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That Just Seems Crazy To Me


A guest post by Jamal Smith, M.A. '11

Three years ago, a friend, John, and I were having drinks at the pub in Rochester, Old Toad. While we were there, we came across another friend. Dan was a self proclaimed Buddhist-shamanist, a blend of Buddhist philosophy and shaman spirituality. During our conversation, Dan explained to us his belief that it was possible for humans to change shape. He used the example of glass being a liquid caught in solid state, yet still being liquid.

describe the imageWe listened to his beliefs and afterward excused ourselves as we had to leave. While walking back to the car, John finally expressed his opinion of Dan’s religion as crazy. My response was that I agreed with him; shape-changing made as much sense as the idea of someone being raised from the dead.  John was quiet for a moment, and then replied, “I see your point.”

There are certain ideas and beliefs that are common within the Christian community and seem normal.  Most Christians do not think twice about the existence of God and accept the inability to prove it. The resurrection of the dead is as real as death itself. When we hear other religious ideas however, we tend to ridicule them as absurd and illogical.

Rarely is it taken into account that many of the revered articles of the Christian faith seem just as ridiculous to the average secular listener as Dan’s belief of shape-changing seemed to John. Christians want their stories and faith to be heard credibly—we don’t like the idea of having Jesus’ resurrection disregarded or laughed at. 

In Luke 6:37 (NIV), Jesus said, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.”

This is an ideal that needs to be taught regarding other peoples’ beliefs. Condemnation is not the goal. Recall instances when godly people committed “heathen” acts. Judges 11 tells the story of Jepthath, who swore to God to sacrifice the first thing that left his house if he returned victorious from battle. Jepthath had the victory, and what greeted him from his house was his daughter. Though he was grieved, he followed through with his word and sacrificed her. More notably, it is not said that God tried to stop him, nor was the grieved father punished or rebuked.

It seems to me that Christians must also take into account that, perhaps, myths that are ridiculed may somehow have elements of truth. For example, when exploring the risks of sex in space, recent studies from NASA showed that prolonged time in zero G resulted in a decreased sex drive for astronauts.[i],[ii] The connection between Earth and sex was also evident in some early religions—sexual religious practices of the worship of Baal were designed to encourage the god to make the earth fertile, producing crops for the season.[iii]

All this is not to say that all beliefs must be accepted and believed. Rather, in addition to discernment, it is to say that a certain amount of respect when hearing others’ beliefs, regardless of how crazy or illogical it may seem to us, is in order. In a pluralistic world Christians need to exercise this practice or otherwise, to twist the phrase, Judge and you shall be judged. Condemn and you shall be condemned.


Jamal Smith, M.A. ‘11, works as a consultant for Sutherland Global Services and is a volunteer member of the Commission of Christian Muslim relations and the Interfaith Forum.

He Comes Down from Heaven


This month we will be sharing a collection of short readings by Northeastern Seminary alumni as they reflect on and rejoice in the gifts of God's grace and the signs of Christ present during this Advent Season. Today's guest post was written by Thomas Worth.

Merry Christmas

“No one has gone up to heaven
except the One who came down from heaven,
the Son of Man who is in heaven…”
John’s Gospel 3:13.  Jerusalem Bible

The early news wends its way…
The first preaching of the preachers say,
“The kingdom of heaven is near!”
“Heaven’s kingdom is here!”

What is it like?
What is it like—for the One who is in heaven—
(We could almost say the One who makes heaven—heaven!)
What is it like for Him to come down from heaven?
And what is more like heaven when He comes down to us?
Is heaven there or here?
Where is heaven?
With the archangels and seraphim?
Or in the womb of Mary—
And then with His birth:
The stable where ox and ass and cattle feed?
Are the angels leaving heaven to sing their song over the hills of Bethlehem?
Or do they feel as they draw near the place of the Nativity
That they are coming to heaven—
To that Holiest Place where He who was with God in the beginning
And is God—
Is become flesh and is dwelling among us?

Think of it!
He who is at the heart of the throne in heaven,
Angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim, powers and dominions
Worshiping and adoring Him,
Hearing melodies and words that we can only dimly guess,
Songs so beautiful that our hearts would break for wonder if we heard them,
A cataract of praise where He is able to discern
Every strand of song from every single singer—
Now plunges Himself into utter silence
Until His nascent bit of embryonic humanity forms ears to hear
The flow of blood, the swish of fluid, the beating of His mother’s heart.

Think of it!
He who can see everything
And dwells in the Light from which heaven and earth flee away,
The Light to which no one can approach—
Steps down into the darkness of our beginnings and our wanderings.
He becomes blind until he opens his eyes as a newborn
Unable to focus on a new world,
Lit by a torch or an oil lamp
Or perhaps only the light of the sinking moon
That reveals the shapes and shadows of manger and stall,
The misty breath of the cattle in the stable,
The nearness of His mother’s breast
And the blurred outlines of her eyes and lips.

Think of it!
He who inhabits eternity
And for whom the nations are a drop in the bucket,
Who fills infinity enough to be everywhere,
Now confines Himself to the growing seed within Mary.
He who is present in all places at all times,
Now becomes local and limited,
Centering Himself down into a human baby,
Once upon a time…

Think of it!
The Word who speaks with the Father and the Holy Spirit
In the primeval counsels of eternity;
Who speaks creation into existence;
Who, in conversing with the thrones and dominions,
The angelic intelligences of the cosmos,
Imparts to them what little of His knowledge they can bear;
Who speaks and knows all that God knows—
Now relinquishes all knowledge of Himself or anything else,
Knows only the trauma of being born into a strange, cold world,
No longer knows who He is,
Knows only what every human being coming into the world knows,
And like us all, with His inarticulate cries
Expresses His distress, hunger, thirst and need
Because, like us all, it is all He can say
And like us all, it is the only way He can begin to breathe
 The cold night air into which He is born.

Think of it!
He who as the Only-begotten God
Wields all power and rules with all authority,
Commanding principalities and galaxies,
Governing quarks and quasars, sparrows and rainbows,
Lets go of it all and comes down from heaven,
Losing everything, becomes weak and wanting,
A baby in His mother’s arms. 

And yet, even though He lets heaven go
And comes down,
It seems that heaven would not be bereft of Him
And so follows Him to earth
And is here—
With a cloud of witnesses at His birth!


Thomas Worth, M.Div. ‘03, D.Min., ’07, is pastor of Community Covenant Church in Manlius, N.Y. and also serves as program site coordinator for NES in Syracuse. He has been a poet of the Incarnation and married to his wife, Marsha, for almost 40 years. He has been a part-time missionary to Bulgaria for over 20 years. Marsha and he have two married daughters and four grandchildren.

Christmas Response


This month we will be sharing a collection of short readings by Northeastern Seminary alumni as they reflect on and rejoice in the gifts of God's grace and the signs of Christ present during this Advent Season. Today's guest post was written by Tami Thurber.

winterHere in the Northeast Advent occurs at the beginning of a gray, frigid winter season. The landscape looks lifeless, and sometimes that is how we feel because, unfortunately, we all face winter times in our lives. Perhaps you are there now. Life-changing decisions loom in front of you, but you dread acting because the strength required is more than the strength you have. Perhaps your winter stems from an ongoing but cold, colorless faith. Maybe your winter has self-absorption blanketing your relationship with God as snow covers all reminders of life. Whatever your winter looks like, your response to it can be shaped by the responses of those who experienced the first nativity.

After Gabriel gave Mary the news of her upcoming pregnancy, Mary responded with honest humility. Although unsure of her own well-being or the baby’s future, Mary did not allow herself to be overwhelmed with questions, doubts, or even worry. “I am the Lord’s servant,” she affirmed (Luke 1:38). Soon afterward, Gabriel informed Joseph that he should still marry his fiancé because she had done nothing immoral. What was his first response? Humble, immediate obedience (Matthew 1:24). Although both Mary and Joseph would be faced with many difficult winter months ahead, their humble acceptance of the circumstances and reliance on God’s strength girded them for what was to come.

As the Advent story continues, we see others whose first response was vastly different than Mary and Joseph’s. Rather than sober obedience, these people’s emotions were on fire. John the Baptist, still in his mother’s womb, leaped for joy when he first encountered the unborn Jesus (Luke 1:45). Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit who led her to boisterously bless this baby (Luke 1:41). Even the educated Magi dropped to their knees in worship of this Christ child (Matthew 2:11).

Others, including Simeon, Anna, and the people who heard the shepherd’s report, responded by turning their eyes from the scene in front of them to focus on the God who organized this whole event (Luke 2:28-32, 2:38, 2:18). Praise and thanksgiving freely flowed to the God who planned and executed this joyous birth.

During this season there are so many ways we too can respond to Jesus’ birth. Perhaps there is something in your life that you are sure God is calling you to do or think. Take courage with Mary and Joseph as you step out in humble, submissive obedience. Perhaps your faith has settled into a cold winter routine. Use this season to reignite your passion into a blazing fire like John and Elizabeth’s. Or maybe you have become so focused on yourself—your harried schedule, your hurts, your troubles—that you need to use some precious Advent time to meditate not on what you need but on who God is. We have been given this gift of an Advent season at the beginning of some long winter months. May we respond to this gift not with exhausted survival but by mirroring those who first experienced this miraculous event.


Tami Thurber, M.A. ‘09, co-author Handing It Down: Teaching Your Children the Basic Truths of Faith; jr./sr. high English and Bible teacher at Oneonta Community Christian School; adjunct professor at Davis College, Johnson City, N.Y.; wife and mom in Oneonta, N.Y.

Swimming In Words, Then Wrapped In Warm Wisdom


This month we will be sharing a collection of short readings by Northeastern Seminary alumni as they reflect on and rejoice in the gifts of God's grace and the signs of Christ present during this Advent Season. Today's guest post was written by Marsha Bolton Rivers.

iStock letterpressI work with words. My job is to immerse myself in them as in a swimming pool. Every day I jump in, splash around, and explore the water like a child on a hot summer’s afternoon, searching for small toys or loose change that might have sunk to the tiled floor.

Once I have collected the best words and phrases I can find, my next task is to dry off, stand at my loom, and weave—weave the rescued symbols into tapestries of meaning. Tell the story of the pool in a way that will entice more swimmers and then wrap them in a warm, dry, sweet-smelling towel.

Newspaper customers, would-be scholars, expectant teens and cancer patients. An unlikely assortment of pool party invitees? Not for me. These have been my word readers. I was first a journalist, then a college recruiter, next the leader of a crisis pregnancy center, and now a fundraiser-publicist for my local hospice. In all of my professional situations so far, I have gravitated toward word-working, delving, discovering and displaying the choicest representations of communities, aspirations, the miracle of life, and the inevitability of death.

“The mission of Hospice of Orleans is to embrace those facing advanced illness with the optimal levels of comfort, compassion and expertise.” Five months into my newest position, I can quickly quote this statement. I use it daily in grant applications, press releases, newsletter articles, and appeal letters. I inherited the mission—that is, I didn’t have a part in crafting it, and perhaps I’d tweak the wording if I could. But I didn’t fill the pool. I just swim in it. And when I splash around in this sentence, the word I grab first is “embrace.”

I’m not from a huggy family, mind you. The Boltons are British by heritage, exhibiting the stoicism to match the stereotype. Not that I wasn’t lavishly loved. I was. But not like my next door neighbor friend, growing up in an Italian Catholic household where throngs of relatives were forever coming and going, exchanging hearty hugs and sloppy kisses. I liked letting them “love on me,” foreign as it felt.

To embrace is to be with (em-) and to support (-brace). It’s the perfect verb to describe what Hospice does, and to invite other swimmers. Because families treading the dangerous waters of cancer, or heart disease, or any of the other scary illnesses that take our loved ones’ lives, truly need companionship and help. Unfortunately, people often make the mistake of withdrawing from families swimming in crisis. We don’t know what to say; we don’t know how to help; we politely keep our distance and give people the space we think they desire.

Thank the Lord for not leaving us alone in the treacherous ocean of this sin-sick world! “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Luke 5:31) That’s us. By sending the best possible Word into our midst, Jesus, the Master Weaver makes the most attractive cloth imaginable, one that drapes us in ultimate comfort, compassion and, yes, expertise—divine wisdom. “Thanks be to God for his indescribable (Christmas) gift.” (2 Cor. 9:15)

Marsha Bolton Rivers, MA ’04, is director of development and community relations at Hospice of Orleans, Inc., in Albion, N.Y.

The Longing of the Wait


This month we will be sharing a collection of short readings by Northeastern Seminary alumni as they reflect on and rejoice in the gifts of God's grace and the signs of Christ present during this Advent Season. Today's guest post was written by Matthew French.

“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.” 
Psalm 40:1-3

Wait. Jesus is coming. Wait. But my heart aches with the waiting. Jesus, how long will we wait?  How long?

How long? It’s an ancient ache. The rock band U2 has at times closed concerts with the song 40. This song is based on Psalm 40—the band leaves the stage singing and then the crowd lingers still singing, “How long, how long, to sing this song?”

waitingWe seem to be wired to wait. I don’t mean to say that we are any good at it, but we all wait. This waiting has a spiritual magnitude to it, which might just be a way of saying that everyone waits and the waiting reaches to the deepest places of who we are. People of faith or not, we wait. And in the waiting we long. And in our longing we find that we wish. We wish we didn’t experience loss or hurt people we care about.

We wish we didn’t live in a world where our actions contribute to others being the “least of these.”  We wish with this deep longing that there weren’t such things as cancer, or violence, or war. But we wait, and we long, because these things have too tight a grip on this world for now. We ache in the waiting because, at times, these things seem to have a tighter grip on us than Jesus. How long? How long?

As Christians, at least our faith takes our wishing and transforms it into hope. We know the Master will return and with the embrace of his love will permanently wipe away all that should not be. The bright Morning Star comes, not just to illuminate the darkness, but to leave the darkness behind. And gone with the darkness will be our hoping, and our longing, and our waiting.

Advent reminds us that as Christ followers we wait and that our Jesus is returning.  Yet even in this waiting, especially in this waiting, my heart aches. My heart aches for the future beauty that we see in chapters 21 and 22 of Revelation. For a light, being one who must wait in the darkness of this world, that I can’t even fathom. For the presence that we will dwell in and never ache again. Jesus, how long until you pull us from the mud and mire? How long until we find our mouths full of new songs? How long?

“Yes, I am coming soon … Amen, Come, Lord Jesus.” Revelation 22:20


Matthew French, M.Div., ‘10, is the senior pastor at Bergen United Methodist Church in Bergen, N.Y.

Holy Intervention


This month we will be sharing a collection of short readings by Northeastern Seminary alumni as they reflect on and rejoice in the gifts of God's grace and the signs of Christ present during this Advent Season. Today's guest post was written by Joanne Green-Colon.

The Bible is full of powerful statements about God's intervention in our lives: God watches over us, God goes before us, and if God is for us who can be against us.

God watching over us talks about God's protection and care for his children. Just as earthly parents make sure their children are taken care of with their needs provided and out of harm’s way, God makes sure that our needs are met and our ways are safe.

iStock candles Small

God goes before us shows us the Creator guiding our steps and providing direction to our lives. We don't have to worry about having a purpose because God is our guide. We would go through difficulties and obstacles, yet we can rest assured that we would cross to the other side of the valley because the designer of the path is leading us.

God is for us talks about him being our defender, our secure place. The Powerful of Heaven stands in defense of our souls against the attacks of our enemy and we can stand assured that no weapon against us could destroy our soul because the Lord of Hosts is for us, on our side.

Nonetheless, there is one statement that I believe is even more powerful than these.

The prophet Isaiah spoke about Jesus in this way: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

Immanuel. What a beautiful name! Now God would not only be watching over us, walking in front of us, and protecting us. Now God was coming to be with us, to be our companion—leaving a place in glory to be humbled—to be able to relate to you and me in our humanity. 

We would not have to be alone any more. The God of the universe would walk by our side every day. God would be right there when we are excited, sad, hurt, and even angry. God would be the shoulder to cry upon, the chest to rest upon. God would be with us in a personal way as never before.

In fact, He is with us today! He is Immanuel.


Joanne Green ColonOn December 16, 2013 the Colon family bid farewell to Joanne Green-Colon, who experienced serious complications during the delivery of their second child on December 9. A most faithful follower of Jesus, she will always remain known as a remarkable, talented, energetic, and creative woman who touched many lives in the Rochester community and elsewhere for Jesus.

This reflection, written on November 22, 2013 and scheduled as part of the Northeastern Seminary alumni advent series, is published today at the request of her family.

Joanne Green-Colon, M.Div. ’05, was a pastor at Heart and Soul Community Church in Rochester, N.Y. and taught Church History and Children’s Ministry in the Certificate in Ministry Program at Northeastern Seminary.

The Gift of the Word


This month we will be sharing a collection of short readings by Northeastern Seminary alumni as they reflect on and rejoice in the gifts of God's grace and the signs of Christ present during this Advent Season. Today's guest post was written by Desjamebra Julian Robinson.

What are we expecting this season? Our culture demands that we should begin making our shopping lists for food, groceries, and gifts. We spend time filling out our lists, deciding who to invite for dinner, attending church services, and participating in many other activities during this season. With all of our expectations, have we forgotten to expect a word from God?

Christmas giftsExpectation. Is this not the drive of our faith? The Bible says, “Now, faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). My daughter asked me early in the year for a specific gift. She wanted an Xbox and a Barbie-sized doll house. The timeline did not matter to her. She did not care whether she received it on her birthday, for Christmas, or any other time. Her focus was on receiving what has been requested. As a single parent, I had to make a decision. What would be the right time? When could I afford the time, finances, and make the sacrifice to fulfill her request? I began to count the cost, preparing to obtain this gift, to give to someone I love.

As this season approached, I began to tell my daughter to gather up the toys she had outgrown. I explained to her that if she was expecting the items she requested that we would need to make room to receive them. We have limited space where we live and to add more items would cause clutter and frustration. I explained that clutter would cause her to become overwhelmed with her environment, and I want her area to be easy to keep clean and comfortable. So she began to prepare based on her expectation to receive the gifts she had asked for. Although she had not seen them and did not know if she would receive them and although I had not purchased the gifts and did not know when I would be able to get them, we prepared room to receive.

With expectation we are looking to receive a gift from God. Not a tangible gift, but a gift in the Spirit.  We do not know, when, where, or how God will bless us with what we have asked for (joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc.). Yet we have faith that we will be blessed.  Therefore we must prepare to receive the gift of God. We must make room for God’s blessing in our lives. As adults we have come face to face with all kinds of adversity, sickness, anxiety, poverty, and such that come with living in this world. With all the struggles we face daily, we often find ourselves cluttered and frustrated in our spirit.

God has counted the cost and made preparations to provide for you the word of truth through Christ. God is waiting for the opportune time to bless you and see the smile of joy, not only on your face but in your heart and spirit. Yet, if we hold on to the things that clutter our lives, things that we have outgrown, things which simply take up space in our hearts and minds, will we have room to receive, or will we become frustrated and overwhelmed? I encourage you to clear out the environment in your heart, so that God can give you the gift of the Word. Are you expecting the gift of ‘The Word?’

DJ Robinson3


Desjamebra Julian Robinson, M.Div. ’11, serves in ministry at Elim Christian Fellowship and is a self-employed professional cosmetologist in Rochester, N.Y.

Free, Inordinate Gift


This month we will be sharing a collection of short readings by Northeastern Seminary alumni as they reflect on and rejoice in the gifts of God's grace and the signs of Christ present during this Advent Season. Today's guest post was written by Pedro Rios.

I was curious to know a proper definition of advent, so I looked it up. The explanation was “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.” My immediate response was to think of the Lucan pericope that declares, “The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end (Luke 1:30-33, NRSV).” The definition was correct: the arrival of a notable “person” is Jesus!; the “thing” would be the throne where Christ is, at the right hand of the Father; and the “event” would be that the Lord’s Kingdom would have no end.

mangerAdvent then, is the arrival of an inordinate gift. This gift is what Christians celebrate in this joyful time and season. This gift means freedom and eternity for those who believe. The apostle told us: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph. 2:8-9, NRSV).” This gift is truth; it’s free; and it’s for you.

During this season, I would like to encourage you to celebrate this free gift; free for us, but costly for one—Christ. The Lord said that he had come to give us life, and give it to us abundantly (John 10:10). Let us share this free gift of life with someone this season. This may be family, our neighbor, our co-workers, or even a stranger.

Some get very anxious this season by trying to express their love to others with material gifts, and while those are great (I certainly like my share), it is about the eternal gift, the gift of grace. Grace is magnificent and it can be shared with anyone at any given time. Maybe you can share it with someone you love (or dislike), just as it has been shared with you. Perhaps, the Holy Spirit would like us to share our precious time this season instead of a material gift. Maybe, just maybe, we are to visit someone who we have been avoiding forever. We may think that they do not deserve it, well, neither did we when the Lord said “it is finished.” My point about advent then, although very unorthodox, is that we dare to share a free gift with someone this season. This could be our spouses, family, church, and whoever else the Lord puts in our path. This is advent; this is Christmas; this is the gift of grace.

Pedro Rios, M.A. ’13, lives in Rochester, N.Y. and is pursuing a doctor of strategic leadership degree at Regent University. He serves as director of Grace-N-Christ Kingdom Ministries.

Immanuel, God With Us


This month we will be sharing a collection of short readings by Northeastern Seminary alumni as they reflect on and rejoice in the gifts of God's grace and the signs of Christ present during this Advent Season. Today's guest post was written by Marlena Graves.

For the past several years I’ve been thinking about one of the names given to Jesus. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the meaning and implications of the name Immanuel, which most of us know means “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). I’ve been trying to be attentive to the ways in which Jesus, in his incarnation, demonstrated just how thoroughly he was present to those in the first century and is present with us. Here is a small sampling of the things I’ve noticed so far.

Jesus ImmanuelAs a poor, helpless little babe, Jesus was completely dependent on his mother to feed him from her own body and on both Mary and Joseph to protect him from Herod who wanted to rid the world of him. At an early age, Jesus was the intended target of murderous violence unleashed by this paranoid ruler. Though his parents escaped with him to Egypt, the little boys his age in Bethlehem and its vicinity lost their lives (Matt: 2:16-18). And so I think Jesus really is with those babes whose lives are cut short due to all sorts of war, violence, and oppression. In our world, those of us who are poor, and those babes and their parents who are violently hurt and abused by evil people can say with confidence, “Immanuel, God with us.”  

Though innocent, Jesus was arrested, put through a sham trial, and found guilty. He endured corrupt religious figures and justice systems. Hanging on the cross and bearing our sins, he was again as helpless as he was as a babe, perhaps more so; except he was a 33 year old man at what was supposed to be the peak of his life. And so Immanuel, God is with us in our helplessness, weakness, in death (even violent ones), and when we are spitefully used and wrongfully accused.

On those nights when we cry ourselves to sleep, when we feel invisible, like a nobody because we go unnoticed by those we want to notice us: Immanuel, God with us. Jesus knew what it was like to dwell in obscurity and to feel the sting of rejection. He lived in obscurity for 30 years. Furthermore, the theology professors and many of the clergy of the first century did not consider him a VIP. Many religious leaders loathed him—considered him a heretic and troublemaker. They rejected him and tried to render him invisible and forgotten by crucifying him—by what they thought was wiping him off of the face of the earth for good.

So when we’re feeling all alone or unimportant, let us remember what Isaiah 53: 2,3 (NIV) tells us:

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

In all types of suffering, whether we are babes, sick, young, aging, feeling invisible and rejected, or victims of injustice: Immanuel, God with us.

But it’s not just in suffering. At parties and wedding celebrations, when we are practicing what Richard Foster calls the discipline of celebration: Immanuel, God with us.

Considering Immanuel, God with us for me has been nourishing, daily bread. I hope it’ll become so for you. Perhaps this Advent you too can begin to look and see and celebrate—to take comfort in: Immanuel, God with us. Indeed, it is central to the good news of the gospel.

Marlena Graves


Marlena Graves, M.Div. ’07, lives in Findlay, Ohio, and is a writer for CT's Her.meneutics and author of Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness.

Preparing for the Baby


This month we will be sharing a collection of short readings by Northeastern Seminary alumni as they reflect on and rejoice in the gifts of God's grace and the signs of Christ present during this Advent Season. Today's guest post was written by James LaBarr.

iStock nursery advent alumni blogThe expected birth of a child requires preparation. A due date brings along the gift of nine months to get ready to welcome a new life into the world. In this time of preparation we discover hospitality as a virtue vital to Advent.

Jesus did not receive a particularly hospitable welcome upon his birth. During his final days in womb Luke reminds us there was no room available for Joseph and a pregnant Mary.  Matthew tells us that King Herod ordered an infanticide in attempt to have the newborn Messiah killed. And John puts it bluntly: he came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. The world was hostile, not hospitable, to the Son of God.

Yet there were some who welcomed Jesus. Most notably, Mary the mother of Jesus demonstrated a hospitable heart.  When the angel announced her impending motherhood we sense the deep welcome of hospitality in Mary’s final response:  “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38 TNIV).  Mary was willing to prepare for the baby that God was sending her—hospitality.

Welcoming a child into the world requires more than just hospitality of physical preparation, but the preparation of a hospitable heart. My wife and I have lived this four times over as we prepared for the birth of our daughters. 

Late in each pregnancy “nesting” occurred—that inexplicable urge expectant mothers feel to clean, organize, and de-clutter to prepare our physical space for this new little person who would call our house home. Our nest was then filled with all the necessary baby gear: strollers, car seats, carriers, changing tables, crib, portable crib, swinging seat, mountains of clothing, piles of toys, and more.

But once our daughters were born we became acutely aware that preparing for a baby involves more than merely preparing physical space. We needed to clear out other kinds of space in our lives to welcome our child. 

Our babies didn't care to align with our ideal schedule so we had to be hospitable with our time. And quick trips to the store took longer with a baby in tow so we had to be hospitable with our attitude. Even our perspective on cleanliness shifted as crushed cheerios on the kitchen floor became less a cleaning crisis and more an acceptable byproduct of a healthy, growing child.  

Hospitality goes far beyond a place to sleep and meals; it goes deep into the fiber of who we are and how we live in the world. Hospitality takes root in our heart and spreads to our whole being.

Once again this Advent we have the opportunity to practice such hospitality. Amidst the hustle and bustle we are invited to welcome the stranger with love and grace. As we prepare to welcome the Son of the Most High may we be ready to welcome him as Mary did, both in physical preparation and in heart. May we respond with the same hospitality: “May it be to me according to your word.”

James LaBarr, M.Div.’06, is an ordained elder in the Free Methodist Church and serves as pastor of Colonial Heights Free Methodist Church in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

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