Lectionary Reflection for the Second Sunday of Advent
December 9, 2012
Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God. Put on the robe of righteousness that comes from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting; for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven. Baruch 5:1-3
The lessons for the Second Sunday of Advent offer strong possibilities for preaching and teaching about what it means to live the radical, counter-cultural life of a Christian in contemporary consumer-oriented society. These lessons lend themselves well to equipping, encouraging, and edifying disciples who may be feeling world-worn and weary.
If your community of faith is struggling to articulate a new vision of what it means to be “church” within the tension between tradition and reality, then this week is an excellent time to discuss what it means to “put on new clothes” of faith and hope and to share the good news with a hurting world. The epistle, Philippians 1:3-11, is an especially powerful selection for encouraging and thanking the faithful disciples in your context.
The wonderful news is that there are so many options for powerful proclamation and teaching from which to choose this week. The tough news is that there are so many options from which to choose. To find your way through the power and wonder and wisdom of these passages, sit with them, meditate on them, and pray over them. What does your community most need to hear? Where are your folks in this season of anticipation, preparation, and waiting? Are they in the Advent groove, or are they long gone on the move to Christmas? Are the people in the pews already living into their own radical discipleship? Or are they struggling to articulate mission and vision? You and the Holy Spirit will have to work this one out, but here are some suggestions for approaching these rich and layered lessons.
The rich imagery of shedding old, world-worn clothes and donning the garments of salvation make the lesson from Baruch an attractive option for this season, where people are torn between powers and principalities and the way of Jesus. One can also speak to the realities of mainline/traditional church decline and what “new clothes” might be required for God’s people to embrace new ways of being church and communicating an age-old yet always relevant and timeless truth.
Instead of new clothes for tired disciples, this prophet recommends a good scrubbing and cleaning. God will purify and make new all who serve the LORD. The messenger comes to prepare the way, so get out your mops, brooms, and dusters. It’s time to clean house and welcome the Messiah into freshly painted and smoothed space. Throw open the windows and air out tired ways of being and doing church so that the work of the people is pleasing to God.
Zechariah’s tongue is finally loosed, and what a song of praise and inspiration flows from his lips. This is powerful poetry–with a powerful message. How might the last two verses (78-79) become the light that helps both disciples and seekers alike move through the dark night into the light of Christ? How are we to partner in the dawning of this light?
Want to preach a stewardship sermon? Here’s an opportunity for a year-end thank you to the faithful stewards who make mission and ministry possible. Especially as mission plans (aka budgets) are being readied for approval and families are considering their commitments, the story behind this lesson can be the backdrop for your own faith community’s story and witness. Cultivate gratitude as an attitude and giving as a spiritual discipline by talking about stewardship regularly. Plus, for all leaders who are stressed and worried about finances, Paul’s situation reminds us that it could be a whole lot worse and convicts us to sing songs of gratitude and be thankful for those with whom we serve.
John the Baptist was part of a larger historical narrative and social landscape, and so are we. We are all messengers called to prepare the way for the reign of God and the renewal of all creation. The prophecy from Isaiah’s time still applies to us today as we continue to fill the void, level the playing field, unbend and unbind, and set a smooth course for all Creation to “see the salvation of God.” How can we who preach and teach help people set themselves within the larger framework of the divine narrative while seeing the need for and implications of radical discipleship? John is a fine example. It’s not all about polish and finesse, but more about honesty, transparency, and speaking the truth–preferably in love.
So now what?
So many choices and so few minutes to communicate the good news! Whichever path you find your heart and mind journeying, remember to wrap your message in new clothes for a new day, garments of righteousness and salvation that are always in style. May the Holy Spirit guide you and give you the words needed for those whom you serve. Blessings on your holy waiting and prayerful preparations. God is near.
Pause for Prayer: Using Paul’s message to the believers at Philippi, invite worshipers to divide into small groups of five or six as they are able to pray for the ministry and mission of the congregation, for other faith groups in your community, and for the church universal. Invite them specifically to pray for greater love, knowledge, and insight into needs they might meet and for the Spirit’s leading. Invite everyone to join hands and pray verses 8-11 as the closing petition of the prayer. Consider inserting prayer pauses often during the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.
Loose Tongues: Youth know all about the power of the tongue to hurt or heal, but what about Zechariah’s loosed tongue in the psalm for the day? Remind youth of the story behind Zechariah’s mute phase and how he was freed to speak and sing once more–and how he did sing! How can we cultivate “loose tongues” to praise God and share the good news with others? What forces “bind our tongues” and render us mute today? Is it peer pressure, fear, or disinterest? What would it be like to have no worries or cares and to be able to be loose-tongued radical, counter-cultural disciples in a world where messages are “spun” and where truth seems to be so relative and situational? With older teens it might be a good time to show the film Blue Like Jazz, based on Donald Miller’s semi-autobiographical book by the same name about his search for God and unique way of “loosing his tongue” through writing.
Finding our Place in Time: Help children understand the gospel passage by locating them in their specific time and place. Assemble pictures of your national leader, your governor, your mayor, and other elected officials and “rewrite” Luke’s description to fit your own context. For example, I will write it like this:
“In the last year of the first term of President Barack Obama, when Tom Corbett was governor of Pennsylvania, and Richard Starliper was mayor of Waynesboro, and the Rev. Mark Hanson was presiding bishop of the ELCA, and the Rev. Penrose Hoover was bishop of the Lower Susquehanna Synod, the word of God came to us–right here at Trinity. And we will leave here and go into our schools, and homes, to our work and sports teams, over mountains and along highways to share the good news of Jesus Christ. As it is written in the Bible…”
Invite the children to remember that this week THEY are the messengers, along with their parents and friends and fellow believers. They can share the good news and invite others to celebrate with them. If your congregation has postcards or invitations for your Christmas Eve service, a cantata, or children’s pageant, give them some invitations to share with others. Finish with a prayer for strength, courage, and words of wisdom for the coming week.