Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, First Sunday of Advant, Year A
December 1, 2019
Lessons: Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people strive to live in the present, and they know that the point of this present time is Jesus.
Key Scripture: Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. Matthew 24:42
When we gather for worship this coming Sunday, we will be right smack dab in the middle of the “high holy shopping days” before Christmas: Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday. You won’t find any Advent shopping extravaganzas, however, because the gist of this wonderful season doesn’t align with cultural consumer expectations and experiences. I mean, come on, can’t we just have a little peace, a little joy, some very merry moments in this crazy mixed-up world? Can’t we just spend our way into happiness, meeting all expectations along the way?
We know better deep in our hearts, and science shows that beyond a certain point of meeting basic needs money doesn’t provide happiness. Neither does an excess of stuff. But that’s a conversation for another day because right now we need to deliver a gospel word of promise and hope. There is good news, and do we ever need it!
The world is too much with us (thank you, Wordsworth), yet this present moment is truly gift. It is, in fact, one thing certain in an uncertain and downright terrifying world. By living and savoring the present moment, we are able to piece together a life of moments lived in expectation and awareness—imagine a colorful quilt of unique patterns that tell a story and give meaning and contour to a life of discipleship and stewardship. The liturgical season of Advent blesses us with the call to pay attention, to be awake, and to anticipate a different world order. This is why we so desperately need to celebrate Advent now.
What kinds of imagery, metaphor, and language can we bring to our teaching and proclamation that navigates the delicate line between how things are and how they might be different—and better? And, how do we help folks to live in the tension between cultural norms and radical discipleship? I suspect you know what might work in your context to avoid guilt, shame, and shattered expectations that surround this season. It’s not a joyful season for everyone; we know that already. There’s an uptick in Blue Christmas and Longest Night services that honor the pain and grief that are part and parcel of both the holiday season and the holy days of Advent and Christmas. Here are a few possible springboards for each lesson:
Consider the call to beat “swords into plowshares” and “spears into pruning hooks” in the lesson from Isaiah. When we live and invest in the present moment, it is much easier to imagine a way of peace and an alternative reality shaped by Jesus’ kin-dom breaking into this world. Yes, right now it may seem far away, with our nation’s present political and social polarization, with an increase in acts of hatred and overt racism, and in the midst of news cycles that evoke myriad emotions—including pain, incredulity, disgust, dismay, and hopelessness. We are in good company with the writers of scripture, as their audiences also faced daunting challenges to waiting on God and following a different way of living and being in this world. Really, not much has changed.
Consider a focus on verses eight and nine: “For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’ For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good.” How might we be agents of Advent hope and peace for those we know and love? What would it look like to seek the good of others during a season that is often too full, overly stressful, and financially draining? How might we be bearers of peace in fractious times?
Wake up sleepyheads! This short reading is a clarion call to a different way of living. We are not to simply wait for a “pie-in-the-sky” savior (see last week’s reflection) but rather are challenged to consider what it really means to live in Christ and be bearers of radical good news to a broken world.
No one knows, the writer of Matthew’s gospel stresses, when the Son of Man is coming. We need to keep awake, living in the present moment, aware and watchful for signs of Jesus that are truly everywhere if we will but see and acknowledge them. Yes, this present time is gift, and in it we find the present of Jesus, the Christ who is already restoring and renewing every atom and molecule of creation. Yes, it’s tough to see hope when we look at the very real threats to our world, but hope in Christ is about as real as it gets, and we’re the ones who must share that hope with the world. As Harvey Milk said in 1978 in what is known as his hope speech, “…you have to give people hope.” Yes, friends, we have to give people hope—hope that endures, hope that has no expiration date.
Consider during Advent how worship might be an oasis of peace in the midst of the world’s crazy-making. Slow the pace. Let the calming blue of the season and the warmth of candles complement a growing sense of anticipation and readiness. Worship can be a space to recharge, prepare, and be strengthened for a countercultural witness. Don’t be a Scrooge over folks’ holiday happiness and desire to celebrate, but invite heightened attention and watchfulness for opportunities to experience both the present moment and the ultimate present of Jesus.
Invite youth to reflect on the lesson from Isaiah. Where have they seen people beating modern day weapons into instruments of peace and flourishing? You might point out Mexican artist Pedro Reyes, who took 6,700 guns and transformed them into musical instruments and another 1,527 guns to repurpose as shovel heads for the purpose of planting at least an equal number of trees. You might also want to check out Shane Claiborne’s and Michael Martin’s book website for Beating Guns: Hope for People who are Weary of Violence. How might your youth “beat swords into plowshares” and “spears into pruning hooks”?
This week’s focus verses are Psalm 122:8-9 – For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.” For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good.
Have you ever had an argument with someone? What happened? What did it feel like? Was there a clear winner and loser? The writer of the Psalm encourages us to be peacemakers. What does it mean to be a peacemaker? Have you ever been a peacemaker for your friends? What does the psalm writer tell us at the end? “I will seek your good.” The more you seek the good of others, the less likely you are to get into an argument. Imagine if we all lived this way, looking for the good in others. How different might our world look and feel? Here’s the point: If you want to be a peacemaker, look for the good in others. (Offer a blessing of peace to each child and finish with a simple prayer.)
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
During the weeks of Advent let’s be good stewards of each precious present moment and also of the good news of the eternal present!
Stewardship at Home
This week consider the lessons from Isaiah and Matthew. Journal, draw, ponder, and/or pray about how you can be an agent of peace who is ready and willing to help usher in the kin-dom of Christ. Choose one action that you can do this week toward that end. Need some inspiration? Check out this video story of a Palestinian man who takes bullets and tear gas canisters and turns them into art.
2013 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2013/11/expecting-the-unexpected/
Images: Allan Cleaver; Jim Robinson; and ewvasquez2001, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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