Instruments of Light and Hope


Dear ABSW Community,


As fall semester and the year 2012 come to close I write to wish you and your loved ones a most blessed and happy holiday season.  Unfortunately, our holiday time has been disrupted by a senseless act of violence in Newtown Connecticut, one of several that we have experienced over the past several months.  May we be mindful this holiday season of our call to ministry and to minister.  As professors, preachers, pastors, ministers, social workers, community organizers, chaplains, youth leaders, etc. we are recognized and acknowledged as spiritual leaders in our communities.  As I pray for the friends and families of the Newtown victims, I pray for each member of our ABSW community—that we may be instruments used by God to bring word(s) and acts of light and hope to a hurting world. 

Please join me this holiday season in prayers for healing, peace, and wellness for our communities and our nation. 


LeAnn Snow Flesher, PhD

Academic Dean and Professor of Old Testament


Dr. Paul M. Martin, President and Professor of Pastoral Theology

American Baptist Seminary of the West, Berkeley California

Having come forward now from the greed and avarice displayed during the season of thanksgiving by the commercial world with Black Friday, feeding the profit margin of merchants, to Small Business Saturday, focusing on the needs of Mom and Pop enterprise and through Cyber Monday stuffing the pockets of the internet/online business, we now move to the commercialization of Christmas, the most sacred of days for the worldwide Christian Community.

I am reminded of the sacredness of Christmas in the words of the Gospel writer Luke when he says,

“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” 

(Luke 2:7 KJV)

I remember from my Sunday School days, my Junior High Class Teacher, Rev. Seth Toney, a mentor and friend of mine saying that this particular text reminded him a big gift in plain wrapping.

In this season of Advent and Christmas I wonder how much attention you and I pay to wrapping paper. As we scurry to get gifts for those we love during this season we will spend a considerable amount of time in the wrapping of these gifts. We spend precious moments in selecting the right ribbons and bows, paper and other accessories that adorn every package. We even ponder a selection of ornaments that suggest the importance and value of the contents. Fine wrappings usually mean that there is a fine gift inside. Poorly wrapped gifts often suggest that the giver was thoughtless at the least and the gift inside shabby at the best.

I have come to understand over the years that beautiful wrappings on the outside don’t always indicate the value of the gift on the inside.

I remember reading some time ago a great little story that will amplify this concept.

The story centers on a mother who had two sons from whom she received gifts at Christmas. She had not seen them for some time. One son was very wealthy and the other was a beggar who made the streets his home and selling of bottles and cans his vocation. One gift was beautifully wrapped in the finest paper. The other gift was wrapped in what appeared to be newspaper.  As she opened the elegantly wrapped gift from her wealthy son, she was surprised to receive a coffee cup. On the bottom was the price tag of $1.98. Upon opening the gift wrapped in newspaper from her beggar son, she found two dollar bills and a note that read, “you gave me your all, now I give you all I have!”

Though wrapped with newspaper, the mother cherished the two dollar bills and tucked them away with joy! One son had much but gave little. The other had only two dollars to his name but gave to a mother who had given him her all, all that he had in return. The moral of this story is “the wrappings couldn’t hide the love.”

My understanding of scripture teaches me that this must have been the way it was when Jesus was born. He came wrapped in swaddling clothes. The shepherds found the King of Kings and Lord of Lords lying in a manger in a barn. He was shabbily dressed living in the worst of conditions. But his swaddling clothing couldn’t hide the love inside. He was a bundle of love and joy to his parents and to the entire world.

Life has been good to us in spite of the circumstances that for many have been extremely grievous. There are many people who continue to be fooled by what’s on the outside, but God is never deceived. He is not impressed by what’s on the outside because he knows what’s beneath the wrappings. This has to be a word of encouragement to all in our society who are being overcome by circumstance. God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power. Power that will liberate us from those chains that hold us captive to our circumstance. I still believe in the power of the Church of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to empower us to overcome injustice in the society. Read again Matthew 16:13-20 to be reminded of why Jesus established the Church.

As we prepare to give gifts to our favorite institutions, special people and loved ones at the close of this year let us be sure that we are giving from hearts of love. When we give with hearts of love, it won’t matter what the wrapping, ribbons and bows might be, if any at all. What will matter is the thought expressed by our gifts. Therein lays the value of all the gifts we give.

As Christian, we thank God for giving us the baby Jesus. He was a big gift of hope, joy, love and salvation, all in one package. Though he was wrapped in swaddling clothes under the shabbiest of circumstances, he proved to be a big gift despite his humble and plain wrapping.



“The Work of Christmas”

A number of years ago, I found—entirely by accident—a poem entitled “The Work of Christmas” by the renowned 20th century theologian and pastor, Dr. Howard Thurman.  Every Christmas season since, I have rummaged through my—entirely disorganized—box of “special quotes and writings” to locate Dr. Thurman’s poem.  It is the most meaningful comment on Christmas that I have ever encountered.

May Dr. Thurman’s words inspire us.

May the accompanying music fill us with profound energy.

Today and everyday let us joyfully do “The Work of Christmas”.

Margaret McManus, PhD
Associate Professor of Historical and Theological Studies
American Baptist Seminary of the West

A wealth of information about Howard Thurman’s life, work, and publications, as well as a current documentary film project about him, is available at  This site also includes an annotated bibliography in pdf form–

Music for Dr. Thurman’s poem was written by Elizabeth Alexander.  Access two different performances of the poem/song at—

Our Ambitious Hope

“The need to keep awake translates into listening to the clamor for liberation,
supporting and empowering our people’s deepest hopes.
Waiting for the Lord does not bring us out of history;
it involves us with it since we are hoping
for the God who has come and is in our midst.
Such a hope is ambitious, but it is worthwhile.”
–Gustavo Gutierrez

Many Christian churches around the world have begun to mark the season of Advent, spanning the four weeks before our celebration of the Incarnation on Christmas Day. On some level, Advent is about anticipating our commemoration of the historical moment of the birthing of the Christ in Jesus. This moment happened at a given place and time among real people and animals. The Christ in Jesus was born into a distinct situation: among an oppressed Jewish people trying to survive under the thumb of the Roman Empire. Advent and Christmas certainly commemorate this historical moment.

But the season of Advent, even more than waiting for Christmas, anticipates the coming of the Christ into the world. Some call it the Second Coming. Some call it the Reign of Christ. Advent is a season where our waiting for Christ is a kind of lament for a world not-yet-reconciled. Our waiting for Christ in Advent is a vigorously impatient waiting—-an aching waiting for the time of No-More-Tears.

Advent and Christmas fall in the midst of the ever-darkening skies, the time of year when our days grow brief and our nights long. In the silences of our night, each and every night, you are invited to listen for the Coming One in our Midst. Gather into the blessed darkness of night your every care, concern, and hope for God’s beloved world.

One beautiful online resource to help shape your personal Advent journey this year can be found at The Advent Door, by Jan Richardson. Jan is an artist, writer, and minister who brings her gifts to bear most beautifully upon her contemplative reflections on the season of Advent. Each evening, after the night has gathered around you, I invite you to turn to The Advent Door, read the reflections, and contemplate the images there. Then open yourself to the presence of God in your midst.

This Monday, December 14, if you find yourself near our campus between 6:00 and 7:00 PM, you are warmly welcome to come to a contemplative prayer service embracing the themes of Advent. The chapel will be set up with several stations for you to move through at your own pace, praying for the needs of the world, for the coming of Christ, and for your own openness to healing and reconciliation. This will be our last chapel service of the year. We would love to see you there.

Finally, as we live into this season, may we all come to know our need for Emmanuel, God-With-Us, our need for a reconciled world, and a reconciled heart to God’s love. And in a few weeks, even as we celebrate that the Christ was born in Jesus two millennia ago, so may we also celebrate the good news that Christ is active in the world today through the in-breaking of the Spirit into every broken place. Thanks be to God!

Jennifer W. Davidson
Assistant Professor of Worship & Director of Chapel
American Baptist Seminary of the West