Monday Muse: Advent Sermon Series

Less than two weeks until the beginning of Advent. Thanksgiving is around the corner, you’ve had a busy fall in your ministry, and you’re trying not to panic over the Advent sermons series that you intended to plan last week or last month.

Need a little help finding inspiration for your last-minute planning? Here are some ideas to get you started! (These brainstorms were shared recently during a webinar, Preaching Advent Like You Planned It Months Ago, through the Center for Progressive Renewal.) Five ideas for sermon content below are paired with five ideas for creative approaches to the sermon; mix-and-match as needed for quick & creative Advent preaching!

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CONTENT: Revised Common Lectionary, Gospels
APPROACH: Why?

The favorite question of a two-year-old is, in fact, a very useful question to send us deeper into faith. Especially when the texts & stories are so familiar to many in the pews, asking Why? can challenge and disrupt any quick breezing through these Gospel stories.

Advent 1 (Mark 13:24-37): “About that day or hour no one knows.” Why? Especially in the midst of uncertainty in our lives and our world, we prefer knowledge over mystery. Why must God be mysterious?

Advent 2 (Mark 1:1-8): “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Why? God is almighty, yes? God has the vision for God’s work, yes? Why does God need us to do part (or any) of the work?

Advent 3 (Luke 1:46b-66, one of two Gospel options this Sunday): “God has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” Why? Why does God favor the lowliest? Why does God promise to bring down the powerful and send the rich away empty? Why doesn’t God favor people in the same way that the world does?

Advent 4 (Luke 1:26-38, again one of two Gospel options): “Here I am, the servant of the Lord.” Why? Why Mary? Why you? Why me? Are we so individually special that God makes use of us? Does God just say, “You’re in the right place at the right time for what I need”?

Christmas Eve/Day (Luke 2:1-20): “And she gave birth to her firstborn son.” The nativity story is just one big Why? isn’t it? Why this way? Why did God become flesh? Why were the shepherds the ones to receive the first birth announcement? Why the stable and the manger — did it really have to be this way, or could the Christ have entered the world another way?

CONTENT: Revised Common Lectionary, Psalms
APPROACH: Poetry

One of my earliest sermons that really preached was written in loose poetic form at the encouragement of a mentor & friend. She’d seen some of my poetic prayers; “Why not preach that way?” she asked. Writing a sermon poetically does not require you to be deft with rhyming schemes or iambic pentameter, only that you be willing to let go of complete sentences and paragraphs :) and that you listen for the rhythm and emotion of words. Here are words that stand out to me for their rhythm and poignancy, which could be woven with repetition into your poetic sermons:

Advent 1 (Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19): “Restore us, O God; let your face shine!” The outset of Advent examines our need for a savior, a rescuer, one who will restore our lives from their calamity.

Advent 2 (Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13): “Let me hear.” The call not only for God to act but also for us to pay attention to God in mind, body and soul.

Advent 3 (Psalm 126): “Come home with joy.” The dream of God’s coming kindom, where laughter and joy and community and inclusion are abundant.

Advent 4 (Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26): “I have found you.” Like the blessing heard at Jesus’ baptism, “You are my beloved,” we place ourselves in this psalm and hear God’s joy over us.

Christmas Eve/Day (Psalm 96): “Give credit where credit is due.” There’s poetry in the psalm’s phrase, “Ascribe to the LORD,” but sometimes biblical language is so disconnected from our modern lives that an adaptation is useful. On Christmas Eve/Day, celebrate God’s work and give to God credit where credit is due!

CONTENT: Narrative Lectionary
APPROACH: Senses

Connect Advent to our senses to help the familiar come to life in fresh ways this season.

Advent 1 (Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:2-4, 3:17-19): SEE. “Why do you make me see trouble? See the vision. Write it so a runner may see and read it easily. Look at the proud, look at the fig tree, look at the field.”

Advent 2 (Esther 4:1-17): HEAR. Mordecai and all the Jews hear reports of the king’s decree, and in turn Queen Esther hears the news. By way of the queen’s servants sharing messages between them, Mordecai is able to bend Esther’s ear with advice and encourage her not to remain silent before the king.

Advent 3 (Isaiah 42:1-9): TOUCH. God’s servant will not damage the bruised reed when he touches it, nor outen the candle whose wick is barely burning; he will touch the earth gently just as God who stretched the heavens like taffy and spread out the earth like a blanket and takes the hands of those most in need is gentle and fair with all that God touches.

Advent 4 (Matthew 1:18-25): DREAM. That sixth sense that we often neglect but which is so necessary for the unfolding of Advent visions! Joseph dreams of an angel who changes his mind about Mary and opens the eyes of Joseph’s heart to imagine the ways in which God is at work in his (and his family’s) life.

Christmas Eve/Day (Luke 2:1-20): SMELL. The musk of a barn and the crisp smell of hay. The ripe perfume of shepherds & shepherdesses who have been living outdoors with their flocks. The incense of heaven that descended with the angels’ chorus. The freshness of a newborn baby.

CONTENT: All Christmas — All Advent Long
APPROACH: The Nativity Story with Modern News

Go for it. Dive in to those Christmas carols in Advent. Don’t worry about the sanctuary’s Christmas trees being decorated too early. Encourage multiple creche displays around the church. The whole marketing world is already immersed in Christmas spirit/sales, so embrace the holiday’s premature arrival in order to actively shape its spiritual meaning … because, despite the holiday sales and Christmas lights and radio jingles, our world finds itself in a very Advent longing-for-a-savior spiritual space. We can sing of Christmas while preaching to Advent.

Advent 1 (John the Baptist, Joy to the World): The world is full of public theologians and prophets — some we like, many we don’t. How do we discern through all the spiritual noise to recognize God’s words and call to us?

Advent 2 (Zechariah & Elizabeth, In the Bleak Midwinter and O Come All Ye Faithful): There are stories we do not want to hear, stories that are muted when they need to be shared & shouted aloud. What are the un- and under-reported stories, such as the disappearances and murders of indigenous women in the US and Canada so often dismissed by police and media?

Advent 3 (Mary & Joseph, Away in a Manger and It Came upon the Midnight Clear): Modern families struggle for stability, some moving across states and across borders for economic prospects, some combining multiple generations under one roof, some fleeing persecution and violence. Do we aspire to be settled in faith & life, or do we unsettle ourselves alongside those who are transient and struggling?

Advent 4 (Shepherds & Angels, Angels We Have Heard on High and The First Noel): God sent an angelic birth announcement to shepherds, hardly the most glamorous group to receive such news. What are the stories of the church welcoming the world’s outcasts — welcoming the church’s own outcasts? What work still needs to be done?

Christmas Eve/Day (Baby Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Oh What a Wonderful Child and Jesus Our Brother Strong and Good): Jesus is not the only infant over whom parents and relatives and strangers have cooed. Jesus is not the only young man whose parents wailed at the news of their child’s death. Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Emmett Till, the list and the history are too long. How do we hold in tension the good news of one child’s birth while too many other children are dying?

CONTENT: All Christmas — All Advent Long
APPROACH: Secular Christmas Songs

Go one more step of daring: bring those jingly jangly secular Christmas songs into worship. :) Get your church’s kids to sing them loudly (adults too). And then preach on those carols, find the spiritual lessons in their lyrics, and have a little holiday fun!

Advent 1 (Frosty the Snowman): Frosty was particularly dressed and led the kids through a fun day in the snow. Compare & contrast with John the Baptist, also peculiarly dressed, determined to lead people toward God’s ways.

Advent 2 (Let It Snow! Let It Snow!): Oh, the weather outside is frightful! How do you respond to alarming news or scary situations? How do we respond to unwelcome circumstances as people of faith? How did Mary demonstrate trust in God in the face of unsettling news?

 Advent 3 (Jingle Bells): Make a joyful noise much like Mary and Elizabeth, who shouted and sang and celebrated together as they shared the good news of their pregnancies with one another. Invite congregants to tell each other stories of celebratory family gatherings.

Advent 4 (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer): Rudolph, meet the shepherds. Shepherds, meet Rudolph. Both were outcast from their communities, until they suddenly were surprised by the favor of someone’s (Santa’s and the angels’, respectively) attention and call to purpose.

Christmas Eve/Day (Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town): Let’s talk about the ways we conflate our theology of God with our understandings of Santa, taking the time at Christmas to distinguish between Santa’s once-a-year presence and God’s year-round presence.

Advent blessings and peace in your final preparations, friends!

Sunday Prayer

Let us keep silence before God.

. . .

This is the day of the LORD.
This is a moment in God’s time.
This is a breath within God’s work.

. . .

We are humble before you, O God,
for you govern the sun’s race across the sky
and you conduct the symphony of the stars;
you cue the prophet’s trumpet for justice
and you care for the dust of our lives.

Silver and gold are not finer than you,
our one and holy beckoning treasure.
Armies and borders cannot replace you,
our boundless sanctuary and true home.

Have mercy, O God,
for we wither under the daily routines of life
and we faint before the magnitude of your call;
mountains seem insurmountable (truthfully,
whether it’s your mountain or any other hill).
It is all enough for us, too much,
but you are more than enough.

Have mercy, O God,
for our hearts are breaking with the passing of loved ones,
with struggles for health and livelihood and rest, with
conspiring systems of injustice and stories of war.
It is enough, it is too much,
but you are more than enough.

Have mercy, O God,
for we have doubted our gifts, hidden our talents,
and cried out to you for help
you’ve already given us.
It is enough, it is too much,
yet you are more than enough.

We are humble before your mercy, O God,
for power and authority are yours beyond our imagining;
but this we believe: that you are slow to anger,
abundant in grace, and steadfast in love.

Take our warring and our worrying and our wandering
and hammer us into tools of compassion,
into living signs of love and welcome,
into people of peace. For your sake
and for ours, we pray. Amen and amen.

Cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals.

Hope on a Dismal Day

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The fig tree does not blossom

yet the pine remains faithfully green.

The vine wanders aimlessly without bearing fruit

yet the stream still runs to the ocean.

The sun hides its face behind storming clouds

yet an infant still smiles on his mother’s lap.

Justice roams the streets, cast out by the powerful

yet her voice echoes in the throats of the youth.

The tendrils of war grow like weeds in fallow fields

yet the hand of one friend still finds the hand of another.

Division and cynicism make the best headlines

yet I hold out hope for I set my eyes on the LORD.

(on Habakkuk 3:17-18)

Monday Muse: Advent Candle Liturgies

Advent is a season to savor — the longing, the impossible hope, the desperate eagerness for God to come and completely convert the world to holy ways of justice and love.

Savoring Advent, however, is often a rare luxury for church professionals working hard to bring the season to life for their congregations … and quite a spiritual feat for all of us striving to hold onto Advent as something distinct from Christmas (and from the tsunami that is Christmas consumerism).

In support especially of my colleagues in church work, the following Advent candle liturgies are offered as a relief from writing your own and as an opportunity to (hopefully) resonate with the Advent season in your own spirit. Please include a printed attribution to this website if you use these liturgies in worship.

Preachers may also want to join me this Wednesday, Nov 12, at 1:00pm EST for a webinar, Preaching Advent Like You Planned It Months Ago.

ADVENT CANDLE LITURGY CELEBRATING LIGHT

Advent 1
One: First the silence … then a whisper.
Another: First the shadows … then a spark.
Many: Light!
One: One voice murmuring, “Take courage.”
Another: One light reassuring, “Do not be afraid.”
Many: Hope!
One: Here, take my hand.
Another: Here, lend your voice.
Many: We are not alone!

Advent 2
One: First the tinder … then the kindling.
Another: First the spark … then the flames.
Many: Light!
One: One voice singing, “O grant us light.”
Another: One fire beckoning, “Come join the circle.”
Many: Peace!
One: Here, soak in the warmth.
Another: Here, rest and be comforted.
Many: We are not alone!

Advent 3
One: First the beacon … then the witness.
Another: First the sighting … then the celebration.
Many: Light!
One: One voice shouting, “Look and see!”
Another: One flash boasting, “Brightest and best!”
Many: Joy!
One: Here, beauty radiates! Colors dance!
Another: Here, praise rises with every burst and glimmer!
Many: We are not alone!

Advent 4
One: First the sigh … then the smile.
Another: First the blush … then the excitement.
Many: Light!
One: One voice calling, “Let us love one another!”
Another: One heart beaming, “This is our purpose!”
Many: Love!
One: Here, compassion sways!
Another: Here, community delights!
Many: We are not alone!

Christmas Eve/Christmas Day
One: First the mystery … then the angelic song.
Another: First the waiting … then the dawning.
Many: Light!
One: One voice humming a lullaby, “You have come!”
Another: One star singing joyfully, “You have come!”
Many: Christ!
One: Here, the holy arrives in weakness and humility.
Another: Here, the holy breaks open our hearts.
Many: We are not alone!

ADVENT CANDLE LITURGY AS THE (adapted) OLD TESTAMENT READING, REVISED COMMON LECTIONARY

Advent 1 (Isaiah 64:1-9)
Like a spark igniting tinder, then the woodfire causing a kettle to boil,
You, O God, cause a reaction whenever and wherever you appear.
Oh that you would appear now and set the mountains quaking!
When the earth trembles, we remember: you alone are the God who is at work.
Most Holy God, you demand of us a reaction — a response — and the dedication of co-laborers.
You have every reason to hold us accountable when we fail to walk in your ways, to give voice to your name, to hold fast to you.
Yet do not be angry with us for long, O God, for you have claimed us as your people.
Take us, mold us like the clay we are, and show us your hope that a new work can be done within us.
Light first Advent candle.

Advent 2 (Isaiah 40:1-11)
Speak tenderly to the world, O God our God; come quickly to tell her that her pain has gone on long enough.
Prepare the way of the LORD; make way for the peace of God!
Move the mountains! Lift up the valleys! Smooth the rough paths!
But how can we do this, O God, we who are like grass that fades in the sun, like flowers that wither before the wind?
Get up to a high mountain! Lift up your voice with strength and do not be afraid!
From the mountaintop we can see: God comes with might to redress the world’s suffering, to comfort her like a shepherd comforts a lamb.
Share the good news: here is your God!
Let your glory be revealed, most merciful God!
Light first two Advent candles.

Advent 3 (Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11)
Tell me, tired ones, do you still sit in mourning?
Come, let us replace our ashes with garlands of flowers, and set aside our weary spirits to put on cloaks of praise.
You are a planting of the LORD, a holy reparation that brings life to the ruins;
Not for our own sake, but because God is faithful and loves justice! Because God cares about God’s reputation!
Rejoice in the LORD! Dance with exultation!
You, O God, are good and abundant!
Like a garden nurtures seeds into bloom,
So God nurtures our praise to burst into beauty for all the world to see!
Sing in joy and do not be silent;
For God is good news for the oppressed, healing for the brokenhearted, and freedom to the prisoners!
Light three Advent candles.

Advent 4 (2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16)
See the light of God that leads and comforts us!
Shouldn’t the light of God be kept in a holy place, a beautifully decorated space?
Listen as the LORD reminds us: “I do not live in a house as you do.”
God has moved among us for generations, ever-restless, never contained.
“From pastures to cities, across rivers and deserts, I have been with you.”
When we tried to build God into our churches and creeds, God refused to nest.
“I am your home. I am your rest. Whether you wander or set down roots, you live within my house.”
O God our God! In your house we are no longer lost; in your kingdom, we are forever loved!
Light four Advent candles.

Christmas Eve/Christmas Day (Isaiah 9:2-7)
The people who wandered at night have seen the sun rising gloriously in the east.
We have been lost in the darkest shadows; now the light shines through!
Before you, O God, we dance with joyful abandon, as when the harvest has been gathered for the winter!
Now our burden has dropped from our shoulders, to be picked up no more!
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us!
On his shoulders shall rest all burdens and authority, and we will praise his name: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Unending One, Bringer of Peace!
His authority will multiply and his peace will be eternal,
For the child who has been born will establish justice by the holy power of God, from this time on and forevermore!
Light four Advent candles and the Christ candle.

ADVENT CANDLE LITURGY ON SILENCE

Advent 1
at the start of worship, with lights dimmed/out
liturgist stands next to the Advent candles
liturgist allows 15-30 seconds of silence before announcing:
Let there be hope!
first candle is lit
worship leaders allow another 15-30 seconds of silence
worship begins

Advent 2
at the start of worship, with lights dimmed/out
liturgist stands next to the Advent candles
first candle is already lit

liturgist allows 15-30 seconds of silence before announcing:
Let there be peace!
second candle is lit
worship leaders allow another 15-30 seconds of silence
worship begins

Advent 3
at the start of worship, with lights dimmed/out
liturgist stands next to the Advent candles
first two candles are already lit

liturgist allows 15-30 seconds of silence before announcing:
Let there be joy!
third candle is lit
worship leaders allow another 15-30 seconds of silence
worship begins

Advent 4
at the start of worship, with lights dimmed/out
liturgist stands next to the Advent candles
first three candles are already lit

liturgist allows 15-30 seconds of silence before announcing:
Let there be love!
fourth candle is lit
worship leaders allow another 15-30 seconds of silence
worship begins

Christmas Eve/Christmas Day
at the start of worship, with lights dimmed/out
liturgist stands next to the Advent candles
all four Advent candles are already lit

liturgist allows 15-30 seconds of silence before announcing:
Let Christ be born!
white Christ candle is lit
worship leaders allow another 15-30 seconds of silence
worship begins

ADVENT CANDLE LITURGY ON THE NARRATIVE LECTIONARY AS A SENDING

Advent 1 (Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:2-4; 3:17-19)
No longer need you worry for help or despair over trouble. There is a vision of what God has in store!
Though the land lies in hibernation, though the flowers do not bloom, though the fields produce no yield, still we hope in God our strength!
First candle is lit and carried in procession out from the sanctuary.

Advent 2 (Esther 4:1-17)
Shall we keep silent as violence rages and power strangles?
Even in this time — especially in this time — we will dare to test the bounds of peace for the sake of justice and strain the limits of respectability for the sake of life.
Two candles are lit and carried in procession out from the sanctuary.

Advent 3 (Isaiah 42:1-9)
Do not bruise the tall reed or quench the barely-burning wick, but wait patiently with all creation for the LORD’s coming.
All things will pass, new things will come, God alone is forever; God alone receives our joyful praise. We will be a light to God’s coming!
Three candles are lit and carried in procession out from the sanctuary.

Advent 4 (Matthew 1:18-25)
Do not be afraid, though angels walk among us, though God stirs new life within us.
The one whose name is Emmanuel is near! Now there is no disgrace, only the fulfillment of God’s promise and the courage to enter a new day!
Four candles are lit and all carried in procession out from the sanctuary.

Christmas Eve/Christmas Day (Luke 2:1-20)
There is good news of great joy, heralded first to the shepherds and now to us!
Let us go out to see what God is making known to us!
Four candles plus the Christ candle are lit and carried triumphantly out from the sanctuary.

Sunday Prayer

Ah LORD God —
God of our ancestors, you who called Abraham to wander,
you who drew an entire people out of their slavery in Egypt,
you who are faithful in both grace and jealous temper
— who could we possibly worship but you?

You have captured our hearts with your lullaby of love;
you have sat with us through our longest hours; you
have guided us like a bright lamp illuminating a path.
We tremble as you shake the earth to loose justice —
even then, we long to stay near you.

We watch for you with eager hearts as we pray
for your Spirit to be a spark of bold courage among us;
for your Incarnate face to be revealed in every stranger.

We watch for you with hurting hearts as we pray
for your gentle hand to comfort those who are near death;
for your healing balm to ease the pains of those who serve and live in places of war.

We watch for you with tired hearts as we pray
that you are not done with us, that you are still planting
still harvesting something new in each of us and in our world.

Ah LORD God —
God of future generations, you who are not limited by time,
you who can imagine our children’s children’s children,
you who will still be long after this world enters its sunset,
— who could we possibly follow but you?

Take our gods, we pray — the hours and minutes we reverence,
the monies and the vanities we weary ourselves to pursue,
the institutions and nations and codes we venerate —
and teach us the love and service of one God
whose faithfulness knows no end. Amen.

Prayer cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals.