Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

12/12 2013

Making Room for the Christ Child

Advent has long been my favorite season of the liturgical year. As the earth enters into its state of winter slumber, patiently waiting for the warmth of spring to return, so we wait and prepare for the Christ child to enter our lives once again. But what, exactly, does it mean to wait for the coming of Jesus in this season? How do we prepare ourselves for the arrival of the one who was born as a baby, yet was also the savior of the world?

Three years ago, the waiting and preparation of Advent took on a new meaning for me. At that time, I was expecting my first child, due on December 16 (he actually arrived on December 9). During that season of anticipation, I began to understand in a brand new way the challenge of preparing for such a momentous event. My spouse and I, of course, had done all of the things that our culture expects of new parents. We had purchased and set up a crib; we had washed and put away all the baby clothes; we had stocked the nursery with diapers, wipes, and every other thing we could imagine needing during those early days of our son’s life. We had even managed to go out on a few dates, realizing that once the baby came, it would be much more difficult to arrange such things.

And yet, once our son was born, I came to an unexpected realization: all the preparations we had made beforehand were important, but they did not actually help us to get ready for the complete change our child would bring into our lives. I’m not sure there is really any way to prepare for such a change; it’s something you simply have to live into, one day at a time. During those first weeks and months of parenthood, I came to understand that the preparation we most needed to make did not involve buying things or decorating the nursery, or even arranging for child care. What we most needed to do was to make room in our lives for this new person. We had to find a way to allow his presence to shape every decision we made. We could no longer go on living as if nothing had changed. Instead, we had to acknowledge that almost every single thing about life as we had previously known it would be different, and that new things would be required of us.

I know I’m not the first to draw this analogy, but I think that the Advent call to welcome Jesus into our lives is very similar to the experience of welcoming a new person into a family. Preparing ourselves for the coming of the Christ child involves getting ourselves ready for an enormous change. It means allowing Christ’s presence to change everything about the way we have been living. It means accepting that the birth of God’s son into our lives will make demands on us that we could never have anticipated and that, sometimes, we’d rather not acknowledge. It means making room in our lives for Jesus – for all the ways that his presence comforts, inspires, and challenges us. This Advent, I hope that, as individuals and as a community, we will find new ways to welcome the Christ child into our midst. And I pray that, in so doing, we will come to understand more deeply how our lives have been changed by the birth of Emmanuel, God with us.

Written by the Rev. Dr. Leanna Fuller, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Care at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

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12/6 2013

An Advent Reflection

It’s Advent, and there are only a couple of weeks before Christmas break. Personally, I couldn’t be happier about that, and not just because this means I get to leave classes behind for a couple weeks soon. Well, maybe leave them behind is not the proper phrase; post-break midterms are such lovely little things, aren’t they? Like puppies… covered in spikes.

Truly, however, what excites me about Advent this year is the opportunity to step back a moment and reflect on recent events in my life. See, so much of our attention at this time of year is focused on the hustle and bustle our society makes the season into: find all your gifts, attend all the family functions, make sure you make it to church on Christmas Eve, and God help you if you forget to pick up the eggnog for the Christmas party you’re going to. Even in our spiritual lives, we get so caught up in looking forward to Christmas, to baby Jesus, the manger,  angel choirs, and “wise men” who apparently have no idea how to buy gifts for infants  (Honestly, myrrh? I think Mary at least would have appreciated some extra clothes for the kid, gentlemen.), we forget that Advent itself is a time of waiting and preparation for the arrival of a Savior who works in unexpected ways on behalf of unexpected people. We forget that He will flip tables in the temple, dine with the unclean and unfaithful, and dismantle the arguments of the pious.

As I hold up this reality of the Savior whose arrival I anticipate alongside my time here at PTS so far, I’ve come to a pleasant realization. Yes, I’m taking classes and working toward a degree, but I’m not really here to take classes. I’m not even here to succeed, really. Those are all things I have to do if I’m going to become ordained and work in the Church, but it’s not the deep reason for my being here. I’m here because I’m looking for the Savior, and hoping to get close enough through all my stumbling (and I’m pretty clumsy, ask my friends) to then point Him out to others. Likewise, I’m preparing myself in this time not to simply regurgitate the facts I’ve been fed in my classes here, but for a life in community with the poor, the suffering, and the heartbroken as we all wait for Christ together. PTS has been helpful in that regard, but true to God’s methods as I’ve seen them play out in my life so far, it hasn’t been through the channels I (or in all likelihood my teachers) expected. I’ve made new friends, each of us with our unique struggles and hearts that beat to unique rhythms; I’ve found myself in a new community at Upper Room Church in Squirrel Hill, with people and challenges I never expected to encounter. Most of all, I’ve been built up, broken down, and rebuilt into a person both wholly new and strangely familiar through a cocktail of pain, joy, and discovery that only God could make work. My relationship with the school through all of this has had more in common with that of Homer and Bart Simpson (minus the choking) than the pastoral images in my theology books, but truly I would expect no less as we wrestle together about what it means to seek Christ and work alongside Him.

So as Advent continues and Christmas approaches, I wish you all fruitful reflections as you watch and wait for the movements of the coming Savior in your own lives, and if you’ll excuse me, I’m sure Dr. Burgess is wondering why I’m writing this instead of the paper that’s due before break.

Written by Matt Morris, Junior MDiv Student

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2/15 2013

Ashes to Ashes

A few days ago Christians of both Protestant and Catholic flavors around the globe celebrated Ash Wednesday, or at the very least acknowledged it. This day is to serve as a mark, not only to the start of the Lenten season but also to our constant and continued dependence on God in our lives, for from dust we are and to dust we shall return, and dust we would still be if it were not for the craftmanship of the Creator.

At the service I attended on Wednesday, the pastor talked about having a choice.  He used the analogy of preparing plates of food, for a lot of time we may be tempted when dividing out the portions to put the better food and larger quanities on the plate we designate for ourselves.  But when it comes to serving the food, we then have a choice: do we keep the better, larger portion for ourselves, or do we serve that instead to the other person.

So we’re talking about something more than just a plate of food, even if it’s a plate of aparagus risotto with extra parmesan.  We are talking about this sculpted biological complicated heterogeneous yet functioning pile of ashes we call a body through which we facilitate and navigate this equally complex time process we call life.  And the question then becomes, what portion of life are we serving God?

To me that seems a strange question, like wearing a suit you know isn’t yours, so I sat at my computer and stared at it. As I grappled with this question, I realized the wording of dividing and portions in my brain brought about this image of shared custody, that some days I had control over my life and other days God had control.  Which is ridiculous, for I neither have the power nor the strength to be in control of something like that.  And giving of your life by assigning a specific portion to God doesn’t seem possible since the definition of all that equates to life is multi-faceted.

So maybe the question should be worded: Is our life serving God?

-Rebecca Dix, MDiv student

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