Come to Bethlehem and Be Nourished
Advent’s Hunger Gives Way to Christmas’ Fulfillment
By Donna Frischknecht Jackson
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. Coronavirus variants emerged. Debates on mask wearing escalated. Those tirelessly working for justice grew weary. I found myself searching for certainty 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 promise 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.)
When I returned to running water and electricity, I didn’t leave behind what I learned during those three days. I carried the experience with me, especially throughout the pandemic, as I found myself wondering what community building lessons from the past can strengthen our weakened communities of the present.
Howard Thurman joins us
Like Presbyterians Today’s 2020 Advent and Christmas devotional based on Howard Thurman’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 believe 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 Aramaic 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.
An interactive Advent and Christmas devotional
Bread making as a spiritual practice
This year’s devotional invites you to be part of building a tighter-knit community right where you are. Share the devotional with friends and family. Read and reflect together as a small group meeting over Zoom or in person. You are also encouraged to bake bread and share the loaves as gifts with others.
Each Friday in Advent, a bread recipe will be offered. Make more than one loaf so that you can share one and keep the other to be part of your Sunday Advent practice of having a simple meal as you light the candles around the Advent wreath.
You can enjoy the bread as you light the Advent candles as part of your breakfast or later in the day for supper. For either meal, keep it simple: bread, butter and jam for breakfast; bread and soup for dinner. Advent was originally embraced as a winter Lent, so having simple meals during a season of holiday feasting will make a wonderful spiritual practice.
And for those whose baking skills are not the best — or if there is a week where there is no time to mix, knead and bake — seek out artisan bread in your neighborhood bakeries or specialty shops. Buy a loaf for yourself and a loaf to give away. The local shops will appreciate the business.
Social media participation
Presbyterians Today wants to share your loaves of bread or your lighted Advent candles (or both together) with others. Submit pictures to Donna Frischknecht Jackson at email@example.com. Please include your name, church and a brief description of and/or reflection about the picture.