Posts Tagged Advent

I decided to make a list: 20 actions to cultivate hope – Mary Hix


Mary HixLast Advent, in the midst of a family crisis, I did not feel hopeful. More like cynical and terrified, actually. But I wanted to find a way to practice or cultivate hope as part of Advent. Is it possible to practice hope when despair seems easier or more realistic?

Turns out there is a good bit of research about the importance of hope. Hope is NOT positive thinking, but changing my mindset was foundational in cultivating hope. Paul claims in Romans 5:4 that hope is the final good that comes from the character that suffering can produce. Huh? Character produces hope?

If character is doing and thinking the right things, even in the midst of terrible circumstances or deep fear, then perhaps undertaking specific actions could foster hope. Maybe this was worth a try.

I came up with a list of items and asked my family to help me stay accountable in practicing hope. I wrote down a list of action steps on the glass of the French door by the breakfast table. We each chose an item every day to practice and agreed to talk about our experiences.

This activity didn’t eliminate my fear, but I did feel hopeful that I was doing something. Maybe I could tweak my feelings. Maybe I could experience Advent in a new way. Maybe I could lighten my darkness. Maybe I could celebrate the coming of the Light of the World with a new appreciation for both light and darkness.

Maybe you can, too.

  1. Read a positive story about someone helping others.
  2. Call a friend who is hopeful or will make you laugh.
  3. Do something kind for a stranger.
  4. Give a compliment to every coworker today.
  5. Think of a different thing you are grateful for at every stoplight or stop sign.
  6. Journal about ways God has helped you in the past.
  7. Reframe one automatic pessimistic thought about a specific situation or person.
  8. Write a positive post card or note to someone.
  9. Reconnect with nature by taking a short walk, watching the clouds, listening to the birds, counting the stars.
  10. Adopt a positive breath prayer in the form of a simple, memorable phrase or sentence, and say it 10 to 20 times throughout the day.
    A few examples:  My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.  The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.   Abba, I belong to you.   Holy One, heal me.   I am God’s beloved child.   Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.
  11. Decide on one goal for 2020. Write it down and think about action steps for that goal.
  12. Watch a funny cat or dog video on YouTube – really!
  13. Pray a sentence prayer all day for someone else.
  14. Visualize a happy image, place or situation for 30 seconds.
  15. Keep a list of all the positive things that happened today.
  16. Fast from TV, radio, or Internet news.
  17. Make Romans 15:13 your prayer just before sleep.
    May the God of hope fill me with all joy and peace as I trust in him, so that I may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  18. Engage in conversations about what gives people hope and what practices cultivate hope.
  19. Plant a winter bulb that will bloom inside and watch it grow.
  20. Tell someone a specific prayer need and ask them to pray for you.

A year later, my family crisis has passed. But in a world that seems dangerously out of control, I have other compelling reasons to commit to cultivating hope. Maybe you do, too. After all, as Paul points out in Romans 5:5, “hope does not disappoint.”

May we all find the truth of the power of hope during this Advent and throughout the coming year.



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Mary’s song, let’s be open to its subversive message – Russ Dean*

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Jesus, Mary and Joseph! American Christianity’s Shattered Witness

Bill Leonard“Take the Bible: Zechariah and Elizabeth, for instance. Zechariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist. Also take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus. There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.”

That’s how the Alabama state auditor defended U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore as some eight middle-aged Alabama women came forward to accuse Moore of sexually harassing or stalking them when he was 30-something and they were teenagers, the youngest and most graphic at age 14.

Welcome to Advent in America, 2017. Advent, those four weeks before Christmas when Christians declare that “the word became flesh and dwelt among us,” is the church’s witness to Christ’s incarnation, and against our culture’s ceaseless effort to Christianize Black Friday materialism. This Advent, however, the Jesus Story has been sordidly deployed in defense of a political candidate beset by shameful accusations and ineffectual self-righteousness. Note to Alabama Christians: Vote for Roy Moore if you feel you must, but for God’s sake, leave Jesus, Mary and Joseph out of it!

In a Nov. 19 New York Times interview, Brett Pitman, pastor of Highland Baptist Church in Muscle Shoals, Ala., sums up the current religio-political dilemma for congregations in Alabama and the nation: “I have people in my church who are strong liberal-leaning Democrats and strong right-leaning Republicans. Politics in a church is a divider.” Pitman’s words portend the future for churches, not only if Moore is elected, but also if the removal of the Johnson Amendment is finally approved in the tax bill now pending in Congress.

The original amendment, attached to the 1954 tax code, forbids (but seldom enforces) nonprofits, including churches, from endorsing particular candidates. It does not prohibit clergy or laity from speaking out against or advocating specific policies and practices of politicians or government agencies. The new law would permit greater candidate specificity and the possibility that churches become tax shelters for direct campaign funding. Approval promises to divide congregations over which candidates are “Christian” or at least supportive of “Christian agendas,” perhaps giving dangerous new meaning to the words of the Advent hymn, “how still we see thee lie.”

Various religious groups have offered opposition to abolishing Johnson, including the witness of our friends at the Baptist Joint Committee for (real) Religious Liberty who warn that weakening the amendment “would divide [faith] communities and distract from their mission.” Yet other Christians demand the right to politicize their congregations to the max, implicitly connecting Democrat or Republican policies and politicians into their confessional identity.

This Advent, the public witness of American Christianity isn’t merely compromised; it is shattered, with Roy Moore’s candidacy and the U.S. Congress among the worst of a great herd of enablers. Odds are that before the last Advent candle is lighted Roy Moore will be elected; and churches can expand their candidate-funding for certified “Christian candidates,” while tightly clinging to state-supported tax exemption and the neo-Constantinian ministerial housing allowance for their state-privileged clergy. “O Mary, don’t you weep, don’t you mourn.”

Amid this shattered koinonia comes the unforeseen yet poignant witness of late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, responding to Moore’s demand that Kimmel visit Alabama, where “we’ll go man to man.” Kimmel agreed to make the trip, but only if the two meet up at a mall food court, “have a little Panda Express” and “talk about Christian values.” Then Kimmel voiced what Alabama Baptists might call his “personal testimony,” telling Moore:

“I don’t know, it doesn’t fit your stereotype — but I happen to be a Christian, too. I made my first Holy Communion; I was confirmed; I pray; I support my church; one of my closest friends is a priest; I baptized my children. Christian is actually my middle name. I know that’s shocking, but it’s true. So if you’re open to it, when we sit down, I will share with you what I learned at my church. At my church, forcing yourself on under-aged girls is a no-no. Some even consider it to be a sin. Not that you did that, of course. Allegedly. But when you commit a sin at our church, at our church we’re encouraged to confess and ask for forgiveness for the sin. Not to call the women you allegedly victimized liars and damage them even more. To confess. But maybe your church is different. I don’t know.”

“Maybe your church is different.” Amid the silence of too many of us “Reverends,” irony of ironies, the church’s witness — its Advent “light in the darkness” — is awakened by a “secular” talk-show host who “happens to be a Christian, too.”

Frankly, Kimmel’s words hit me hard, shaming me and my conscience; hence, this essay. Indeed, his forthright witness chastened me into confessing that while I’ll retire as a professor at Wake Forest University next July, my conscience, by God, won’t file for social or ecclesiastical “security.” I learned that years ago from Roger Williams, on his way to that “shelter for conscience,” Rhode Island, and last week from Jimmy Kimmel, on his way to an Alabama mall.

And in my 71st Advent I heard with new ears the expectant song of Jesus’ own Immah: “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

This Advent, one can only hope.

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The Urgency of Mercy – Rev. Dr. Molly T. Marshall* – Baptists News Global

Learning to deal with other as God deals with us.

Pope Francis is in the news once again; actually, is he ever not in the news? He has declared the coming year to be a Jubilee Year, a year where mercy triumphs over judgment. Walking through the Vatican Holy Door with his predecessor, symbolizing the pilgrimage undertaken by the church, he proclaimed the desire to “rediscover the infinite mercy of God who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them.” In a time of fear, he proclaims mercy.

Rather than waiting the customary 25 years for a year of Jubilee, he called for this new one just 15 years after the previous one. What a wondrous thing to think of the urgency of mercy! Like the father of the prodigal who cannot wait for him to get all the way to the house or even finish his confession, this spiritual leader is eager to acquaint all with God’s forgiving embrace.

“How much wrong we do to God and his grace when we speak of sins being punished by his judgment before we speak of their being forgiven by his mercy,” he said. “We have to put mercy before judgment.” Far too often we have reversed this ordo salutis (order of salvation), not only for others whom we deem only fit for condemnation, but for ourselves.

This past week I had a meaningful conversation with one I consider a spiritual friend. He recently had the opportunity to visit with Jürgen Moltmann over dinner at a meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature. He sought to convey to this towering theologian the impact of his writings on his own persistence in faith. My friend quoted a favorite citation of Moltmann’s about Christ bearing our sins and the significance this held for him. To this Moltmann added, “Not only does God bear them and claim them as God’s own, but overcomes them.”

“I felt really saved,” my friend reflected. The extravagance of God’s grace washed over him, and he felt a deep sense of gratitude well up in him.

It requires humility to believe that we “good folk” need saving and, even more, to accept God’s lavish mercy. We often judge ourselves harshly, and we continue to think of God keeping a tally of our sins. Martin Luther saw through this form of legalistic self-righteousness and wrote, “God’s wrath has been submerged in mercy.” Luther also described mercy as the “first work of God.”

Do Baptists need a Jubilee year, also? I think so, for many of us cling to old wounds and refuse to receive or extend mercy. Persons of my generation bear some scars from our participation in a controversy that rent a part of the Baptist family. Many friendships did not endure, and the tendency to anathematize opponents has perdured far too long. What might it mean for the impulse of mercy to suffuse how we regard former colleagues?

Forgiving those who have spoken ill of us, and forgiving ourselves for the heated or cynical remarks we have made over the years, would be liberating. I remember a Benedictine monk advising, “You must forgive these people, Molly, or you will bind them to you and you will never be free.”

Mercy and forgiveness are closely linked, as Advent teaches us. Even the thundering voice in the wilderness preached a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” and opportunity for all to change direction so that they might recognize and welcome the coming one.

“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,” the canticle of Zachary intones (Luke 1:78). By shining forth in mercy, God awakens us to the ways we still sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. Refusing to forgive the trespasses of others erodes the soul, and we live at too great a distance from God’s merciful desire. The hardest temptation we struggle against, according to the desert monastic Dorotheos, is judging our neighbor.

I recently learned of a moral failure of a person I have deeply admired over the years. After astonishment and a brief inward smirk, I was chastened in spirit to recognize kinship with the sinner and eschew any pleasure at her personal betrayal. None of us is in a position to judge others from a position of superiority, and mercy flows best from humility. And we must go beyond refusing to judge another, Roberta Bondi writes, “one must also protect the sinner from the consequences of the sin.” That is truly merciful.

Mercy is not an optional expression of being a Christian; it is learning to deal with others as God deals with us. Mercy does require us to hold possessions more lightly, grudges more briefly and self-protection more rarely.

In a time of fear, let us embrace mercy. In a season of Advent, let us welcome God’s tender mercy breaking upon us. It is urgent, indeed.

*Molly Marshall is president of Central Baptists Theological Seminary. She was a favorite speaker at the John Hamrick Lectureship at First Baptist Church of Charleston.

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