EDITOR’S NOTE: Beginning this week, we will feature a variety of variety of writers for our Revised Common Lectionary Reflections. Earlier reflections are linked below.
By the Rev. Norma Malfatti*
RCL Reflection, First Sunday in Advent, Year A
November 27, 2022
“Therefore, you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Matthew 24:44
“Ministry happens in the interruptions.” I’m not sure who coined this phrase, but they were wise words shared with me in the early months of being a pastor. I’d been lamenting how I wasn’t able to get my work done because people kept coming into my office to chat. Looking back, I shake my head at my priorities. I was so focused on keeping the cogs of the church turning that I had forgotten what the church and what being faithful to Jesus’s way of love was all about – people and relationships.
Advent is an entire season of interruption and disruption. In fact, the whole Christian calendar disrupts our cultural ones throughout the year, but Advent may be the pinnacle of holy disruption.
This season of longing for justice, for the healing and restoration of creation, for the return of our Messiah, begins amid the height of empire’s ways of hyper-consumerism and spending. (I write this reflection just before Halloween, and yet I can already find Christmas candy and decorations pushing Halloween merchandise out of the way!) Our culture is barreling toward wrapping presents to put under Christmas trees long before we start preparations for Christmas in the church.
Advent’s holy disruption finds its way into our worship with this Advent’s Gospel lections:
- Jesus talks about thieves disrupting sleepy nights… much like coming of the Human One will come and disrupt our everyday lives
- John is out in the desert disrupting people’s comfortability with his prophetic preaching and call to repentance
- Jesus’ work of healing and wholeness disrupted John’s expectations of a Messiah ready to judge and punish
- And Mary’s miraculous pregnancy certainly disrupted the quiet life she and Joseph were preparing to live
Or perhaps you want to set Matthew aside in your preaching and focus elsewhere. Advent’s assigned Isaiah texts provide rich examples of disruption:
- Weapons of war are turned into instruments of life and warriors need to find a new vocation
- The seeming dead stump of Jesse’s family tree is promised new life, a descendent and leader who will upend the customs of the day
- Exile has ended and the vision of returning home includes a disruption of the status quo – the blind see, the deaf hear, and people not previously able to walk are leaping like Bambi through the woods
- The king tries to rely on others who are not God. The prophet tells him that God will provide and, like the Gospel appointed for the day, the sign of God’s provision and safety is a pregnant young woman whose child shall be called Immanuel
It’s hard to escape the drumbeat of this season. So, what if during this Advent we become stewards of holy disruption? Tending to interruptions we’re presented with by the Holy Spirit and dwelling in them, rather than casting them aside to keep our own agendas on schedule. I’m reminded of the early church practice of Advent being a time of fasting, formation and preparation, akin to Lent. Perhaps it is a time to rekindle this practice and the disruptions it brings to our daily lives.
After all, what are we waiting for this Advent? A raise in the new year to help us pay off our credit card debt? The chance to have a “normal” Christmas? Or are we waiting for the one who comes at unexpected hours turning swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks, gives rest to the weary and inspires magi on grand adventures across the desert?
In many congregations the lighting of the Advent wreath interrupts the usual flow of worship with a liturgy of its own. How might the lighting of your congregation’s advent wreath focus on the holy disruptions of Advent? Try writing your own liturgy, or adapting one of your favorites, to focus on God’s holy disruptions of hope, peace, joy and love, and how they show up in the life of your congregation and community. When has your church needed hope? Who are the peacemakers? Where have you seen deep joy? What has God’s love looked like in your neighborhood?
Better yet, how might you create space for testimony for where God’s hope, peace, joy and love have been present in the lives of the people you serve? In my Lutheran tradition, we do not often offer opportunities for people to give testimony on how God has shown up in our lives, and yet, God shows up every single day. Perhaps worship (or fellowship time) needs a little holy disruption with people sharing how God has been revealed in their lives.
One of Advent’s many themes is longing – longing for the Messiah to return, longing for God’s restoration of all of creation to finally come, longing for injustices and wars to end. Isaiah 2 lays out one vision of peace, where weapons of war are turned into instruments that help give life. Spend some time talking with youth about what they long for in their lives, their school or community, and in the world. Isaiah’s words were written over 2500 years ago, and we are still waiting for his prophetic vision to take hold in our world. Talk about the hard realities that these longings may not come to fruition in their lifetime.
Perhaps you can write prayers together, maybe even a psalm, to help young people talk to God about what they long for, asking for the wisdom, strength and perseverance needed while waiting. God has shown up, God always shows up, God will show up. This may also be a good opportunity to reflect on the adage, “be careful what you pray for, God might send you to answer your own prayers.” What are ways that we as people of faith are called to answer some of the prayers that your young people write? After all, Greta Thunberg and the teenagers of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have certainly made an impact on climate change and gun safety laws, respectively.
Because children are concrete thinkers, you may want to lean into the Advent themes of waiting and patience. It’s a question many parents dread on long trips, “are we there yet?” Talk to your youngest members about times they have had to wait. What were they waiting for? A special day at school, a birthday party or family trip? Since this season is all about waiting, explore what that waiting felt like – the good, the bad, and the “I forgets.” What helped them wait? Was the waiting worth it? It was the same with the people who first waited for Jesus to come. That waiting took “forever.” Perhaps share a bit of the Nativity story or ask them what they remember about Jesus’ birth. We may have all kinds of feelings about waiting but our Immanuel, God with us, is with us while we wait.
The Rev. Norma Malfatti serves as Director for Evangelical Mission for the Minneapolis Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.