Third Sunday of Advent: Psalm 126

By Rachel Price

We have all experienced a lack of happiness, whether it be heartbreak, anger, guilt, or sadness. In Psalm 126, we are reminded that God will show us joy, even when it seems impossible to smile. God has blessed us with many things, so there’s always a reason to smile! There will always be an uphill battle, there will always be something to mourn. God will take us out of negative circumstances and give us a reason to shout for joy. We are called to change our hearts for the better: in that, we will find happiness. I struggle with looking for silver linings. I am most definitely a pessimist. This scripture brought back good memories of toiling for a good cause and being joyful with the results that God blessed me with. Also, do not forget that you are not in this alone! Note that the scripture uses “our” and “we.” your sisters (and brothers) in Christ are here for you. You do not have to bear anything alone. Lay your burdens down at the feet of God; let your heart be lightened. You are not alone! Sometimes, I think we forget that we cannot control everything. I know I do, and it drags me down when I get stuck in that thinking. Let God take control of your life, and God will bring happiness into it as God did for Zion. Bad things happen, and it is okay to be down, but keep your chin up because God has happiness in store for you!

Rachel Price is Events Coordinator on the 2017-2018 national leadership team of AB GIRLS, American Baptist Women’s Ministries. For more information on the national leadership team, visit www.abwministries.org/nlt.

 

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Second Sunday of Advent: Mark 1:1-8

By Grady Nun Tha Iang

Have you ever felt so helpless that you just want to scream and shout at the top of your lungs for someone to help you? You’re not alone. Recently, my relationship with my boyfriend is slowly breaking up my relationship with my family and I don’t know how to mend it. They are both important to me and choosing one over the other is impossible. It’s at times like these that we need Jesus the most: the only Son of God and our only salvation, promised to us since the beginning of time.

It’s hard to admit that we’re all fragile people, capable of hurting and being hurt. It’s also hard to admit that we are wrong. Whenever someone corrects us, we take offense and put up barriers around ourselves, trying to convince ourselves that we are not wrong. The same applies to me. Whenever my parents point out my weakness, I pretend it doesn’t exist even though I know that Jesus can see it all, no matter how much I try to hide it. But we can find in Mark 1:1-8 that if we admit our weaknesses and repent our sins, that Jesus will baptize us by the Holy Spirit. As painful as it is to experience it, failure is part of what makes us successful. The best way to achieve true success is to learn more and be strengthened by our mistakes.

We light a  purple candle on the second Sunday of Advent to represent the hope of Christ coming to the world. This reminds us that, that even in the face of darkness, we can have hope. Even in the face of total defeat, have hope. Even in the face of emotional teen crises, have hope. Without hope, we’ll become empty shells of negativity. That’s not the plan that God nor Jesus have for us. If God can forgive Saul and turn him into his prophet as Paul, then have no fear. Even if we see nothing good about ourselves and think that we’re too full of mistakes, think twice. God made us for a reason. We’re all women with God’s purpose: to do God’s work. So for the second Sunday of Advent, let’s look back on our mistakes and repent. Remember: Failure is the start to success. Hope is the start to a brighter future. Repentance is your connection to Jesus.

Grady Nun Tha Iang serves as the Promotions Coordinator on the national leadership team of AB GIRLS.

First Sunday of Advent: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9

By Anna Kouadio

Last month was a very special month, the month of Thanksgiving. That is when we give thanks to all the people who affect our life: family, friends, and the most important, our Lord. This when women and girls throughout the world come together and realize how far along we have come, not only in the eyes of others but in the eyes of the Lord. But our thanks-giving shouldn’t end with the end of November.

During Advent, we prepare ourselves for the birth of our Lord. There is no possible way to ever thank God enough for all God has done, but 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 says the thanks that shows God a little bit of our love, and how grateful we are for God’s presence in our life. It reminds us to be thankful for the savior who is about to be revealed in the birth of Jesus. Paul says, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

These word are powerful because they tell the truth of the world. With God in our lives, we women and girls of the world wouldn’t have achieved as much as we have done. God is our light, God is the reason we are here. Without God, the women before us wouldn’t had been able make a way for the women and girls of today. Our best thanks are to be sure God knows the strength of our faith and love. The most important thing is always to be thankful for all God has done for us, especially for all the women who came before to create American Baptist Women’s Ministries and AB GIRLS. Those women created a place for women and girls to call home. I say this because I feel at home in this organization. Home isn’t just a building; it’s not just a place. It can be people or things that makes you feel special, let you know that you’re special, and where you always feel welcome. And, with thanks to God, many women and girls in future generations will have that home.

Anna Kouadio is Coordinator of Mission on the national leadership team of AB GIRLS, American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

Fourth Sunday of Advent: In Her Shoes

By Deborah Malavé Díaz

4thAdventVickyvSIn Puerto Rico it feels like we celebrate the longest Christmas in the world. Throughout my childhood, every Christmas morning my kid sister would wake me up several times during the night to see if Santa had already left the presents and gifts for us. By the time I was nine years old, I already knew the truth about Santa but for my kid sister Santa was as real and as good as ice cream.

It was 1975 and by Christmas my sister, a very precocious five-year-old, was very excited about the gifts we were just about to receive. She woke me up every hour on the hour to see if Santa had left our presents, until finally, around five o’clock a.m., there they were… our presents. She eagerly opened her gift and it was an educational, colorful, cute plush owl, from the campaign “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute.” Woodsy the Owl came with zippers, bottoms, laces, snap bottoms, and hooks to help children learn how to dress themselves.

She looked at it and hugged it and started crying. As she cried hugging her owl she said “Mi buhito, yo no quiero mi buhito,” which means: “My little owl, I don’t want my little owl.”

I didn’t want to be in her shoes. She kept crying louder and louder, and it woke up my mom. She came and took us back to our bedroom and, consoling her, explained that probably Santa made a mistake; it was very possible that he was on his way back with her gift and Mom asked my sister to go back to sleep and wait. My sister looked at her in horror and, still crying, told my mom: “Don’t you understand?!!! By now Santa should be by New York and for sure will not come back to Puerto Rico just for me!!!”…silence. As I looked at my mom’s face, I didn’t want to be in her shoes either. I lay by my sister’s side on her bed as she cried herself to sleep. Later, that morning she got a cool projector and whole bunch of gifts that I’m sure were meant for my cousins. I can’t remember what I got that 1975’s Christmas. But what I’ll never forget is the whole “owl scene” and my sister in despair because for sure Santa would not come back just for her.

In this time of Advent, as we are expectant for the coming of Jesus, I find myself wondering whose shoes are we in? Are they the shoes of the little girl in despair thinking that no one will come back just for her? Or are they the shoes of the mother, without the proper words or simply speechless amidst hopelessness? Or are they they shoes, maybe, of the older sister, watching it all happen and feeling just a little relief?

Psalm 80:3 says, “Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.” These are the shoes I want all of us in. Let’s wear the shoes of knowing that Jesus came to restore us and will come back for us; the shoes of knowing that in our hopelessness he will save us. Let’s be in the shoes of bringing unto others the shine of God’s salvation.

Deborah Malave DiazDeborah Malave Diaz is national coordinator of Events for American Baptist Women’s Ministries. 

 

Third Sunday of Advent: My Soul Magnifies the Lord

By Patricia Hernandez

3rdAdventFunchye“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” (Luke 1:46-47, NRSV)

As I was reflecting on Mary’s Magnificat, I was drawn back to a time early in my ministry when I served in a missional ministry with migrant farmworkers. One summer we decided to hold a healing service for the Growers and the migrant farmworkers who were often at odds with each other. People laughed and said no one would come. Especially, they said, we would never get the Growers—the farm owners—to come.

But we prayed. And prayer is a mighty thing, a Mary Magnificat kind of a thing.

One Grower did come. And some skeptics standing by laughed and said, “See, only one!”

They teased and taunted till he wanted to leave.

But we prayed. And he stayed. Prayer is a mighty thing…

He was the only one. But he was enough. Now there was in the crowd a woman who had lost two children to pesticide-related deaths. She was bent over and twisted up. As she shared her story, her pain, her loss, the Grower was moved to tears.

He walked over to her, placed his hands on her shoulders, looked her in the eye and said, “I’m sorry.” And one Grower was enough. In that action, Christ was present. Later, Bernadette, the farmworker, said that she had never felt such love flow into her. And Jack, the Grower, said he had never felt such love flow out.

Both were healed and restored.

And a bent over woman and an over-powering man embraced.

She was raised up.

He bowed down.

Both became part of God’s family.

pat-h-prayingAll of this came back to me as I was reflecting on Mary’s Song of Praise, pondering the possibilities of this life changing event, her tumultuous, tummy-turning harbinger of the world to come, and the One who would usher it in.

She sings,

“He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.” (Luke 1:52)

Or we might say, “He has knocked down farm owners,

and pulled migrant farmworkers out of the muddy cornfields.”

Reconciliation is a rough process: a muddy, mucky, toppling, turning, but ultimately transforming kind of a process.

Reconciliation is no passive process but a passionate, purposeful re-making that results in an explosion of new life and new possibilities.

“For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert.” (Isaiah 35:6)

With Mary we wait, patiently, pondering the tumultuous tide of seasonal striving.

While resolution came to Jack and Bernadette on that day, there continues to be injustice in the way that farmworkers are treated, and in the positional power that divides so many.

Let’s reflect on the things in our lives that need to be overturned, that…

barriers may be broken

bridges built

and bonds of community restored

that we may be and become the body of Christ with and for each other,

bursting into song with Mary:

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” (Luke 1:46-47)

Patricia-HernandezRev. Dr. Patricia Hernandez is national director of American Baptist Women in Ministry/Transition Ministries.

Second Sunday of Advent: Stumps Bearing Fruit

By Angel L. Sullivan

2dAdventunderthesun“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse, from his roots a branch will bear fruit,” (Isaiah 11:1, NIV).  

These are the words written in the beginning verses of Isaiah.  As I read this verse from the prophet Isaiah, I could not help but to ponder on a stump bearing fruit. Have you ever looked at a stump?  Stumps are what is left after a tree has died and cut down. People often stub their toes on stumps, and if a stump is left in a person’s yard it is usually ground up and hauled away.  Stumps are thought to detract from a home’s landscape. But God says in this passage from Isaiah that a shoot will come up from a stump and bear fruit.

angel-advent-picSometimes we may see ourselves or our lives as a stump. We may feel as if we have no purpose, or that we are a nuisance to others, or that our life is in ruins. However, God has a way of looking at unexpected, disappointing moments in our lives–things that may appear dead and hopeless–and bring new life into them and into us.  The Advent season is a reminder that we have a savior born to us who gives us daily rest, wisdom, and understanding.  All we have to do is turn to him and trust him.  We have the assurance that, despite our shortcomings, he will not judge but through his mercy and grace Jesus will help us to continue towards righteousness.

God lets us know that through a tiny baby born to poor parents, from a town called Nazareth where “nothing good comes from” (John 1:46),  we are forever protected. In that day, God tells us, the root of Jesse will stand as a banner. All the peoples of all the nations will rally to him and his resting place will be glorious. God be praised.

AngelSullivan2013smThe Rev. Angel L. Sullivan is national president of American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

Christmas: The Time Is… Now! (Isaiah 9:2-7)

Photo by Natesh Ramasamy, 2012, used by permission CreativeCommons.org.

Photo by Natesh Ramasamy, 2012, used by permission CreativeCommons.org.

By Virginia Holmstrom

Isaiah 9:2-7

On Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus the Messiah, whose birth made real God’s kingdom on earth. I ponder the Scripture’s mixture of tenses that describe the fullness of God’s reign on earth. Isaiah 9:2-7 is a good example of this. I read Isaiah 9 as a prophetic proclamation of the coming of God’s reign someday. But verse 6 tells me that a child has been born for us, and his authority brings justice and righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. So, again I ask, “When is the Kingdom of God coming?” For those who heard Isaiah’s voice in 700 B.C., would it come with the birth of the Messiah? For Christians today, will it happen one day when Christ comes again? Has it already begun? My question is the same question asked by the Pharisee in Luke 17:20-21: “When is the kingdom of God coming?” Jesus answered him, “The kingdom of God is among you.” Now.

With Christ in my life, and in community with others who follow Christ, then what shall be my role as a citizen of God’s reign on earth? I am startled as my eyes instantly fill with tears. The promises associated with the coming of God’s reign on earth feel so distant from the reality of life today. In the kingdom of God there is endless peace. There is justice and righteousness. There is equity for the poor. And the list goes on; Jesus frequently talked about the kingdom of God in the stories recorded by the Gospel writers.

JESUS MAFA. The birth of Jesus with shepherds, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48387 [retrieved November 4, 2015].

JESUS MAFA. The birth of Jesus with shepherds, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48387 [retrieved November 4, 2015].

I straddle an uneasy gap between a righteous and holy realm that has already come, but not yet come. I recall the words to a Christian song from the Taizé community: “The kingdom of God is justice and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Come, Lord, and open in me the gates of your kingdom.” There is a call in those words that I cannot ignore. I cannot turn away with resignation that God will rein on earth someday in the sweet by and by.

My ministry with women and girls is dedicated to empowering women and girls to live into God’s purpose for their lives. Can you visualize with me how God’s kingdom on earth will be when women and girls in our churches, our neighborhoods, our nation, and the world are encouraged and empowered to fully and freely exercise their gifts. . . of leadership? . . . contributing their voices at peace treaty tables? . . . preaching the Gospel of Christ? . . . serving God’s people in every capacity? The time is now. Unto you, this day, a child has been born! The kingdom of God is here. Now!

Oh, God, open in us the gates of your kingdom. Amen.

Virginia Holmstrom 2012 smVirginia Holmstrom serves as the executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries.