Advent Devotions: A healing hope

Advent 2015. Design by Doug Puller/Bread for the World.

Editor’s note: This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

By Rev. Scott Clark

Psalm 121            

The Iona Community includes in its regular rhythm of worship a Service of Prayers for Healing. Every Tuesday evening in the abbey church on Iona, an island just off the western coast of Scotland — and elsewhere around the world at other times — the community gathers to pray for “the healing of broken bodies, hurt minds, and wounded hearts; of divided communities and nations, and of the earth itself; and of the hurts and divisions within ourselves.” They sing and read Scripture, and, at the close of the service, they pray for each other and for the concerns that have been spoken, with the ancient practice of laying on of hands. A person comes forward, and the community circles round, lays on hands, and they pray — and then another comes forward, they lay on hands, and they pray — and then another, and another, and another. Each time, together, they pray this prayer:

Spirit of the Living God, present with us now,
enter you – body, mind, and spirit –
and heal you of all that harms you
in Jesus’ name. Amen.

They pray, affirming that “we are not seeking to change God but to change the world; and we trust God that prayers will be answered, although we do not know when or how healing will happen.”

They pray, trusting that “God’s purpose for us is a life of wholeness, as expressed in the life and teaching of Jesus.”

They pray a healing hope.

We find that healing hope at the heart of Advent as well. As we read the Advent Scriptures, the people who walk in darkness hope for a healing light.  The people who sit in exile hope for the healing of going home.  Elizabeth and Zechariah hope for a healing answer to their longing for a child.  And Mary, in the Magnificat, rises in all her strength and shouts our hope for healing from everything that does us harm — from oppression, from violence, from economic injustice, from every kind of harmful power. Grounded in the hard experience of real life — theirs and ours — there is everywhere this healing hope.

We find that healing hope also expressed at the heart of Psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes unto the hills; from where will my help come?” We sit with the people of the Psalm in the valleys of our hurt and despair, and we look for the help that will come over the hill. We affirm — again and again — until we know it to be true: “Our help comes from God, who made heaven and earth… God will keep you from all evil; God will keep your life. God will keep your going out and your coming in, from this time on and forevermore.”

The invitation for this year’s Advent devotions is to pray together this healing hope, as we look for the coming again (and again and again) of God’s healing love for us in Christ. Each morning in Advent, as you read the Scripture and the reflection, I invite you to pray this question: “During this Advent season, what is my healing hope — for me, for my community, for the most vulnerable in our midst, for the world?” And then let us pray together — with our whole lives:

Spirit of the Living God, present with us now,
enter us, body, mind, and spirit,
and heal us and the whole world of everything that would do us harm,
in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Rev. Scott Clark is San Francisco Theological Seminary’s chaplain and associate dean of student life.

Note: The quotations are from the liturgy for a Service of Prayers for Healing, Iona Abbey Worship Book, pp. 88-91.



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