Silent Night, Holy Night – Advent Reflections

posted in: 2018, Advent | 0

Council of Elders

Advent Reflections

by Rev. Elder Dwayne Johnson

Epiphany

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King, behold, magi from the East came to Jerusalem saying: ‘Where is the one who has been born ruler of the Jews? For we have seen the star in the East, and we have come to worship the newborn child.’”
~Matthew 2: 1-2

Epiphany: Take Notice

Take notice.  That’s the moment Epiphany is birthed.  Epiphany, the Season of Revelation, traces back to the Wise Ones from the East who noticed a star which they followed to worship the newborn child. The star led them as a guiding point of light.  Then, a dream of the Wise Ones revealed that darkness offers it own light, perhaps a deeper light as they were warned and guided. Following stars and dreams, prophecies were fulfilled through their sacred travels.

Epiphany invites us, like the Wise Ones, to take notice.  What’s going on around us? What’s going on inside us? What revelations wait in the depth of beautiful darkness?

Take notice.  Then be in awe of what might be revealed.  For Tomoko Niwa, a video that seemed ordinary at first glance, revealed much more: “There’s a video I like of someone doing laundry in North Africa’s Atlas Mountains.  It’s just a man doing the wash on the bank. There’s nothing traditional or artistic about it, but the way he treads on the clothes looks like he’s dancing. There’s no sound, but you almost hear the sound of the clothes splashing in the water.  It’s like witnessing the exact birthing moment of song and dance.”

Epiphany invites us to take notice in a world where too many people feel invisible.   As I write this on November 20, the global Transgender Day of Remembrance, I think of my Transgender siblings who face the threat of being erased by heartless public policies around the world that refuse to acknowledge the spectrum of gender diversity.

In a careless world, turning in on itself in fear and confusion, there must be global communities like Metropolitan Community Churches that aspire to take notice and act for human good, even when unpopular and inconvenient.   “God invites us to notice people, care for people, and to advocate for a system that does not leave anyone behind” (David Lose).

As we take notice, we will experience life in new ways.  Like the Wise Ones, we may embark on unpredictable yet holy travels that transform ourselves and those around us.   Or, perhaps we will witness a birth of song and dance that previously we would have missed.

By Faith,

Rev. Elder Dwayne


Council of Elders

Advent Reflections

by Rev. Elder Hector Gutierrez

Feast Of The Holy Family

*My family is very original
All rights for all families

A LITTLE TOO-UNCONVENTIONAL FAMILY
Feast Of The Holy Family

This Sunday, within the Octave of Christmas, we celebrate the Holy Family –and honestly speaking, anything but a conventional, traditional family. We reread the well known story:

1. Word became flesh through the “Feminine in G*d” action (as clearly stated it great Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff by saying, “Spirit and Wisdom are another feminine expression of G*d”) as placed over Mary. Each can reach their own conclusions.

2. Besides, Emmanuel has two dads: Divinity and Joseph.

Today, as we celebrate the Little Too-Unconventional Family of Jesus, I pray so that we can reach the day when all corners of Earth may also celebrate Diverse Families, to whom belongs this family we honor today.

I raise my eyes so the day comes when we continue meeting a true acknowledgment for every kind of family, and there may not be any judgement upon them for establishing the type of family every one decides to. Fortunately, families nowadays are not what they used to be.

Let us celebrate the support, the understanding, the love, joy and union of Little Too-Unconventional Families and, why not, let us say ALL DIVERSE FAMILIES from every kind, colors, cultures and flavors.

Long live the Little Too-Unconventional Family!
Long live Our Diverse Families!


Council of Elders

Advent Reflections

by Rev. Elder Margarita Sánchez  De León

Christmas

Christmas, time to look at our vulnerability

Christmas: Emmanuel, God among us. With these words we can summarize what Christianity celebrates on December 25, January 6 or January 7. The divinity comes to share among humans, as a baby. I cannot think of anything more vulnerable than a baby. The word vulnerability comes from vulnus (wound) abilis (which can) or quality of being hurt. Who is interested in being hurt? I imagine that no one, now the question rather is: can we avoid being wounded?  What are the theological and ethical consequences of knowing that divinity chose to be vulnerable and not almighty?

After the experiences of the terrorist attacks on the center of cities of the global north (New York, London, Madrid) it became clear that no nation has a shield that can avoid being wounded in its center. Perhaps due to this shocking reality, philosophers from the global north, such as Judith Butler and Adriana Cavarero, have dedicated themselves to reflect on violence and vulnerability. These thinkers invite us to look at vulnerability, not as a threat but as a space for dialogue, as a place where we all meet. It is an invitation to incline. An inclination that changes the posture, instead of  look from above, assume the posture of inclination to heal wounds.

In recent times, discourses and practices that try to displace others have been the norm, in this way our political systems and for our religious systems are generating thousands of bodies that are disposable.  Populist discourses call for the return to the so-called fundamental values and those discourses are used against migrants, against those who have a different religion, against the poor, against ethnic minorities, against queer communities … against everything we understand threatens our security. The question is: on what basis do we build our security?

In the midst of this reality God chooses the vulnerability to walk among us and from that space the divinity inclines towards our own vulnerability, to heal us. Maybe it’s time to look at ourselves from our wounds to heal in community. Emmanuel is here … let’s not be afraid.


Council of Elders

Advent Reflections

by Rev. Elder Rachelle Brown

Christmas Eve

“Love’s Pure Light”

On this evening, Love’s Pure Light arrives!

God’s messengers lead the celebration from the heavens and touching earth.  All of creation living and working in nearby fields find themselves surrounded by the wonder of Love’s Pure Light.

Love’s Pure Light draws people together.  Drawn to follow the light, those who gathered were familiar with the moment of new birth. This evening was different.  The humble place, filled with love and grace, radiated the good news of great joy.

Love’s Pure Light names the purpose of Celebration.  Often our images focus on the baby in a manger. The scripture names the child born as a sign of God with us, and then draws our attention to earth, into the heavens, and all around.

The mystery of the sacred moment bursts into songs of Celebration.  The lyrics of the Angels singing direct our attention to the Glory to God and peace to all on earth.

The source of Love’s Pure Light begins outside of us, surrounds us, and fills us with awe, wonder, and celebration.

On this evening of new life, let us Celebrate Love’s Pure Light, be drawn together and focused on the Glory of God illuminating peace, hope, joy, and love around us all.


Council of Elders

Advent Reflections

by Elder Nancy Maxwell

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Luke 1:51-55 New International Version (NIV)
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up
the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich
away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”

Luke 2:19 New International Version (NIV)
19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

Silent Night Reflections
Luke 1:51-55, 2:19

There are two tracks for the UFMCC Advent Resources this season, both focusing on the 200th anniversary of the carol “Silent Night.” One reflection centers on a justice theme, entitled “No More Silent Night”, calling us to action against a silence that equals death. The second reflection, “Silent Night: Living the Song” examines key words in the lyrics of the carol, seeking a contemplative path. It is difficult to choose between these two compelling themes, reminding me of E.B. White’s quote, “If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world, and a desire to enjoy the world. That makes it hard to plan the day.”

Perhaps, however, we do not need to choose between the action of social justice and the contemplative practice of inhabiting the words of the carol. It very well may be that both action and contemplation cannot be fully experienced without each other. In fact, one without the other can lead to a hardening into self-righteous moral judgment for the non-contemplative social activist, or an irrelevant gazer of one’s navel for the contemplative who shuts out those whose lives and spirits are being crushed by inequality and injustice. For us to have the strength to call out injustices, we need time for prayer, reflection and silence—time to “sleep in heavenly peace.” And in order for the Holy’s “will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”, we need to listen in the contemplative silence for the call to attend to social justice, to consider our personal skills and abilities that equip us to make room at the table for everyone.

Mary serves as a model for balancing contemplation with social justice through her understanding of her role as the mother of the long-promised Messiah. Luke tells us when Mary hears the reason for the shepherds’ visit to the stable, she “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart,” (Luke 2:19). Yet she speaks boldly of God’s desire for social justice when she declares, “The Almighty has shown strength with God’s own arm . . . and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things . . . God has helped Israel, the servant of the Almighty, in remembrance of God’s mercy, according to the promise made to our ancestors, to Abraham and Sarah and to their descendants forever.” Like Mary, may we also hold dear both our need for contemplation and our partnership with the Holy to achieve social justice. May it be so.


Council of Elders

Advent Reflections

by Rev. Elder Ines-Paul Baumann

Third Sunday of Advent

Don’t believe the lies. It wasn’t a silent night. The city was full, bustling with activity as people arrived for the census. No doubt people were catching up with friends and family. Mary was in labor. Her cries and his newborn cries would have pierced any quiet there might have been. Months earlier, Mary cried out in praise. Elizabeth and the baby John within her womb responded to Mary and the presence of Divine Love. Mary’s “Magnificat” is a song of power and hope. Mary knew the truth and would not be silenced. She sang out claiming the Divine Power within her. Are you silenced by your circumstances? Do you silence others? Do you claim your reality and your power? Do you respond to the Christ Spirit in others?
From the “2018 ADVENT TOOLKIT for MCC CHURCHES”

It was one of my earliest failures as a “good Christian”: Quiet time. All the good Christians got up early (looooong before breakfast) to pray and to read the bible. Every good Christian but me. I used to fall asleep. I tried and tried and tried. Honestly, I really was willing to give not only my life to Jesus, but even my mornings!

It started me thinking. And I realized: Obviously I would need a God who would not only prepare the day with me, but who was with me during the entire day. I had to rely on God‘s presence not only in advance of daily routines and challenges, but in the midst of them. I would need an awareness of God‘s presence not only in early morning‘s silence, but also in the noise of the day. If I wanted to find God‘s presence in my daily life, then I couldn‘t find God presence only in the absence of daily life.

With great relief I read the gospels. Sure, they have their moments of silence, their quiet times. But most of the time, people find Jesus in the midst of life. On the streets. In the margins. In the midst of suffering and annoyances. While eating and drinking, walking and discussing, or tearing down the roof of a house. (Imagine a worship service in the midst of construction work and dust! “Pssst! How can we listen to Jesus when you make such a noise!!!”) Jesus didn’t silence them. He listened, he answered, he shared their daily life. And when they were all covered with dust from the broken ceiling, he held a healing session.

MCC also reflects both for me. Yes, we can find God’s holy presence in the awe of silence and quietness. But we also find God’s holy presence in the midst of our lives, our struggles, our neighbors, our voices and all the “construction work” our world demands. It may get dirty and loud when walls are taken down, especially those that want to keep us away from justice, diversity and God’s love. How often people are asked to be silent – not only IN church, but also silenced BY church. Not only for the moment of a worship service, but for their whole lives.

But God didn’t become flesh in order to ask us to turn away from being flesh, from our reality, from our needs, or from each other. On Christmas we celebrate that we can meet God within the flesh, within our reality, within our needs, and within each other. In Jesus, God became human. Let’s be followers!


Council of Elders

Advent Reflections

by Rev. Elder Dr. Candace R. Shultis

Second Sunday of Advent

The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold
5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. 7 But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

8 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” 19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so
long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home.


The Birth of John the Baptist
57 When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. 58 Her
neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they
shared her joy.

59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”

61 They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”

62 Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the
child. 63 He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His
name is John.” 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he
began to speak, praising God. 65 All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. 66 Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.

Luke’s Gospel contains an interesting story about Zechariah and the birth of his son John. (Luke 1: 5-23; 57-80). While serving at the Temple in Jerusalem the angel Gabriel appeared and told him that despite his age and the age of his wife Elizabeth, they were to have a son and were to name him John. Because Zechariah found this news to be unbelievable, he was made mute, unable to speak until what was prophesied came to be. Elizabeth did conceive and did bear a son. When they came to have him circumcised, Elizabeth declared that his name would be John. Not believing her, those present asked Zechariah and he wrote on a tablet that his name was John. Zechariah was now able to speak and gave his own prophesy for what would become of John: that he would be the forerunner of One who would give knowledge of salvation, would forgive sins, would be light to those who sit in night and who would guide people’s feet in the way of peace.

I wonder if we, too, sometimes find the Good News of the Gospel unbelievable? Or are we afraid of what others might think if we go about proclaiming salvation, forgiveness, light and peace? The season of Advent is about getting ready for the greatest gift ever given. Maybe it’s also about finding our own voice of prophesy or proclamation. Do we believe that we are also called to be forerunners who point others to Jesus?

Council of Elders

Advent Reflections

by Rev. Elder Mona West, Ph.D.

First Sunday of Advent

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
(Luke 21: 25-28)

Advent: The End or the Beginning?

My mother, who became a staunch Pentecostal in the last half of her life, was always known to comment on disturbing world events by saying “Jesus is nigh unto the door.” For her, these signs of the times were an indication that the world was about to end, in preparation for the Second Coming of Christ, complete with the destruction of evil, and the triumph of the righteous.

In the 21st chapter of Luke’s gospel, Jesus outlines three signs that signal the end: the appearance of false messiahs; wars and international conflicts; and natural disasters. Not much has changed since the first century. In every age since Jesus has been “nigh unto the door.” In the 21st century, with the election and appointment of immoral leaders, mass shootings and bombings, and the effects of climate change, we seem to be on the threshold of that door into the end.

Advent is a threshold. On this first Sunday of the Christian liturgical year, we hold the end and the beginning in creative tension. That is why this season has always had an apocalyptic element to it. Apocalypse is a Greek word, which means, “uncovering” or “unveiling.” Nadia Bolz-Weber defines it as “a big hope filled idea” exposing the fact that dominant powers are not ultimate powers.

Focus on the doom and gloom of apocalypse, as well as preoccupation with calculating the exact time when the world will end, overshadow its hopeful intent. Apocalyptic writing in the Bible was not meant to scare people into belief, but to encourage their belief in a God who is bigger than the world’s dominant powers.

Movements such as # BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, Time’s Up, and the Migrant Caravans are a “lifting of the veil,” an exposing, of the heresy of domination. The apocalyptic message of Advent is that Jesus as the only begotten has “unveiled God.” God’s advent into our world and into our lives provides a way of transformation—everything is shaken up, laid bare. Old ways of being and the status quo are brought to an end so that something radically new will take its place.

Apocalypse is always with us. Not only does it invite us to have belief in a God who is bigger than the world’s powers, it also invites us to daily transformation as we let go of old habits and attitudes and lift the veil on the racism, sexism, and xenophobia in our personal lives and the lives of the institutions to which we belong.

Thomas Merton has said Advent is “the beginning of the end of all, in us, that is not yet Christ.” Amen. May it be so.