with so many different opinions, it may be hard, arguing with someone wastes energy and time that you could be using to proclaim God’s news and helping those in need.

Psalm 34:14 says, “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” Both meanings of peace are found in this verse. This Advent, and always, we should remember that God wants peace for us.  We should try every day to “seek peace and pursue it.”

To Pray:

Dear God: Quiet the things that worry us and help us to trust in you with our whole hearts. Help us to decide what really matters, to give thanks and live with joy each day. Let us be peacemakers and proclaimers of your Word. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Niki Green is a member of Harmony UMC in Falling Waters, W.Va., and a leader of the BWC’s Conference Council on Youth Ministry.

 

Few things can move the heart more than music. As we celebrate Advent, the Rev. Fred Crider lifts up two hymns he wrote for the season.  

By Fred Crider

“All People Shall See It” is set to the tune “Ash Grove” (see UMH #664 “Sent Forth By God’s Blessing.”)  Based on one of the traditional Advent lections, the theme here is one which I first recall being lifted up in sermons by African-American preachers during the civil rights era, which emphasized that: The glory of the Lord will be revealed when ALL people see it, or look for it, together. That’s anticipation for sure.  (The lyrics of the hymn are below.)

The other hymn, “Speaking From the Lofty Pulpit,” is set to “Nettleton” (see UMH #400 “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”) It is about the Baltimore-Washington Conference’s Advent devotional theme “God’s Word.” It uses the story from the book of Nehemiah, chapter 8, where Ezra the priest reads the book of the law of Moses to the returned exiles, expectantly gathered in the city square.  Only one stanza in length,  it touches on the Good Word that God had not abandoned them as a people, and  they would now be expected to align their lives with that Word, doing so with joy (“…the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Neh.8:10b). 

Although clearly not a traditional Advent lection, this Old Testament event, like Advent, is a precursor to a coming celebration:  The Feast of Booths, (or Tabernacles) which recalls their ancestors living in make-shift huts in the wilderness.

Hymns can heighten our sense of anticipation. If we truly believe we gather in worship to actually meet the Spirit of the crucified, risen and ever-living Christ, then everything we sing and do in worship leads us toward increasing that exciting expectation and that joyous anticipation.   

For example:

  • When we gather to praise: “Come Christians Join to Sing,” or “Lord I Lift Your Name on High;”
  • In time of confession and prayer “Amazing Grace,” or “Sanctuary;”
  • During the proclamation of the word: “O For a Thousand Tongues,” or “Pass It On;”
  • For our thanksgiving and response: “Let Us Break Bread Together,” or “Here I Am Lord;” and
  • With the Benediction: “Sent Forth By God’s Blessing,” or “A Charge To Keep I Have.” 

Some hymns and songs engage the heart and refresh the soul. Others feed the mind and challenge us to live out the words we sing.  And all of them point to that grace revealed in the life, death, resurrection, and continuing presence of Jesus Christ … that grace by which we live abundantly now and anticipate living eternally. Thanks be to God!

All People Shall See It 

Suggested Tune: (The Ash Grove, 6 6 11. 6 6 11 D) Welsh Folk Tune #664 UMH 

“Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”  Isaiah 40:5 NRSV

All people shall see it, when those of right spirit
act justly and kindly to friend and to all.          
For God’s word proclaims it, and hope will sustain it;
The Word who is coming will issue that call.  
When we treat each other, as sister and brother,                                                                            
God’s reign will break in and all lands shall be healed.            
God’s vast congregation, each race and each nation,   
shall sing when the glory of God is revealed.                     

At Christ’s incarnation we join celebrations,
rejoicing with wonder at God’s love for all.
While peace songs are sounding from angels surrounding,
the Virgin’s new boy-child will sleep in a stall.    
In Bethlehem’s stable God chose to enable
a long-promised baby to bring saving power.    
The roles are inverted, as grace is asserted;               
the last become leaders; God’s kingdom will flower.           

He asks us for caring and kind, selfless sharing
so poor ones and wealthy may feel they belong.      
When none are excluded then all are included
in joyously singing the angel’s new song.  
Together, God’s people shall see splendid glory,  
the prophets’ great vision will then come to be.     
For Christ now unites us, His Spirit invites us
to live in the wonder of God’s Jubilee!           

Words: R. Frederick Crider ©2013 All Rights Reserved      Scripture:  Isaiah 40:1-5

Speaking From the Lofty Pulpit

Suggested tune:  87.87 (“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” #400)

“The priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly…(and) stood on a wooden platform that had been made for the purpose.”  (Nehemiah 8:2b & 4a)

Speaking from the lofty pulpit
Ezra read the holy law,
till the people bowed in wonder
filled with grief, then joy and awe.
So may we with rapt attention
focus on the saving Word
till we know and love and sing it,                
living out what we have heard.      

Words:  R. Frederick Crider ©2014 All Rights Reserved.   Scripture: Nehemiah 8:1-12 NETTLETON

*The Rev. Fred Crider is a retired Elder in the BWC. See more of his hymns at https://www.fredshymns.com.

The First Week of Advent: Hope

By Rev. Meredith Wilkins-Arnold

To Believe:

"How can we thank God enough for you, given all the joy we have because of you before our God? Night and day, we pray more than ever to see all of you in person and to complete whatever you still need for your faith. Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus guide us on our way back to you. May the Lord cause you to increase and enrich your love for each other and for everyone in the same way as we also love you.  May the love cause your hearts to be strengthened, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his people. Amen.” -- 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 (CEB) 

To Ponder:

The Rev. Meredith Wilkins-Arnold wrote this devotional after just returning from her father’s funeral. We join her in celebrating the incredible and generous life of Walter “Bud” Wilkins, Jr., and the hope he brought to this world. Read his obituary.

My father died on November 17. His last years were in a Veteran's Home, his mind slowly slipping away. Next to his bed was a stack of devotional books. Upon cleaning out his room, it was decided that I would be the keeper of his books. I am so very grateful.

One of his books, a slim gift given by my mother in February of 1979, is entitled “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” It is clear it has been read and re-read. The pages are worn and dog-eared. I love this about it.

The pages he loved most are about peace being the responsibility of us all - about how we must be each other's helper. This is my greatest hope - that we will be each other's helpers, that we will dig deep when necessary and we will know that peace and love are possible. This brings me hope, breathtaking hope, beyond imagination -  that we have been given the gift and responsibility of each other.

To Pray:

(In the spirit of playwright George Bernard Shaw and Bud Wilkins)

Beloved God, “My life belongs to the community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.  Help me to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no 'brief candle' to me. It is a sort of splendid torch, which I have got hold of for a moment. I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to the future generations.” In hope, I pray. Amen. "

The Rev. Meredith Wilkins-Arnold is the senior pastor of Calvary UMC in Annapolis. 

The Story Behind the Words

Jesus was a graffiti artist.

Really, a graffiti artist?

Absolutely, says Bresean Jenkins, the new artist in residence for the Baltimore-Washington Conference. Jesus takes our broken pieces and puts them together to create rare and beautiful things.

This year for Advent, Jenkins invited his students at the West Education Campus in Washington, D.C., where he teaches, to assist in the making of an art piece for the Baltimore-Washington to use in its observance of Advent.

“With art, I never care about what is. I always care about why,” he said “Why does this look like stained glass windows with art imposed onto it? Because that is how I see the church – beauty and ugly coming together to re-create something completely new. This is how I see the church: graffiti.

“I think Jesus was the graffiti guy," Jenkins continued. “He was a rogue. He found beauty wherever he went. Beauty comes from broken pieces, and that's the beautiful thing about stained glass. It’s pieces – all coming together to let the light shine through.”

Jenkins worked with 12 students, from fifth to eighth grade, for four weeks. After much discussion and thought, they developed the concept for the piece. The kids chose the color schemes based on their impressions of Advent’s weekly themes of hope, peace, faith and love.

“As it was being created and people were seeing it, there was a lot of pride,” Jenkins said. 

They even decided to let the imperfections stay. “Imperfections make art,” he said. “In art, young people get to make their own rules. There are techniques in art, but there is no right or wrong way to do it and we have to respect that.”

Reflecting on the Advent words, Jenkins and his students saw faith as “an unequivocal belief that something is going to happen when you have no evidence;” hope as “almost a divine optimism;” love as “an unspeakable emotion of care and concern that propels you to action;” and peace as “calm.”

Jenkins painted the center panel of the installation himself. It features the infant Christ child being lifted by hands.

The images of baby Jesus is different for everyone, Jenkins said. “I’m thankful Jesus did not have an Instagram page and did not take selfies. I’m thankful for that because my connection and how I see him are shaped and framed by my sacred experiences.”

He said one of the things that did influence him was the African tradition of holding up a child, and presenting it as something precious and holy to God. “There’s something so sacred about Mary and Joseph just taking that baby and saying , ‘I don’t know all the parts and pieces, but we’re going to hold this baby up, because whatever God said is going to happen.’”

As a lay person serving Ebenezer UMC in Washington, D.C., Jenkins works with other churches in the area, helping to redefine the community with the arts.

“The arts are the only thing that transcend race, color, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic backgrounds and sexual orientation. It transcends all of that. When you get people concerned about the making of art, people find out all the things that they have in common, instead of focusing on the ways that they are different.”

This Christmas, with the Advent devotional, people in the BWC may have the opportunity to reflect upon a different interpretation of Jesus as graffiti artist.

“I wonder about the Bible story of the woman caught in the act,” said Jenkins. “I wonder if instead of writing in the sand, what would Jesus have done with a wall and can of spray paint? I wonder.”