Come to Bethlehem and Be Nourished: Advent’s Hunger Gives Way to Christmas Fulfillment
By Donna Frischknecht Jackson | Editor of Presbyterians Today
I was hopeful at the start of 2021. Vaccines for a global pandemic were available. COVID-19 cases were declining. Businesses began reopening. Weddings that were put on hold resumed. Babies were born. Yes, I was hopeful. Perhaps you were, too.
Hope, though, began waning as the months passed. Virus variants emerged. Debates on mask-wearing escalated. Those tirelessly working for justice grew weary. Churches reopening for in-person worship wondered if people would return. Small businesses wondered the same with their employees, only to discover crippling staffing shortages. I found myself searching for certainty in a still-uncertain world. Perhaps you were, too.
As the year ends and we come to the season of Advent, I find myself with an intimate understanding of the desperate cry for help from our biblical forebears. Like them, I feel I am walking in the darkness. Perhaps you are walking with me, too.
If so, then this is the season, now more than ever, 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 onto that promise together — in a community rooted in prayer and marked with compassion and forgiveness. We cannot, nor should we, walk alone. Yet the hope of emerging from a global crisis as a kinder and more loving society seems to be waning as well. Tempers are shorter, fears are stronger, and self-preservation still guides decisions in churches and government.
What if this Advent 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 learned once again the value of truly being there for one another?
An introduction to this year’s devotional
Hearth, home and a loaf of bread
This year’s online devotional was inspired by an experience I had a year before the pandemic. For three days, I lived without running water and electricity, mastering the skills of 18th-century open-hearth cooking.
During this time, I didn’t just learn how to make bread in a clay oven. I discovered something more nourishing and useful. I came away with the awareness that never should I take for granted the promise of our daily bread. It was this experience that revealed how I needed a community around me to make one loaf even possible.
Multiple hands were needed to cut the 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. I have carried this experience with me all throughout the pandemic, wondering where community can be strengthened.
This devotional explores not only the comfort of Emmanuel, God with us, but the transforming power of God with us in community. Together we will be fed by Scripture. Together we will break open the life-giving words from Jesus, who was sent to us as the “Bread from Heaven.” We will journey to Bethlehem, which in Hebrew means “House of Bread” and in Aramaic means “House of Meat.” 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 — how he would and still does nourish us to do the work he had begun with his first infant cry to his last cry on the cross.
If you are entering this holy time weary and worried, you are not alone. I am there with you. Let us go to Bethlehem, the House of Bread. Let us bake bread together this season. Let us share and break those loaves with others. Let us find hope again.
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. You are invited to 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 candle on the Advent wreath.
Enjoy the bread as you light the Advent candle as part of your breakfast or later in the day for supper. For either meal, keep it simple: bread, butter and jam for breakfast or bread and soup for dinner. Advent was originally viewed as a winter Lent. So, a focus on simple meals during a season of holiday feasting is a wonderful spiritual practice.
And for those whose baking skills are not the best or if time for bread making is not possible, seek out artisan bread in your neighborhood at bakeries or specialty shops. The local bakers will appreciate the extra business.
Start Your Advent Bread Making
Amish Friendship Bread
We begin the first week of Advent, which starts Nov. 28, with a recipe for Amish friendship bread. It is called “friendship” because it has been described as the “chain letter” of bread making, with a sourdough starter that is made in advance and shared with friends to make their own bread. You can make this by or, if you prefer, you can adapt and take a shortcut and opt to make a loaf of quick bread either from scratch or from a box. Go to friendshipbreadkitchen.com/amish-friendship-bread. Make sure to log onto the online devotional for weekly bread recipes to make and share.
Social media participation
Presbyterians Today wants to share your loaves of bread and your lighted Advent candles (or both together) with others. Submit pictures to Donna Frischknecht Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, church and a brief description or reflection of the picture.
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Categories: Faith & Worship, Presbyterians Today
Tags: 2021 advent devotional, advent, christmas, devotional
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Ministries: Presbyterians Today