Third Advent Reading

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Scripture – James 5:7-11

7 Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9 Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! 10 As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

 

Advent Reading – “The Coming of God” by Ann Weems[1]

Our God is the One who comes to us

      in a burning bush,

         in an angel’s song,

            in a newborn child.

Our God is the One who cannot be found

      locked in the church,

      not even in the sanctuary.

Our God will be where God will be

      with no constraints,

      no predictability.

Our God lives where our God lives,

      and destruction has no power

         and even death cannot stop

            the living.

Our God will be born where God will be born,

   but there is no place to look for the One who comes to us.

When God is ready

      God will come

         even to a godforsaken place

            like a stable in Bethlehem.

Watch …

      for you know not when

         God comes.

Watch, that you might be found

      whenever

         wherever

            God comes.

 

Lighting the Candle

 

Prayer: God of many faces, we pray that you will open our eyes during this Advent season. Open our eyes to the many ways you appear in our days – in the faces of those we love, in the faces of those we find it hard to love, in the faces of the strangers in line at the grocery store and the person on the corner holding a cardboard sign that asks for help. Open our hearts to the ways that you stir us to move with you – in the sound of a ringing bell, in the words of the carol that we’ve heard a hundred times before, in the silent spaces. Keep our hearts, our minds, and our souls watchful, God, for the whenever and wherever moments. Amen.


[1] Ann Weems. “The Coming of God” in Kneeling in Bethlehem: Poetry for Advent and Christmas. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 15.

Second Advent Reading

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Scripture – Isaiah 12:2-6

2 Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. 3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.4 And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted. 5 Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. 6 Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

 

Advent Reading – “This Year Will Be Different” by Ann Weems[1]

Who among us does not have dreams

      that this year will be different?

Who among us does not intend to go

      peacefully, leisurely, carefully toward Bethlehem,

   for who among us likes to cope with the

      commercialism of Christmas

   which lures us to tinsel not only the tree

      but also our hearts?

Who among us intends to get caught up in tearing around

      and wearing down?

Who among us does not long for:

   gifts that give love?

   shopping in serenity?

   cards and presents sent off early?

   long evenings by the fireside with those we love?

   (the trimming devoid of any arguing about

      who’s going to hang what where,

   the aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg mingling

      with the pine scent of the tree,

   and carols gently playing over our idyllic scene)

   and the children! the children cheerfully talking about

      giving instead of getting?

Who among us does not yearn for

   time for our hearts to ponder the Word of God?

   moments of kneeling and bursts of song?

   the peace of quite calm for our spirit’s journey?

This year we intend to follow the Star

      instead of the crowd.

But, of course, we always do

      intend the best.

(And sometimes best intentions tend to get the best of us!)

This year, when we find ourselves off the path again

      (and we invariably will!),

   let’s not add yet another stress to our Advent days,

      that of “trying to do Christmas correctly”!

Instead, let’s approach the birth of our Lord

      with joyful abandon!

And this year

   let’s do what Mary did and rejoice in God,

   let’s do what Joseph did and listen to our dreams,

   let’s do what the Wise Men did and go to worship,

   let’s do what the shepherds did and praise

         and glorify God

      for all we’ve seen and heard!

As for the Advent frantic pace, we don’t have time for that.

We’ll be too busy singing!

This year will be different!

 

Lighting the Candle

 

Prayer: God of joy, help us to lose this year. Help us to lose our obsession with getting things perfect – setting the perfect table, finding the perfect gifts, decorating the perfect house and the perfect tree. Help us lose our preoccupations with shopping lists and over-packed schedules. Help us lose all of those distractions that pull our attention away from the approaching stable. God, help us get lost this year. Help us get lost in the overwhelming love of a mother for her extra-special child. Help us get lost in the faith of three sages who traveled so far on just a star and a prayer. Help us get lost in the wild abandon of angels singing joyful praise to a tiny baby. This is the year, God … this is the year. Amen.

 


[1] Ann Weems. “This Year Will Be Different” in Kneeling in Bethlehem: Poetry for Advent and Christmas. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 71.

First Advent Reading

I realize it’s a little late, but I decided to post the Advent readings that we’ve been using in our worship services. Thank God for the beautiful, stirring, challenging poetry of Ann Weems!

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Scripture – Romans 13:11-14

11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

 

Advent Reading – “The World Still Knows” by Ann Weems[1]

The night is still dark

    and a procession of Herod still terrorizes the earth,

        killing the children to stay in power.

The world still knows its Herods,

    but it also still knows men and women

        who pack their dreams safely in their hearts

    and set off toward Bethlehem,

        faithful against all odds,

            undeterred by fatigue or rejection,

                                                               to kneel to a child.

And the world still knows those persons

    wise enough

        to follow a star,

    those who do not consider themselves too intelligent

        too powerful

            too wealthy

                                                                to kneel to a child.

And the world still knows those hearts so humble

    that they’re ready

        to hear the word of a song

            and to leave what they have, to go

                                                                to kneel to a child.

The night is still dark,

    but by the light of the star,

        even today

            we can still see

                                                                to kneel to a child.

Lighting the Candle

Prayer: God of light and life, as we enter into this Advent season, wake us up. The birth of salvation is on the horizon – the coming of the One and Only who can bring light into the darkness. Brighten our days and our nights alike with the light that will lead us to that Child. Help us to pause so that we can remember your peace again. Help us to be still so that we can experience your grace anew. In our hearts, we know that all the rushing around isn’t what’s important, but when we forget, teach us once again to kneel to a child … to The Child. In the name of The Child – that Jesus-Child – we pray. Amen.


[1] Ann Weems. “The World Still Knows” in Kneeling in Bethlehem: Poetry for Advent and Christmas. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 59.

Sunday’s Sermon: Promises by the Bundle

  • Waiting is something with which we are all too familiar.
    • “Little waiting”
      • Waiting in line (grocery store, bank, library, etc.)
      • Waiting for the traffic light to change
      • Waiting for the commercials to be over (TV, radio, online)
    • “Big waiting”
      • Waiting for the birth of a child (or two!)
      • Waiting to head out on your big vacation
      • Waiting for retirement
    • And whether it’s “big waiting” or “little waiting,” it can be really hard to wait. But there are some things can make waiting a little more bearable
      • Story: waiting for Christmas as a little kid – “countdown to Christmas” calendar –> Now, in that instance, the waiting was made easier by the distraction of the chocolates in those little pockets and by the fact that we were counting down to something. There was a definite end to the waiting, and we knew when that would be: December 25, Christmas morning!
    • And here we are this morning in the season of Advent – the season of waiting.
      • Often looked at like our mouse calendar – Advent = countdown to Christmas
        • Count down as we light one Advent candle after another
      • Distractions of all our holiday activities make it easier to wait
        • Christmas cookies? Check.
        • House/tree decorated? Check.
        • Gifts bought and wrapped? Check.
      • But there is a deeper, more profound side to the waiting that we do during Advent, too. We have to remember that we’re waiting for more than just December 25. We’re waiting for the birth of the Messiah – “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”[1] There is a deep-rootedness to this waiting. It is a waiting that has been handed down through the ages, waiting for a hope that was spoken of time and again in the promises of the Old Testament in the words of prophets and storytellers alike. It is this ancient anticipation that Zechariah sings about in our passage for this morning, and it is this same ancient anticipation that we ourselves will sing about in our hymn following the sermon – “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Because in the face of all this waiting, God sent a tiny, baby-Savior, Jesus the Christ, to fulfill all those particular promises with his own grace upon grace.
  • First promise Zechariah mentions: promise to send the people a deliverer
    • Text: Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.[2]
      • Speaks of promise that we see in Ps 18 – describes God as our fortress, our rock, and our deliverer[3]
      • Also see this in Gr of today’s passage – Zechariah describes the role his son will play: you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins –> Gr. “forgiveness” = cancelling, sending away
        • This is more than God just pretending our sins no longer exist. This is God wiping those sins away permanently, removing them entirely, delivering us through the grace of Jesus Christ.
        • Think of the last time you did something you regretted – something you wished you could take back – and had to wait for someone to forgive you –> It wasn’t an easy wait, was it? It wasn’t a comfortable or a pleasant wait. When we’re waiting for forgiveness, we wait in both hope and fear. We wait in love and in uneasiness. We wait in the knowledge of what we’ve done and the yearning for compassion. And all of this is wrapped up in our Advent waiting as we wait for the coming of that Savior-baby, the One in whom we find ultimate forgiveness.
          • This is why we sing: O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Child of God appear. … O come, O shoot of Jesse, free your own from Satan’s tyranny, from depths of hell your people save, and give them victory o’er the grave.[4] –> We wait for the Child of God to free us from the loneliness and isolation that are a product of sin. We wait for that forgiveness that can free us, that forgiveness that can only come from our Emmaunel – from God-with-Us.
  • Zechariah’s second promise: king/son of God raised up from David’s lineage
    • Text: He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David.[5]
      • Speaks to promise given to King David by prophet Nathan: When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you … and I will establish his kingdom. … I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.[6] –> I hear power in this promise. I hear the kind of power that can overcome any obstacle. I hear the kind of power that can inspire the songs of angels. I hear the kind of power that can draw together the most unlikely band of travelers – shepherds, magi from the east, and a yet-unwed pair of misfits from Nazareth – in a most unlikely place – a grubby, run-down old stable in the small, insignificant down of Bethlehem.
        • Takes this kind of power to bring people together
        • Takes this kind of power to undertake the ministry Jesus did
          • Constantly spending time with those on the margins
          • Consistently butting heads with those in power
          • Takes this kind of power to bring about our salvation
          • Sing of this power in our hymn: O Come, O Key of David, come, and open wide your heavenly home; make safe the path to endless day, to hell’s destruction close the way.[7] –> Only the Son of God, that key raised up from the line of David, could have the power to defy death itself. It is for this power that we wait. And it is this power that we find in the tenderness and vulnerability of a newborn baby.
  • Another promise mentioned by Zechariah: the savior will be God’s message of love for God’s people –> more subtle message
    • Throughout the Old Testament, there are a number of different references to the “horn of salvation.” –> one such reference = Ezekiel: I will cause a horn to sprout up for the house of Israel, and I will open your lips among them. Then they shall know that I am the Lord.[8]
      • It is through this instrument – this Emmanuel, God-with-Us instrument – that God sings that message of essential love both to us and for us.
    • So in our passage for this morning, we have to read between the lines a little bit. You see, Zechariah speaks of God “looking favorably on his people” and says that “by the tender mercy of God, the dawn from on high will break upon us.”[9] In the Greek, we find this message of love.
      • Gr. “looked favorably on” = “God cared for God’s people” – exact same wording that Mary uses in her song when she says God “looked favorably” on her –> This is that hands-on God showing the people how much they are cared for, how much they are loved, how much the mean to God.
      • Zechariah’s “tender mercy” – Gr. “tender” = literally word for “heart/love/affection” –> show how deep God’s love truly goes
        • This is more than just a superficial affection that Zechariah is describing. This is a love that goes straight to the heart of God. It’s a love that God has for us, and it’s a love that God expresses to us by sending God’s only Son to a people who have been waiting for a long, long time.
          • Sing of this love in our hymn: O come, Desire of Nations, bind all people in one heart and mind; make envy, strife, and quarrels cease; fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.[10] –> This is the strongest kind of love, the most powerful kind of love – a love that can break down walls between people and mend even the most shattered hearts.
            • Saving love
            • Love born of forgiveness and grace
            • Love that we will find in the face of a newborn baby as he peers out from among the swaddling clothes that keep him warm
  • Final promise Zechariah mentions: great light for the people
    • Familiar OT passage (read on Christmas Eve): The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.[11]
    • To this end, Zechariah sings of how the tender mercy of God will break upon us “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.”[12]
      • What this afternoon’s Blue Christmas service gets at –> Sometimes, we find ourselves in dark places in our lives.
        • Darkness from things that have happened to us – loss of loved ones, health crises, financial struggles
        • Darkness from things we’ve done to ourselves – broken relationships, our own shortcomings and mistakes
        • And in the midst of this darkness, all we’re waiting for is a light – a glimpse of the dawn, a glimmer of hope, something to show us that things are going to get better.
          • Find this light in God – psalmist: If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.[13]
          • Given this light in Jesus Christ – John: In the beginning was the Word … in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.[14]
          • The Light of Christ – this light for which we have waited, this light which we celebrate every time we light another candle on our Advent wreath – this is a light that is brighter than anything we’ve ever known before.
            • Banish the shadows cast on us by sin
            • Banish the shadows cast on us by the judgments of others
            • Banish even that darkest shadow cast on us by death itself
              • Hymn: O come, O Day-spring, come and cheer our spirits by your advent here; love stir within the womb of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight.[15]
  • This time leading up to Christmas tends to be a time of activity and visiting and planning and doing. And we’re already more than halfway through it! The hustle and bustle of the season is in full swing, but in the midst of all of that, Zechariah’s song reminds us that we are also in a season of waiting. We are waiting for a deliverer. We are waiting for the light. We are waiting for one with enough power and yet enough love to banish the darkness from our lives and our hearts forevermore. We are waiting with the echoes of God’s most ancient promises still ringing in our ears. Like Zechariah, we are waiting with those promises tugging on our hearts and springing from our lips in song. We are waiting for that precious, vulnerable, almighty God-with-Us child –the Holy One, Emmanuel, who can take all those ancient promises and gather them up into one amazing, saving bundle of grace. We are waiting for Jesus. Amen.


[1] Lk 2:11 (ESV).

[2] Lk 1:68.

[3] Ps 18:2.

[4] “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” verses1, 4 in The New Century Hymnal. (Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 1995), #116.

[5] Lk 1:69.

[6] 2 Sam 7:12-14 (selective).

[7] “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” verse 5.

[8] Ezek 29:21.

[9] Lk 1:68, 78.

[10] “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” verse 7.

[11] Is 9:2.

[12] Lk 1:79.

[13] Ps 139:11-12.

[14] Jn 1:1, 4-5.

[15] “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” verse 6.