Third Sunday of Advent
Lessons: Isaiah 35:1-10, Psalm 146:5-10 or Luke 1:46b-55, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people are on a joyous journey together to praise God, proclaim the good news, and be Christ’s hands and feet in this world.
Key Scripture: A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. – Isaiah 35:8
Remember the animated movie Cars? One of the songs from that film is entitled “Life is a Highway,” written by Canadian singer-songwriter Tom Cochrane and covered for the screen by Rascal Flatts. It’s a catchy little tune, supposedly influenced by Cochrane’s experiences overseas traveling to support World Vision. Ever since I read the lesson from Isaiah this week, the song has stuck in my head.
Maybe that’s a good thing, because this notion of a highway presents a fascinating image — a Holy Way; a road on which the whole rag-tag collection of faithful folk travels across time and space. The way is clear. The journey is joyful. Not even the fools among us (and don’t we all play the fool sometimes) get lost on some tangential byway. The desert is abloom with color, quenched with fresh waters, and verdant with foliage. Better yet, blind people see, the lame skip, and the deaf hear music and laughter. The mute will shout in defiant gladness and sing praises. Talk about hope in the midst of hopelessness!
Oh how we need this right now! How very much our congregations and the people with whom we worship and serve need to feel hopeful! The weeks leading up to and following Christmas can be times of enormous stress. The pressures are many: job insecurities, financial strain, family difficulties, pressure for a perfect holiday, and even guilt over the pain and suffering of so many others. Expectations are high, and the resulting delivery on those expectations can fall woefully short of the mark.
For this reason, Isaiah’s words this week have incredible power. Look at where they fall in the chronology of the book. This is good news out of place, hope in midst of hopelessness, God breaking into the middle of our mess and reminding us that life is indeed a highway, and we do not journey alone or in vain.
Perhaps you might stretch the highway metaphor a bit. Think of our super highways today: These mundane stripes of pavement crossing often-uninteresting landscape are designed to take us from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible. Stopping for gas and fast food are about the only ways to break up the journey. We hurtle by one another, encased in steel and plastic, our own little worlds or particular purpose and self-absorption.
Contrast the super highway with the old routes of yesteryear. Far fewer folk get their “kicks on Route 66” these days. Thousands of little towns have shrunk or died off altogether as these narrow highways and winding byways have been supplanted by multi-lane ribbons of efficiency and anonymity. The days of colorful diners and unique roadside attractions, of tee-pee motels and eccentric souvenir shops are largely a thing of the past.
Just as we all travel roads, we all journey through life. The question becomes, what sort of highway do you want to travel each and every day? Do you want to experience life or just whiz through it, only looking back to realize what’s been missed? Do you desire to chart your course on God’s highway, among God’s people? Do you find yourself standing at a crossroads, looking for a better way?
God has prepared a royal highway. Jesus invites us to the journey, to be disciples doing life differently. We can have our vision restored, our tongues loosed to proclaim the coming of the King of Kings, and our lame excuses cast aside for a new way of walking in the light of Christ. The waters of baptism flow freely for all, greening lives and lands and enabling faith to bloom. How about getting under way, my friend? Next stop is Bethlehem. Just follow the star, and remember God loves you—no matter who or where you are on the journey.
Consider using “The Canticle of the Turning” (hymn #723 in Evangelical Lutheran Worship) as the psalm for this week. Then reference Mary’s brave, bold song along with the lesson from Isaiah as words of hope inserted into a time of greatest need. What words of hope can we offer to our families, our friends, our neighbors, and our world in this present needful day? Challenge worshipers to seek out ways to share hope during the coming week. Invite them to report on their efforts by sharing on social media channels, or create a hope chain by giving each worshiper pieces of construction paper on which they can write the name of someone they know who could use a message of hope. String the chain together during the peace or after people come forward for communion. Offer a prayer for hope over the chain before the sending.
Who are the prophetic voices of our generation? One that comes to mind for me is Nelson Mandela. Why not spend some time with your youth reflecting on Mr. Mandela’s life and powerful witness or that of another modern day prophet. Choose some quotes from that person to ponder and discuss. Here are some words of Mr. Mandela’s as an example:
“A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.”
The epistle lesson from James could work well here, with its references to patience, strengthening one’s heart, avoiding grumbling against one another, and looking to the prophets as examples. What can we learn from the prophets of scripture and from modern day prophetic voices like Nelson Mandela? How can their witness inform our own faith journey and willingness to give voice to the voiceless and hope to the hopeless?
Are We There Yet?
Today we light the third candle on the Advent Wreath. Are we there yet? No. Not yet. We have one more week to go until Jesus comes again to make our Christmas celebration complete. It’s tough to be patient—especially for a whole FOUR weeks! Perhaps you are just now decorating the Christmas tree in your worship space. Maybe you’re adding more figures to the crèche scene. But we’re not there yet. We have to be patient. The Lord is coming. We live in that promise, and Christmas each year helps us to remember that Jesus is with us then, now, and forever.
To demonstrate the discipline of waiting, consider giving each child a flower bulb with instructions on how to plant it. Tell them that patience will be required, but that the result will be worth the wait. If you have too many children to give each a bulb, plant one together and check its progress each week. Take a picture every few days and make a collage or a time-lapse video.
Finish with a prayer like this one: Dear Lord, It’s so hard to be patient. We want Christmas to be here. We want everyone to love one another. We want the hungry to be fed. We want the homeless to have shelter. We want all to live in peace. Help us to be patient. Help us also to follow you and to help you make this world a better place. In Your name we pray, Lord Jesus Come. Amen.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Are we there yet? How many days until Christmas? Life is a journey, and like the weeks leading up to Christmas, sometimes we becomes so focused on the end destination that we forget to celebrate joy in the journey. Take some time this week to slow down and savor the moment. Give thanks to God for the abundant blessings of life.
Stewardship at Home
Stewarding our relationships is holy and important work. It’s also work that can be easily overlooked or put aside in the daily busyness of life. Make time this week to give the people who matter to you simple notes each day. In a sentence or two, share something hopeful, helpful, or encouraging to make someone else’s day a little bit brighter.
If you are helping children with this project, set aside some time before bed to craft your notes for the next day. Say a prayer over the notes, asking God to bless them to bless others and make the day brighter. As God to help you be a better friend, parent, student, daughter, son, grandparent, coworker, or whatever relationship you are seeking to build and nourish. Life is a highway, and enjoying, treasuring, and experiencing the journey matters greatly. Slow down and savor it!
(Photos: Petteri Sulonen, Natasha Chub-Afanasyeva, and Sergei Tereschenko, Creative Commons. Thanks!)
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