[Note: This year’s Revised Common Lectionary reflections are excerpts from the forthcoming collection Generous Folk: Preaching, Teaching, and Living in God’s Abundant Grace (Year A). Each week’s selection features a theme, key scripture, preaching and teaching reflection, ideas for worship and time with youth and children, a stewardship bulletin insert, and an idea to practice stewardship and generosity at home throughout the week. We hope you will find these resources helpful.]
First Sunday of Advent
Lessons: Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people are “ready” and flexible with time, talent, and treasure to respond to the needs and opportunities placed before them in the moment.
Key Scripture: Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. — Matthew 24:44
What do you expect of this season? What does Advent mean to you? Is it a time of waiting and watching for glimpses of the Holy breaking into everyday life? Is it a time of preparation? Do you eagerly anticipate the arrival of the infant king as the days march toward Christmas? Are you simply snowed under a mound of “to-do lists” and mounting pressures to pull off a perfect holiday? Are you oh so done with all the commercial hype and plasticized platitudes of consumer culture, or are you polishing up the plastic to catch those last days of bargains at the outlet mall?
Perhaps you find a bit of all of these descriptions in your experience. Perhaps not. Maybe you’ve mastered the loveliness of living in the moment, of the gift of truly being present. Wherever you find yourself, and in whatever state of mind you reside, the question is still pregnant with possibility: What are you expecting?
The Year A Advent lessons invite us to ponder the question while living wide awake in each present moment, prepared to encounter Jesus in both expected and unexpected places and ways. Yes, we look ahead with awareness and expectation for the reign of God to be fully expressed, but we also understand that God is already present among us and that we are collaborators in divine disruption of the status quo. No, we don’t have all the answers, and some days it may feel as if we really don’t have any answers at all. But we have hope—we always have hope. We are people of the promise; we expect to see evidence of the sacred in our daily lives. Yes, we look for Jesus in Word and Sacrament, but we are also prepared to meet Jesus at the farmers market, in our workplace, and even at our local big box store.
As Christians, we expect to find Jesus in the unexpected places, in the company of unlikely people, at any time of the night or day. We expect the unexpected. We try to ready ourselves for the possibility of divine disruptions as the Spirit moves people and situations into our line of vision and into our all-too-carefully-constructed lives and overbooked schedules. Well, at least we should. This isn’t theory; it’s the real deal, and it’s writ large throughout this week’s lessons from Isaiah, Romans, and Matthew.
God is always up to something good, always seeking to bless and create and restore and bring hope to the chaotic messes of our lives and the dark corners of our fears and hurts. Advent bids us to stop, to breathe, to consider the marvels of creation, of each other, and of the Divine presence that infuses every molecule of the cosmos. Dear friends, this is not just another Sunday, another Season, and another day. Are you ready to encounter Jesus? Are you ready for the unexpected to change your life, alter your plans, and disrupt your direction? Be still. Be aware. Be ready. God is good. Jesus is coming—again, and again, and again. Don’t miss a single opportunity of this present day.
If you live in the northern hemisphere, the days are shorter and nights longer as we move into Advent. The contrast between light and dark is a stark one. Consider how you might take the final verse of the lesson from Isaiah–”O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!–and use it as a focal point for worship this day and as a guide for these days of Advent. Could you substitute your congregation’s name for house of Jacob so that the verse reads, “O house of Trinity, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”? What ministries of the congregation need to have light shone on them? What does it mean to walk in the light in your particular context? How is your community advocating for justice, for equity, and to eradicate hunger and poverty? What swords and spears are you beating into implements of new growth and abundant life?
Advent of the Living Dead?
Youth may have a hard time with this week’s gospel reading from Matthew, especially if they are familiar with the Left Behind series or with similar theological expressions of the end times. Why not explore with them the possibility of awareness. Could Jesus be present and not be recognized? Could one person totally ignore the in-breaking of the Divine One while another one senses it and stops whatever he is doing to encounter Jesus? Can someone become so caught up in the hustle and bustle of daily life so that she never has time to think about where Christ is present in her life or in the world around her? What might it take for us to be fully alive and alert and expectant rather than moving through life like zombies–present but not really “alive in Christ”? How can you encourage youth to look for “God sightings” during Advent? How might they seek to look out for the good of others in ways that involve spending time and investing energy and focus rather than dollars? In what ways might they advocate to help the hungry, the marginalized, and the weary?
Invite the children to hear the Psalm 122. Use the Easy to Read Version if necessary. Consider rewriting the psalm to fit your context, using your congregation’s name. For example:
I was glad when my family said to me, “Let us go to Trinity–the house of the Lord!” Our feet are standing here on holy ground. God’s house and God’s people: together we make one body, standing strong together. To all God’s people–from babies to grandparents–we come to Trinity to give thanks to God. People of God have worshiped here for 120 years. Our faith family has seen good times and bad times. Let us pray for peace. May those who love God and this place flourish grow. May God’s peace be inside this place. May our church be safe from steeple to altar. For the sake of all God’s people, our family and friends, “Peace be in you!” We will seek good for our church community and for the world.
Encourage the children to pass the peace with this psalm in mind. Invite them during Advent to find one way to seek peace and good for someone every day. Close with a brief prayer of blessing.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
What would it look like to be truly present in the moment this week? Instead of looking ahead and furiously planning, shopping, and fretting, what if we simply took time to wait on the Lord and look for Jesus in unexpected ways and places? Take time to slow down and count your blessings. Cultivate your relationship with God and all whom you encounter in the world.
Stewardship at Home
Spend some time talking about “gift-giving” this week. What kinds of gifts do you enjoy most: gifts of time, experiences, homemade treasures, gifts that benefit others? Make a list of those to whom you wish to give gifts and plan what you want to make or purchase. Try to keep gift-giving simple and joyous. Gifts should not be a source of stress or a strain on the budget. For a creative exploration of simple gift giving, read Bill McKibben’s short book Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case for a More Joyful Christmas. Read more here: http://www.billmckibben.com/hundred-dollar-holiday.html
Photos: Daniel X. O’Neil, Eric Mueller, and Jazleen Kaur, Creative Commons. Thanks!
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