Today’s guest post, “Women Preparing the Way” invites us to be thinking of Advent. We welcome Rev. Joanna Harader, pastor of Peace Mennonite Church in Lawrence, KS. You can find more of her writing at SpaciousFaith.com and on Instagram @joannaharader. We are delighted to welcome Joanna often at the Writing Table where she wrote portions of her new book Expecting Emmanuel.
When I proposed an Advent devotional to Herald Press in 2021, I didn’t realize that the book publishing industry runs on a much (much) longer timeline than my normal blogging schedule. So in February, when most pastors were planning for a Lenten season of heart-rending and cross-carrying, I was frantically prayerfully finishing a book about the birth of Jesus—and the women who are vital pieces of that story.
Somehow I found the time and heart space I needed to write in the midst of parenting and pastoring and general adulting. I joined Eileen Campbell-Reed’s Writing Table as often as I could. (If you’re a writer, check it out!) I wrote on the train on my way to a church retreat. I let the liturgical seasons melt together in my head as I edited words about Advent and planned Lenten worship.
Calling Back to the Work
No matter how hectic things got, the women I was writing about kept calling me back to the work, back to scripture, back to faithfulness. Spending time with Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary has been one of the most nourishing spiritual experiences of my life. I pray that the book that has emerged–Expecting Emmanuel: Eight Women Who Prepared the Way–will allow others to also enjoy the rich gifts their stories offer.
I wrote Expecting Emmanuel for people (like me) who appreciate the idea of using a devotional, but don’t tend to like the actual devotionals they find. Expecting Emmanuel, like most devotionals, has daily scripture readings, reflections, and prompts. Unlike many other devotionals though, the scripture readings are fairly long—and often uncomfortable; the reflections don’t offer easy answers; and the prompts push beyond traditional forms of prayer and polite Bible Study discussion.
As readers move through the Advent season, they will explore the biblical stories of the five women listed in Jesus’ genealogy. Finally, each reading concludes with a blessing written in that woman’s voice. To illustrate the book my gifted colleague and dear friend, Michelle Burkholder, contributes original artwork. The daily readings extend beyond Advent through the Christmas season to Epiphany. In the post-Advent portion, we spend some more time with Mary and then touch on the stories of female figures in Jesus’ early life: Anna, the weeping mothers, and Wisdom/Sophia.
Writing With Expectation
So I wrote Expecting Emmanuel for those who want deep spiritual accompaniment through the Advent season. And I also wrote Expecting Emmanuel for pastors (like me) who want biblically-based, spiritually rich, socially relevant material to use within their congregations. In addition to the daily readings, the book includes guides for using the material in worship, small groups, and retreats. The worship guide includes prayers, sermon suggestions, candle-lighting liturgies, and benedictions for the four Sundays of Advent, two Sundays of Christmas, and Epiphany. The small group and retreat material suggests ways to adapt the daily readings for a group and offers suggestions of which daily readings you might use depending on the interests of the group.
In an effort to make Expecting Emmanuel as helpful as possible for congregations, Herald Press has made the blessings and artwork from the book available as a digital download. When you buy the digital files, you also buy the rights to use the blessings and images for personal and ministry contexts. That means you can project the images for visio divina, use them on your bulletin covers, make copies for a small group, put the blessings in your newsletters . . . there are so many possibilities!
I, like many of you, have read information from Eileen’s pandemic pastoring report — and lived through pandemic pastoring myself. Thus, it is my hope that this book can lighten the load for some pastors this year. Perhaps having a guide through the stories of these women and having some of the worship/Bible Study/retreat planning already done will allow pastors to experience Advent as a season of spiritual nourishment. Even in the midst of all the things.
Women Preparing the Way
Christmas is, at its heart, a celebration of the Incarnation—the Word made flesh. It is through the lives of women, the bodies of women, that the flesh of Jesus came to be in the world. And I have found that these stories of women speak deeply to the embodiment we all experience, and the ways the Holy One is present in the messiness of our fleshiness.
It was a joy to write Expecting Emmanuel, and it is an honor to know that it will be part of Advent for many individuals and congregations this year. As we shift into fall, as we negotiate the new not-quite-but-kind-of-post-COVID reality, as we plan for the season ahead, I want to leave you with a piece of Mary’s Christmas blessing:
“In all that God calls you to do and to be,
may you have courage
to say yes to the mystery.”
(Expecting Emmanuel, p. 109)
Join Eileen Campbell-Reed and other writers for a co-working and creative session! The Writing Table meets weekday mornings and includes pastors, professors, poets, dissertation writers, journal keepers, and authors. By all means, join us by signing up today!