Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Second Sunday of Advent, Year A
December 8, 2019
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 are stewards of hope and blessing, both of which we are called to share liberally.
Key Scripture: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. —Romans 15:13
Blessing and hope: These two words weave a unifying thread through the lessons for the Second Sunday of Advent. Yes, there are a couple of discomforting and unusual images, including John’s reference to a human “brood of vipers,” but there’s much more of a spirit of anticipation for a new world, a new way, and a messiah to lead into that promised kin-dom. What a blessing indeed! Will it be easy, this new way? No, but is anything really truly significant without cost? Will it be better (i.e. worth the effort)? Absolutely!
Here are a few possible springboards for each lesson:
This is such a beautiful passage directed to a people in short supply of hope and traumatized by the complete upheaval of their lives. Yes, the tree and its lineage may have been hewn, but there is hope in the form of a shoot and new life. Study the description of the promised leader. It’s a rather odd resume containing nothing one would expect about kingly attributes and acquisitions; in fact, it appears that a child will lead. This child/leader brings peace and justice.
What do we expect from the Christ? What do we continue to learn from Jesus? Might we envision a future where the vast chasm that currently polarizes and isolates so many folks is destroyed? In its place can you see a welcome table where all feel safe to pull up a chair and celebrate?
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
This psalm was composed, possibly by David to celebrate his son’s ascent to the throne or possibly by Solomon to be prayed on his behalf. We miss several verses in our lesson, but it does provide an entry point to discuss prayer on behalf of those elected or appointed to lead us AND an acknowledgment of the source of all leading, creating, and redeeming. Verses 18-19 remind us that God is the source of all blessing and hope and deserving of praise. This psalm may also help to underscore why many congregations pray regularly for both church and governmental leaders by name.
Paul is making a case that salvation in Christ is for both Jews and Gentiles. He is also encouraging the Jewish Christ followers to fully welcome and accept everyone into the community. Verse 12 offers a connection to this week’s Old Testament lesson. The section concludes with a beautiful blessing: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” How wonderful it would be in this Advent season to focus on welcome and acceptance for those who are not present in our congregations. What about refugees? What about those who live in poverty or who are experiencing homelessness? What about people on the margins in various ways? What might it look like to truly extend this blessing/prayer to all people we encounter?
You gotta love John the Baptist! Talk about someone who is true to his principles and beliefs; John walks the walk and talks the talk. Granted, he’s not much of a people pleaser or respecter of the current religious leadership. John has a job to do, and he does it well.
The Greek word Μετανοεῖτε in verse 2 is usually translated as “repent,” but it might also be understood as “reform.” However you want to translate it, it is a radical turning and reordering of one’s life. We tend to look at repentance/reformation as individual work, but in this case it is appropriate to see it collectively, thanks to the imperative plural use of the word. How might it be preached/taught differently as a collective reforming and turning?
In verse 9, John says “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor…’” What would John say to us today? Might it be something like “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have more than two centuries of Church tradition on our side’” or “We’ve been saved; we’re on the inside” or “Jesus is our co-pilot.” You get the picture.
What kind of fruits are we bearing as a result of our repentance/reformation? How will folks identify us as followers of Jesus? And finally, what are the “rivers” where people gather today for radical reformation?
We find great hope in our baptismal promises, but it’s not just a certificate to stuff in a drawer. We die daily to sin and rise to new life. We are works in progress, and Jesus is working on us—equipping us, encouraging us, and engaging us in radical reformation. How will we respond to this good news? How might it change the lens through which we anticipate Christmas, and indeed every day of the rest of our lives? What needs to change in our community for us to better resemble Christ’s body in our context?
Whatever tack you take with the lessons, ponder these words of Henri Nouwen from Finding my Way Home: Pathways to Life and the Spirit:
“To wait with openness and trust is an enormously radical attitude toward life. It is choosing to hope that something is happening for us that is far beyond our own imaginings. It is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life. It is living with the conviction that God molds us in love, holds us in tenderness, and moves us away from the sources of our fear.”
How about singing “I went Down to the River to Pray” today (or incorporating it somehow into your worship)? Here’s Alison Krauss’s version. The song’s origins are unclear, but it was first printed as “The Good Old Way” in the Slave Song Book of 1867 and attributed to George H. Allan.
You might also incorporate children more fully into this weekend’s worship, in keeping with the words from Isaiah 11:6 “and a little child shall lead them.” Do you have children who can serve as acolytes, ushers, communion assistants, readers, musicians, and greeters? Might the children help you as the congregation remembers its baptism? Give them evergreen branches and have them sprinkle (gently) the gathered community.
Take a closer look at Psalm 72. What attributes from this psalm are important to leaders today? Are there other attributes that should be added? Rewrite the psalm for a 21st century context, such as praying for government leaders or those in church ecclesial authority. Pay careful attention to verses 18-19, and make sure that praise is offered to God in the rewritten psalm.
This week’s focus verse is Romans 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Craft four large posters, each one containing one of these important words from Romans 15:13: HOPE, JOY, PEACE, and POWER. Tell the children that they are going to help you offer a blessing to the congregation incorporating these important words. Next invite the children to tell you what comes to mind when they see each one of the words (reveal them one at a time). Affirm all answers in some way. Give each child a slip of paper or small card with the focus verse above printed on it. Say to them, “This is the blessing that we’re going to use to bless the congregation. It’s from Paul’s letter to the Roman Church, and it’s still as wonderful today as it was then.”
Invite four children to hold up the word cards. Tell them to raise the word high when they hear it in the blessing. Invite the other children to hold up their hands to extend the blessing and then slowly read the verse aloud. Do it two or three times for good measure if it seems helpful. Finish with “And let all God’s children say: AMEN!” Then invite the congregation to repeat the blessing toward the children, finishing with a hearty AMEN!
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
As we wait with anticipation during Advent, do not forget that we are stewards of great hope and recipients of a powerful blessing from the God who loves us all so dearly. Share the love!
Stewardship at Home
This week consider the wideness of God’s mercy, the lavishness of God’s blessing, and the boundless nature of Christ’s love. Consider writing your own song or poem of blessing. You might follow a pattern like this one, or you might draw or paint a blessing (especially if you have young children in your home):
…the weirdos and freaks, for they shall listen and dance to a new tune.
…the broken, the twisted, and bent, for they know what it is to seek healing and hope.
…the grieving and sorrowing, for they are not blinded by illusion or immune from pain.
…the poor and the marginalized, for they see through a lens not distorted by privilege and comfort.
…seekers and dreamers, for they impose no boundaries on who God is and how God operates.
…the preachers and teachers, for they weave words and image into radical good news.
…the music makers and singers, for they give breath and beauty to the Divine.
…the community gathered for worship and praise, for they shall be strengthened to live.
…the skeptics and curious, for they shall be surprised by love and wrapped in mercy.
…the powerful and the greedy, for they too, shall know what it is to lack and want.
…the privileged and self-satisfied, for they will learn that there is room for everyone in God’s wide arms.
…the sinners, for we have seen them, and they are us—deeply flawed and divinely cherished.
…the prophets, who speak like John and point to Jesus, for they shall see beyond the lies.
…God, who slipped on skin and vulnerability to walk live among us, for God is love.
Yes, blessed be every atom and molecule breathed into creation by the One in whom we place our Advent hope and longing, for all shall be redeemed in the blessedness and love that is the Christ.
2016 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2016/11/an-advent-welcome/
2010 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2010/11/here-there-and-everywhere/
Images: Christi Belcourt, “Wisdom of the Universe,” Art in the Christian Tradition; Michelle Grewe; and pol sifter, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
Note: Reprint rights granted to congregations and other church organizations for local, nonprofit use. Just include this note: “Copyright (c) 2019, Rev. Sharron Blezard. Used by Permission.” Other uses, please inquire: firstname.lastname@example.org.