Not always virtuous, the women of Advent are endlessly creative, wondrously adventuresome, necessarily defiant, occasionally manipulative, and absolutely faithful to God. Read their stories and celebrate these women – Eve, Sarah, Rebekah, Tamar, Miriam, Rahab, Ruth, Ester, Deborah, Elizabeth, and Mary – without whom there would be no Advent or Christmas.
Each chapter provides scriptural references, an introductory passage from scripture, a narrative discussion of the woman's life based on scripture, suggestions for symbols reflecting the woman's spiritual journey, and questions for reflection.
The insights that emerge from these narratives invite reflection for practical life-changing potentials: How am I a person of Advent? What difference do these women of hope make in my life? As a guide for individuals, families, and group discussion, Advent Women encourages readers to expand their appreciation for the messages of hope revealed by these creative and resourceful stories, awakening in us awareness of how we can respond faithfully to God's call.
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About the Author
Lyn Fraser, D.Min., is the author of two books on the psalms and a mystery novel. She has served as a hospice chaplain and taught at Texas A&M University and Colorado Mesa University. Lyn is involved in church ministries for spiritual direction, aging, the homeless, and adult education.
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Scriptural References: Genesis 2, 3 and 4
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord had made. He said to the woman, "Did God say, 'You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?'" The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'" But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loin cloths for themselves.
They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze. ... "Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" The man said, "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate." Then the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent tricked me, and I ate."The Lord God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures."
(Genesis 3:1-8, 11-14)
Eve's entire story appears in Chapters 2-4 of Genesis. The cast and setting are familiar: God, Eve, Adam, serpent, garden of Eden. After the serpent succeeds in persuading Eve to eat the 'forbidden fruit,' she shares it with Adam, and off they go on the road to ruin. God responds with wrath and punishments. Ultimately, Adam and Eve propagate humankind.
Much of Eve's iconic reputation turns on a significant conversation she has with the serpent in which she refers to the instructions God had given Adam not to eat from the tree in the middle of the garden. The serpent convinces Eve that it's all right with God, to go ahead and have some of the fruit. Consuming the fruit will make her godlike, the serpent assures Eve; her eyes will be opened, and she will know good and evil.
When Eve sees that the tree is for food, that the food is a delight to the eyes and will instill wisdom, she eats it. As a nurturer, she shares the food with her husband. Sure enough, their eyes are opened: they see one another naked. After sewing fig leaves together and making loin cloths for themselves, they hear from God, perhaps expecting approval. But instead, God admonishes them for eating the forbidden fruit.
The blame game. Adam immediately blames Eve for giving him the fruit from the tree: Her fault. Eve, who is not exactly a model of taking responsibility, blames the serpent for tricking her into eating: Serpent's fault. Although Adam and Eve get their fair share of wrath, God speaks to the serpent about consequences: because you have done this.
God deals with Eve and Adam by giving them work to do. Eve is to bear children, an outcome of desire for her husband, and God tells her the childbearing process will be painful. Adam is to toil all the days of his life.
As the story continues beyond the above excerpt, Adam names his wife Eve "because she was the mother of all living" (Genesis 3:20). She conceives and bears her first son, Cain, saying "I have produced a man with the help of the Lord" (Genesis 4:1), and in this way Eve is presented as a co-creator with God of the next generation.
Eve gives birth to another son, Abel, and as the boys grow, Cain becomes jealous of what he perceives to be God's favoring of Abel. God tells Cain, "If you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door" (Genesis 4:6). The first actual reference to 'sin' in scripture is about sibling rivalry and Cain's murdering Abel. Eve subsequently bears a third son, Seth, about whom she says, "God has appointed for me another child instead of Abel, because Cain killed him" (Genesis 4:25).
Eve, the maternal archetype, is a complex character. Human, yes. She eats the fruit that God has commanded Adam not to eat and blames her behavior on the serpent. But as the story shows, her concern is with sustenance and nurture. It is only when she sees that the tree is good for food that she eats and shares the abundance. Her actions also have an essential spiritual objective, making her our first theologian in the understanding of good and evil. God recognizes the source of the disobeying. Who has caused this? The gender-neutral serpent. Subsequently, sin raises its head not with Eve, but with Cain.
Through the Genesis story, Eve represents nurture, life, and co-creation with God. As Adam himself points out (Genesis 3:20), Eve is the mother of all living.
Symbols: fruit (biblical scholars think not an apple, possibly a grape, but any fruit is a symbol of fruit), figs and fig leaves, a garden with trees, a woman, a man, and a serpent, an artist's rendering of Eve
Questions for reflection:
What are Eve's particular qualities as the maternal archetype?
What does it mean for this archetypical mother to feature elements that are both light and dark? And grey? How is she like and unlike your own mother? How is she like and unlike you?
What can we learn from Eve about mothering?
What do you think of God's response to Eve, Adam, and the serpent?
Is your impression of Eve changed by reading the full scriptural story, and if so how?
What do you think you would do in the same Garden of Eden situation?
How does Eve embody the Advent theme of hope?
Scriptural References: Genesis 11, 12, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 23, 24, 25, 49
They said to him, "Where is your wife Sarah?" And he said, "There, in the tent." Then one said, "I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son." And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?" The Lord said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, and say, 'Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?' Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son." But Sarah denied, saying, "I did not laugh"; for she was afraid. He said, "Oh yes, you did laugh." (Genesis 18: 915)
Barren for 90 years and well beyond the age of fertility, Sarah overhears a message from God to Abraham that she will bear a son. Sarah's response? She laughs. For good reason: she and Abraham are both too old for such outcomes.
We learn about Sarah–wife of Abraham, mother of Isaac, and laugher at God in Genesis. Necessarily tough and self-protective as the matriarch of a tribe frequently on the move, she deals with the challenges that confront her in controversial ways. But in an era when women had little power or even a place in recorded history, Sarah ultimately endures as a figure of hope, as one chosen by God to experience an incomparable miracle. Through it all, God is unwaveringly faithful to her.
Sarah is praised in scripture for obeying her husband. Although she consistently demonstrates fierce loyalty to Abraham in upholding his heritage, we find instances in these chapters where Abraham's obedience leads to complex problems for both of them and for their legacy.
Named Sarai and Abram when we enter the story (Genesis 11:29), God commands that they leave their home in Haran, the first of many moves, and travel to Canaan, where Abram is promised an heir. A famine in Canaan forces the couple to move on to Egypt.
As they are about to enter the country as aliens, Abram acknowledges to Sarai his fear that because of her beauty, the Pharaoh will have him killed and take Sarai for himself. Abram asks that Sarai say she is his sister, not his wife, and Sarai agrees in order to protect Abram. She is taken into Pharaoh's house. In return Abram is given sheep, oxen, donkeys, slaves, and camels. Unfortunately for Pharaoh, God afflicts him with plagues because he's with Sarai, a married woman. In order to end the plagues, Pharaoh releases Sarai back to Abram, and they are once again on their way.
Over the next ten years their overriding disappointment is Sarai's barrenness. Sarai believes she has been prevented from bearing children by God. In deep sadness, she feels the responsibility of God's promising Abram an heir and suggests to Abram that he take up a relationship with her servant Hagar in order to fulfill the promise. Abram listens to Sarai and accepts the gift of Hagar, who conceives. Following the conception, however, Hagar turns on Sarai and treats her with contempt. In response, Sarai deals harshly with her, causing Hagar to run away. Hagar returns to the household only through God's intervention and bears Abram a son, Ishmael.
Things change dramatically for Sarai and Abram when he reaches the age of 99, including the names by which they are known: Abram becomes Abraham and Sarai, Sarah. God blesses Abraham, promising him descendants and land. Three days after this blessing, messengers of God come to Abraham's tent. After he invites them in, Sarah leaves to prepare refreshment for their guests, and one of the men announces that Sarah, now age 90, will have a child in one year.
We know Sarah's response to overhearing that prediction.
Before the prophecy can be fulfilled, however, Sarah and Abraham take yet another trip, this one to Gerar, which is ruled by King Abimelech. The scenario that had occurred in Egypt is repeated. King Abimelech, overwhelmed by Sarah's stunning beauty, wants her for his own wife, which would mean eliminating Abraham as the existing husband. In order to spare his life, Abraham claims Sarah is his sister, not his wife. We learn in this iteration that Sarah is, in fact, the daughter of Abraham's father, but not the daughter of his mother, so she is his half-sister. Before the unfolding of any sex favors, God comes to King Abimelech in a dream and reveals that Sarah is Abraham's wife. Like the Egyptian Pharaoh before him, the king gives Sarah back to Abraham along with many gifts, and the family moves on, encouraged by Abimelech to live anywhere in his land they desire.
A year later, God does for Sarah as promised. Sarah conceives and bears a son. Abraham names him Isaac, which means 'he laughs.' Now Sarah says, "God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me" (Genesis 21:6). In this instance, the laughter is in joy rather than shocked disbelief.
Sarah herself nurses Isaac, not a wet nurse, and he grows. On the day he is weaned, the family celebrates with a feast, during which Sarah observes something in the play of the two boys, Isaac and the much older Ishmael. What she sees isn't explained — whether it is some kind of abuse or just boys' teasing — but whatever it is causes Sarah to tell Abraham to send Ishmael and Hagar away, denying Ishmael a share of Abraham's inheritance. Reluctant, Abraham turns to God for guidance, and God tells him to listen to Sarah and to do as Sarah says. Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael away with the understanding that Ishmael's future will be safeguarded, but God's promise will be fulfilled through Isaac.
Sarah lives until the age of 127 and is the only woman in scripture whose age at death is given. There are references to Abraham's mourning and weeping (Genesis 23:2) and in Genesis 24 to her son Isaac's bringing his wife-to-be Rebekah into his mother's tent, where Rebekah comforts Isaac as he grieves for his mother.
Sarah embodies the Advent message of hope: there is always hope for new life even in circumstances of apparent barrenness. She teaches us to laugh, even to laugh in response to God's message of hope for us, and to laugh with one another in joy. Is anything too wonderful for God?
Symbols: images of laughter, a map of Sarai/Sarah and Abram/Abraham's travels, living plants in a dessert, a pregnant woman, a tent in the wilderness, artist's rendering of Sarah
Questions for Reflection:
How does Sarah demonstrate her faithfulness to God and God to her?
Have you received news so unexpected that it seemed impossible but that turned out to be true? What was your response?
How is the partnership between God and Sarah similar to that of God and Eve?
What do you think about Sarai's relationships with the Pharaoh of Egypt and King Abimelech? What do we learn about Sarai/Sarah in these situations? About Abram/Abraham?
Why is Hagar an essential part of this story? What is God's role in the outcome?
In what ways is Sarah a woman of Advent?
Scriptural References: Genesis 24-29, 35, 49
Her brother and her mother said, "Let the girl remain with us for a while, at least ten days; after that she may go." But he said to them, "Do not delay me, since the Lord has made my journey successful; let me go that I may go to my master." They said, "We will call the girl, and ask her." And they called Rebekah, and said to her, "Will you go with this man?" She said, "I will." "So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham's servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, "May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads; may your offspring gain possession of the gates of their foes." Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went on his way.
Now Isaac had come from Beerlahairoi, and was settled in the Negeb. Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, and said to the servant, "Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?" The servant said, "It is my master." So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother's death. (Genesis 24:55-67)
Think men are running this show? Meet Rebekah, matriarch of the generation following Sarah. The family lineage from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob is clear, but the succession catalyst is Rebekah. Her mode is action: she runs, draws water, welcomes and nourishes, creates a sizzling love-at-first sight scene with Isaac, and eventually controls the family's destiny. When her son, Jacob, meets his future wife Rachel, Jacob tells Rachel not that he is the son of Isaac, but the son of Rebekah.
Rebecca's story appears principally in Chapters 24-27 of Genesis. She enters the picture in an arranged marriage with Isaac. Early on, we learn about Rebekah's character through her interactions with Abraham's representative who has come to Mesopotamia to find a wife for Isaac. The opening scene takes place at a well as Rebekah comes out carrying a water jug. She quickly gives water to the stranger, welcoming him, providing water for his camels, and offering a place in her father's house for the night. The account of Rebekah at the well reveals not only her beauty, but her virtues in hospitality, befriending a stranger and caring for his animals. From those moments, Rebekah is the certain choice for Isaac's future wife in the eyes of Abraham's servant, an answer to his own prayer.
Rebekah has some say in the matter of marital negotiations, as her family asks if she will go with the man. She agrees to accompany the representative back to meet her potential fiancé, Isaac. Upon arrival, Rebekah enters Isaac's home, which is his mother Sarah's tent, and she comforts Isaac in his grief over the death of his mother.
For many years, Rebekah is barren. Isaac prays for his wife, and she finally conceives. But the pregnancy is torturous. The babies struggle in Rebekah's womb, and she asks God why she has to live through something so difficult. God responds, "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger" (Genesis 25:23). Rebekah gives birth to twin sons, Esau the elder and Jacob the younger. Esau grows up to be a skilled hunter, a 'man of the field,' and Jacob a 'quiet man,' living in tents. Because he is fond of game, Isaac favors Esau, but Rebekah favors Jacob.
When there is famine in the land, Rebekah and Isaac, like Sarah and Abraham before them, travel to Gerar, land of King Abimelech; a busy kingdom. Again, the episode is similar to Sarah's experience. Although Isaac passes Rebekah off as his sister so she can be with Abimelech, in this version Rebekah's marital fidelity to Isaac is never compromised, and Rebekah is returned to Isaac.
Excerpted from "Advent Women"
Copyright © 2017 Lyn Fraser.
Excerpted by permission of CrossLink Publishing.
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Table of Contents
DEVOTION AND CELEBRATION,
IN THE BEGINNING,
THE BOLD ONES,