Second Sunday of Advent
Lessons: Isaiah 11:1-10, Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19, Romans 15:4-13, Matthew 3:1-12
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people prepare to fling wide the doors of home and heart to welcome neighbor, stranger, and Jesus.
Key Scripture: Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. – Romans 15:7
Advent is for most Christians a time of anticipation, of waiting, and of preparation. Christmas is the destination after 24 days of expectation and hope. We look forward to singing “Silent Night” by the light of candles. We rehearse children to retell the Christmas story dressed as sheep and shepherds and bathrobed wise folk. We clean our church buildings, hang the greens, and polish the altar furnishings.
At home we bake cookies, make candy, decorate the tree, light the Advent candles and count down the calendar (preferably with chocolates inside!). We ready our hearth and home for the arrival of family and friends. We plan elaborate celebratory meals. We choose gifts, wrap them carefully, and anticipate reactions of delight.
But isn’t Advent really more than that? Sure, we look for the incarnation of Christ in humble circumstances, but aren’t we supposed to look for Christ every day of the year? Yes, Advent leads up to Christmas, a day of high festal celebration, but how much of the holy holidays have been hijacked into a commercial consumption competition? Let me know if you hear more than one (or in rare cases more than two) Advent hymns played on local radio stations.
Now, I’m not against readying hearth, home, and holy space for Christmas, but I am loathe to see it happen at the expense of the many gifts Advent has to offer. Life is too short and the gospel too important to let an annual season like Advent get short shrift or be transformed into a mere prelude to presents.
Take this week’s lessons from Isaiah, Romans, and Matthew, for example. From all three one can glean important lessons for the discipleship journey—particularly the lesson of how to fling wide the doors of our heart, home, and church to neighbor and stranger alike. In this age of constant change, the church does well to remember its mission to welcome the stranger, serve the marginalized, and share the good news of Jesus.
The insightful (or incite-full, perhaps) preacher or teacher can use the words found in the lesson from Isaiah as a model for how to lead and serve in accord with God’s will. Peace, fairness, equity, hopefulness, and faithfulness are lifted up as marks of leadership for the one who follows the divine way and will.
Paul exhorts his readers in Romans to welcome others as they have been welcomed by Christ. He also urges unity in Christ, harmony, and hope. Seems to me there’s more than a hint at effective evangelism here — tell the story and model the life, folks.
Finally, in the gospel we are once again treated to John’s strong words: Repent, you brood of vipers. Don’t assume. Don’t play act. Don’t follow the crowd. Engage in radical life change by allowing Jesus to burn away the chaff of your resistance and sinful self-absorption. Prepare for Christ’s coming. Bear fruit. Be bold, be strong, be fearless.
Oh, yes, there are plenty of lessons for today’s church and everyday disciples in this week’s Advent lessons. The question that remains is this: Will we take the time to stop, listen, and really hear the words? Can we leave the trappings of our culture, our comfortable traditions and habits of being church, and our fears at the door? Are we able to let the fire of the Holy Spirit ignite us, consume us, and send us out burning with faith, joy, and a desire to be the kind of change we tend to only dream about?
With God all things are possible; therefore fling wide the doors and be ready. The world is about to turn, and you are part of the dance.
Do we welcome others as Christ has welcomed us? What does this mean? Invite people to consider whether their church is a friendly church. What are the marks or traits of this friendliness? Are all visitors/strangers/guests/inquirers equally welcome? Who might not be welcome at the table or in the pew? Are our church doors flung wide open, or are they opened with caution, barely cracked, or securely locked? What will it take for us to fling wide the doors and practice radical hospitality? Invite each person to find one way to welcome the stranger during the next week. By flinging open the doors of our hearts, minds, homes, resources, and communities of faith, we invite Jesus in, too.
Youth may be experiencing significant stress at this time of year. Schoolwork, extracurricular activities, gift-giving, family expectations, and cultural pressures tend to converge and strip the season of its meaning. Invite youth to look at Advent as a time apart, a safe space in which to wait and hope and be expectantly present. Ask them to contemplate what signals welcome in this season. How can the church be a place of peace, joy, hope, and vision over and against and in the midst of all the secular holiday hoopla? What do we have to offer that is different? What do they long for? How can they make space for the longings, needs, and healing of others in this season?
Finish the conversation with communion if possible, and use the words of Paul from Romans 15:13 as a benediction to send the youth out into the world to live, love, invite, and serve.
Wheat, Chaff, and Becoming the Best
If you have access to heads of wheat ready to harvest, bring some in. Also bring a loaf of bread (artisan or homemade if possible). Tell the children that before this wheat can become bread, the chaff—the scaly, dry protective casing of the grain seed—must be removed. It is useless at this point in the grain’s existence and will only lessen the quality of the bread if left to mix with the seed itself.
We humans are like that. We have our own hard, protective casings by which the person God intends for us to be is covered. Jesus is in the business of getting rid of our outer shells so that we may be the very best we can be. Even though we might think we’d rather keep our old habits, masks, and tough exteriors, God spends a lifetime showing us otherwise. When we allow God to separate us from the useless parts of ourselves, then the good becomes better. We can join with others to become bread for a hungry world.
Don’t have wheat and chaff? Either use pictures or find a rock tumbler to show how rocks are polished with water and sand. An ugly rock becomes smooth, colorful, beautiful, and unique when the ugly, tough exterior is rubbed away to reveal inner beauty.
Finish with a brief prayer like this one: Dear God. Remove the chaff, the parts of us that prevent us from serving you and loving others. Make us into good bread, helpful people, to feed this hungry world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Radical hospitality is an act of faithful stewardship. Consider this week how you are preparing your home, your heart, and your congregation to receive Christ in the presence of neighbors who may also be strangers. Spend some time in prayer asking God to open your heart and mind and eyes receive Christ incarnate in those around you. Be ready to be surprised and challenged to steward the mysteries of God’s amazing grace and love in this Advent season.
Stewardship at Home
Make this a week to clean both house and heart. Find something in your home (a room, closet, porch or garage) and pray while you clean. If you live alone, invite friends over for a potluck meal and enlist their help with a short time of cleaning. If you have family at home, find a way to involve everyone. As you clean, consider repeating a simple prayer like this one: “Lord Jesus clean my heart, open my eyes, and prepare my mind to receive you.”
Everything already cleaned and decorated? Have a blessing bag party potluck. Assemble simple bags to distribute to people experiencing homelessness that include travel sizes of personal care items (shampoo, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, shaving items, etc.), a washcloth and hand towel. Put the items in a gallon zipper freezer bag. Include other small items such as gum, hard candy, hand warmers, and gloves if there is room. Pray over the finished bags and give to a local homeless ministry or distribute personally where those experiencing homelessness gather in your community. Better yet, spend some time talking with someone who currently has no home or learn about the root causes of homelessness.
(Photos: Simran, Phil Lister, and depone, Creative Commons License. Thanks!)
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