Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Third Sunday of Advent, Year B
December 13, 2020
Lessons: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people learn to rejoice in all circumstances. Nothing and nobody can steal our joy in Christ!
Key Scripture: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 2 Thessalonians 5:16-18
This week we light the third candle on the Advent Wreath, sometimes referred to as the Shepherd’s Candle. Often light pink or rose in color, this candle reminds us of the joy the birth of Jesus brought to the world. Yes, this Sunday is what’s known as Gaudette Sunday, or Joy Sunday, when folks used to take a break from their Advent fasting and contemplation to celebrate. We are reminded that Jesus’ birth was first announced to ordinary people, societal outsiders even.
Your candle may be blue, pink, or even white, but this year we are reminded that not even a global pandemic can steal our joy in the birth of Jesus and all that means. Whether you are meeting for worship this Sunday in person, in your parking lot, or via Facebook or Zoom, don’t miss an opportunity to celebrate joy in a time when more joy is sorely needed.
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11: When life kicks you to the curb keep moving Why? Because hope is just around the corner! God’s covenant people have been brought low, thanks to their sin and disregard for the covenant relationship with YHWH. Yet, hope is just around the corner for them according to the prophet Isaiah. Jesus will later use this passage as his reading from the scroll in his hometown temple to announce the fulfillment of this scripture in the presence of those gathered. Today we can look at this scripture for its radical hope and promise, reminding us that the Christ is already at work bringing all things into right relationship, and we are invited to participate in this work. No, nothing can steal our joy in the Lord if we refuse to let it.
Psalm 126: The psalm appointed for this week reminds us that not everyone approaches Advent and Christmas with glad hearts. For some people this is a time of profound grief and reminder of loss. Laughter and joy seem like impossible and far away emotions. Yet the blessing offered in verses five and six conveys the hope that there will be a time when shouts of joy and abundance return. Ultimately, not even grief can steal our joy in the Lord, though it may dampen it for a season. God is faithful and grieves with us in difficult seasons. This might also provide an opportunity to ponder how we can best respond to and support those who grieve and mourn during this season.
Luke 1:46b-55: If you choose to use Mary’s Magnificat today instead of next week, be sure to highlight the joy of Mary’s strength and willingness to bend her will to God’s. Mary doesn’t let circumstances steal her joy in being the Theotokos, or God-bearer, when she feels the quickening in her belly or the stretches and kicks of the growing baby. What examples of strong contemporary young women might you lift up as people God is equipping (whether they even realize the mark of the divine) to bear hope and life to the world?
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24: Paul’s concluding instructions in his letter to the Christians in Thessalonica, include the admonition to “rejoice always.” Other instructions are designed to equip God’s people to experience joy in all circumstances: pray always, give thanks no matter what, give the Spirit plenty of “wiggle room” in your life, listen to the prophets but use good sense, hang on to the good and stay away from evil. These ancient instructions are equally applicable for us today as we seek to live grateful lives grounded in prayer and marked by rejoicing. When we give the Holy Spirit plenty of “wiggle room” in our lives, nothing can steal our joy.
John 1:6-8, 19-28: What? More John the Baptist! Isn’t he getting more than his fair share of the Advent preaching pie? Maybe, but don’t let that steal your Advent joy. Instead, grab hold of verse eight (He himself [John] was not the light, but he came to testify to the light) and talk about testimonies and sharing our faith stories, of telling straight the good news so that the Spirit can get to work, and of how it doesn’t have to be a daunting process or an evangelism performance worthy of a Dove Award. God has always been in the strange habit of equipping the unlikely to do the amazing. Surely God can help all of us lose our fear, harness our joy, and start sharing the radically good news this world so desperately needs to hear.
Look for ways to spread joy today in your worship. If you are recording worship to broadcast via social media, invite congregants to send you short video clips sharing what brings them joy in this season or how they are finding ways to keep the pandemic from stealing joy and hope in this season. You might also invite ministry leaders/volunteers in the congregation to share how participation in various ministries brings them joy.
What was Paul talking about when he instructed the Christ followers in Thessalonica to “Do not quench the Spirit” (v. 19). This is a good time to discuss how youth understand the notion of Holy Spirit and how they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism. (Note: Be sensitive in your approach if you have those among your youth who have not been baptized.) I like to think of not quenching the Spirit as giving said Spirit some wiggle room in my life. That means I need to spend time in prayer, listening, and discernment/action. Prayer opens the pathway for the Spirit’s engagement and guidance. Listening through prayer, silence, scripture, and engagement with others also opens space for the Spirit to work.
Once one believes the Spirit is leading, we test that with further discernment and action. For example, if you believe the Spirit is leading you to a vocation in ministry, you might want to talk with your own pastor/minister and invite others to help you pray and discern this call. Learn all you can about your denomination’s requirements for ministry, and give the Spirit plenty of wiggle room. This could, of course, apply to any vocational discernment because many Christians believe all work is sacred when we consecrate our work to God’s glory.
Consider inviting a respected adult in the congregation to talk about how listening for the Spirit’s guidance in their life has made a difference in their work, relationships, engagement in ministry/faith community. Be sure to let them know the kinds of questions you will ask in advance. Wiggle room is good!
This week’s focus verses are 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: – Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
This week we learn three things Paul instructed Christians to do because it is God’s will for them. They are 1) rejoice always; 2) keep praying, and 3) be thankful. Three little things may sound pretty easy, but they take a little more work to put into practice. Take the first one (rejoice always), for example. It’s hard to rejoice when you’re feeling sad, or down, or when something bad has happened. And yet Paul insists that we find some way to rejoice, pray, and give thanks in all circumstances. He knew what he was talking about, too, because he’d had some pretty rough things happen to him—being in prison, shipwrecked, beaten, chased, threatened with death. These three things helped keep Paul going in all sorts of difficulties and also in good times. My challenge to all of us is to make it a point to remember these three things: 1) rejoice always, 2) keep praying, and 3) be thankful.
Note: If you have time, make a simple triangle cut out from cardboard. Cut out the center of the triangle, and spray paint the shape gold. On each of the three sides, write one of the three instructions. Poke a small hole in the top for a hook and perhaps some ribbon, and present each child with one for their Christmas tree at home. If you are working digitally prepare a PDF instruction sheet and ask families to assemble the materials ahead of time.
Finish with a simple echo prayer and blessing.
Dear God (Dear God),
Thank you (Thank you) for loving us (for loving us). Thank you for calling us (Thank you for calling us) to rejoice always (to rejoice always), keep praying (keep praying), and be thankful (and be thankful).
Keep us from fear (Keep us from fear). Keep us hopeful (Keep us hopeful). Make us helpful (Make us helpful). Give us peace (Give us peace). Amen (Amen).
Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Stewardship should be joyous—not drudgery. This week’s epistle lesson gives us a “three ingredient recipe” for better stewardship of God’s abundance: 1) rejoice always, 2) keep praying, and 3) give thanks.
How about writing a story about the “Joy Stealer.” If you are working with young children, invite them to think of things that the “Joy Stealer” has tried to take from them this year. How has faith in Jesus kept that joy from being stolen? If it’s been stolen, what can we do to get it back? If it’s just you or a group of adults at home, write the story to your young self. What do our faith and this week’s lessons have to say about hanging on to our joy in difficult times? How can prayer, gratitude, and joy in the Lord sustain us right now?
2017 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2017/12/rejoice-jesus-is-coming/
2014 Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2014/12/stewards-of-advent-time-witness/
Note: Reprint rights granted to congregations and other church organizations for local, nonprofit use. Just include this note: “Copyright (c) 2020, Rev. Sharron Blezard. Used by Permission.” Other uses, please inquire: firstname.lastname@example.org.