Advent 3 – December 11, 2002

Lectionary Texts

In Isaiah 35.1-10 the prophet foresees God’s redemption in the form of healing of nations, of societies, of individuals, and even of Creation. Deserts will blossom, the blind will see and the disabled dance, and people who have been outcast will find joy and belonging.

In Luke 1.47-55 (called the “Magnificat” for the opening word in Latin)Mary sees evidence of God’s grace both within herself (“the Mighty One has done great things for me”) and also the world around her: God has lifted up the lowly and also brought down the powerful—a vision of radical social re-ordering.

James 5.7-10 tells us to wait with patience, like a farmer waiting for the growing season in trust and confidence.

In Matthew 11. 2-11 John asks if Jesus is the “one who is coming,” that is, the messiah. Jesus simply points to the evidence: as Isaiah promised, the blind see, the immobilized walk, and the poor receive good news.

Preaching Thoughts

New Creation. The prophet Isaiah had a vision that God would come and save the people from their enemies. Political conquerors are not the only “enemies” God saves us from. God will also save us from the enemies of disease and poverty, from oppression and violence, from racism and greed, from lives that are dry and lifeless like deserts. God fights against the enemies of our ignorance and injustice. God’s salvation will not only heal individuals, it will heal the whole community. Relationships will be healed, and people’s hopes will be healed. The poor and powerless people will be lifted up, so that society as a whole is healed. Even Creation itself will be renewed, as if it is being created all over again.

Powerful evidence, joyful patience.
We wait for the coming of Christ not with anxiety, but with joyful patience, because we see evidence of God’s powerful grace. Like plants that bloom as a sign of spring (even in the desert!), even as we look for signs of Christ’s coming, we ourselves become those very signs. Our hope is not wistful wishing about the future, but confident trust in the grace of God that is already present in the world—and in us. People who wonder if God is real, if Christ is actually alive, if grace is really coming into the world, need to be able to look at us and see signs that the good news is true. So we prepare for Christ’s coming by engaging in the kids of mercy and justice that he did.

Justice gets real. Mary’s Magnificat is an icon of what justice might look like. God not only looks on lowly individuals, so that they are called blessed, but also examines the systems of society as a whole—and upends them.
         God has looked with favor on the lowliness of this servant…
                  God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
         God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
                  and lifted up the lowly;
         God has filled the hungry with good things,
                  and sent the rich away empty.

Jesus’ response to John’s question points to this evidence of God’s mighty mercy. The hungry are fed, the broken are healed, the poor receive good news.

The theology of the Magnificat. The Magnificat is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ ministry. More than that’s it’s a world-shaking manifesto of justice and mercy. It’s not only a revolutionary call for the re-ordering of society; it’s a theology of revolution, seeing in God’s will not merely the reversal of fortunes but a social embodiment of death and resurrection. Of course the hard thing about resurrection is the death part. The trouble with Justice is that it upends the status quo and offends, or even enrages, people with power. If we really are to share, it’s not just that the poor need to get more, it’s that the rich need to have less. It’s not enough for the lowly to be lifted up; the mighty need to be “brought down.” They powerful need to share their power. Insiders need to make room for outsiders. Of course the rich, powerful insiders aren’t going to like that. Witness today’s political climate, in which rich, powerful people ( including the “people” who are corporations) spend great sums of money to defeat measures that would help regular people but give themselves less money or power. In the real world, resistance to justice ends up in crucifixion. But of course in the world of the Gospel where things “end up” is never where they actually end. That’s the transformation that is resurrection. The Magnificat doesn’t mention any of that—but in speaking of one who fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty, the Magnificat brings to mind not only Jesus’ ministry but the resistance he will face. It foreshadows crucifixion—which, in our faith, foreshadows resurrection.

That may seem like a heavy load for Christmas preparations, but that’s what Advent is really all about. Jesus is not coming just to make your life better. He’s coming with healing for all of society. That, and nothing less, is what we’re preparing for.

Call to Worship

[Isaiah 35.3-4]
Leader: Friends, the Beloved is coming.
All: We are longing. We are looking.
The prophet says: “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.”
We are hoping. We are praying.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God. God will come and save you.’”
We trust in your promise. We worship with joy.

Lighting the Advent Candle

1. [ James 5.7-8]
Reader:
Be patient, beloved, until the coming of the Promised One. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Promised One is near.
Leader:We praise you, O God, for this wheel of time
that marks our days of preparation for Christ’s advent.
All: As we light the candles on this wreath,
open our hearts to your will,
that we may welcome with joy your renewal of all Creation.
Enlighten us with your grace,
and prepare our hearts to receive a new Creation in the Spirit of Christ.
Kindle within us the gift of faith through Christ the Beloved,
whose coming is certain and whose day draws near. Amen.

2. [James 5.7-9]
Reader:
Be patient, beloved, until the coming of the Promised One. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Chosen One is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors!
Leader: God, we light this candle as we await your coming,
trusting that already you stand at the door.
All: We cannot see you, yet you are here,
and so we open our hearts and give thanks.
We await your coming like the farmer awaiting the crop.
We cannot see you, but your seeds are already planted,
and so we open our hearts and prepare for your coming.
You who are here with us, we await your coming.
You who are coming, we rejoice in your presence.
Bless us, that we may prepare for your coming in hope and trust. Amen.

3.
Leader: We light this candle as an act of hope.
All: In the darkness and gloom the light of your coming rises.
Even in the mysterious darkness,
the light of your healing moves along roads and rivers and nerves,
deep within silent places.
In the darkness you are here.
Come, O Light, and make us whole.
Dear Child, prophet of the most high, grant us healing and forgiveness.
By your tender mercy, may your dawn from on high break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.

4. [James 5. 7-8]
Reader:
Be patient, beloved, until the coming of the Promised One. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Chosen One is near.
Leader: This candle represents our patience.
All: In darkness we await the light; in brokenness we long for healing.
God of hope, grant that by this light we might see your presence even now.
We ache for those who struggle against tyranny and who seek abundant life.
God of love, you are present among those who suffer, and those who wait.
Grant that by our faith we might see you in our midst,
trust the unfolding of your grace,
and serve as signs of your coming.
Come, O Christ, and transform us by your Spirit. Alleluia!

5.
Light of God, rising upon the world, awaken us to your delight.
By your renewing light, may we see your presence in the world and rejoice.
Light of Christ, rising among your followers, awaken us to your confidence.
By your healing light, may we notice the good news around us, and give thanks.
Spirit’s light, rising within us, awaken us to the gift of joy.
By your transforming light, may our blind eyes see, our deaf hearts hear,
and our wounded souls dance for joy at the sound of your voice.
May we prepare for the dawn of your coming with joy and gratitude. Alleluia!

6.
Leader: In the shadows, light!
All:In our longing, hope!
Along the struggle for justice, a way!
To those who are broken, joy!
God, may the promise of your advent give us courage.
May the dawn of your coming light our way.
With patience, we wait, and we trust.
With glad hearts we work and we pray.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
God, we await the coming of your justice and mercy. As you did with Mary, you place the world-changing power of your grace in our hearts. Bless us, that we ourselves may be the way your justice enters the world. Speak your Word to us; may it be with us according to your word. Amen.

2.
Our hearts in solitude cry out,
O God, show us a sign of hope.
May we listen with the ears of our hearts;
may we see with eyes of mercy. Amen.

3.
Creator God, like John the Baptist, we are looking for the coming of the Messiah. Come to us, speak your Word to us, and shine your light is us, that we may see and trust, and that we may bear your good news to the world, in the name of Christ. Amen.

4.
Eternal God, John the Baptist asked Jesus, “Are you the One?” So we ask; so we wonder; so we look for your grace in this world. Help us to see. Help us to trust. Help us to live with patience and faith. Speak your Word to us, and guide us. Amen.

5.
Gracious God, the prophets promised your coming, and the deserts blossomed in confidence. Mary heard your promise and awaited your coming with joy. As we hear of your coming, may our hearts flower with hope. Shine the light of your dawn upon us, and awaken us to the deep joy of your coming. Amen.

6. Advent prayer
O WISDOM, Truth of God, Word whose gentle speaking
breathes all things into existence:
     Come, open our eyes to what is, and lead us on a path with heart.
O POWER OF BLESSING, Breath within us,
you who reveal yourself to those with open hearts,
     Come and set us free with a strong and gentle hand.
O ROOT OF LIFE, who awakens people, who silences tyrants, who treasures all prayers:
     Come, and may nothing hinder our seeing your coming.
O KEY OF HEAVEN, who opens Blessing to us and no one may shut,
who breaks down the walls we build between us
     Come and save us from the prison of our fears,
and deliver us into one another’s arms
O RISING DAWN, Unfolding Light, radiance of justice
     Come shine on those who dwell in darkness,
and fill the shadows of injustice with light
O RULER OF ALL PEOPLES, the only joy of every human heart,
Breath in whom we all are One:
     Come and finish creating us, whom you form from the dust of the earth.
O PRESENCE, You who Are, ruling us from within,
capturer of our hearts and longing of all peoples:
     Come and return us to life, our God, our Life. Amen.

Poetry

            Wondering

God comes among us in human form.

How is something this plain so mysterious?

How is something so cosmic this particular?

How is something so mighty so fragile?

How does this earth so become heaven?

How is something so coming so here?

We can’t know. But we must not cease wondering.



             Even as I wait
Snow falls in the open meadow.
Roots and seeds are buried now

all greenness cloistered
in silent retreat.

Snow’s blessing waits in branches,
on rooftops, in beauty.

What is coming is already here
in an unforeseen form.

Even as I wait,
I am deeply satisfied.


Christmas prayer

Infinite One,
depth of night,
breath of galaxies:
come to me.

Holiness within,
gestating heaven,
revealing yourself:
let me see.

Tender One,
not afraid of my death,
gentle amidst the storm:
enfold me.

Holy Presence,
womb-warmth,
life-pulse:
enter me.

Heavenly Lover,
journeying with me,
bearing my life:
marry me.

Child from heaven,
come out
and share my world.
Let me hold you.



Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

Leader: Gentle One, even as we ache for your coming,
you are present in our longing.
All: Loving God, you birth new life within us.
With open hearts, we await your coming.

Eucharistic Prayer

———Sung prayers———
Here are four Eucharistic prayers set to familiar Christmas tunes: “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Rocking, Rocking,” and “What Child Is This.”

“Longing Night,” an original song (see below), includes music for sung Eucharistic responses.

———Spoken prayer———
[After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively or by the presiding leader(s) alone.]

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

Holy Mystery, Heavenly Lover, we give our thankful hearts to you.
You create us in beauty, claim us in love, and guide us with faithfulness.
You judge the forces of oppression and set all your children free.
You heal the broken, and feed the hungry.
You open the eyes of those who are oblivious.
You empower those who are disabled.
We have seen your grace in our lives, and we are in wonder.
We are in awe. And we are grateful.
So with all Creation, we sing your praise.

     —Sanctus—

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ,
who taught and forgave, who fed and healed.
Crucified and risen, he is always with us, and always coming anew.

In him we see the gracious signs of your presence,
your Word made flesh.
In Christ you have renewed your Covenant
to be with us forever in love, and we give thanks.


     (The Blessing and Covenant)
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

     —Memorial Acclamation—

Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ:
in lives of love and forgiveness, mercy, healing and justice,
living signs of your coming.
     
Amen.—
____________
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]

On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.

Prayer after Communion / Dedication / Sending

1.
Gracious God, we thank you for (your grace.) / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. As you did with Mary, you have conceived in us your vision of justice. You have made your Word flesh among us. Send us into the world as vessels of your mercy. May it be with us according to your Word. Amen.

2.
Gracious God, we thank you for (your grace.) / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. Blessed by these gifts, may we see with love, practice mercy, and do justice, as signs of your coming to all who sit in darkness and shadow, in the name and Spirit of Christ. Amen.

3.
Gracious God, we thank you for (your grace.) / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. Open the eyes of our hearts to see your presence and your grace in all things, so that we may be signs of your coming. We pray in the name of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

3.
Gracious God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. In bread broken and wine poured out you enter our lives and sanctify them. Send us into the world to embody your presence, to be your broken bread for a broken world, and to enter into the unfolding healing of all Creation, trusting in your coming with love and patience, in the spirit of Christ, who is among us, and who is coming. Amen

4.
Gracious God, we thank you for (your love.) / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. Created anew by your grace, strengthened to prepare your way, and tasting the joy of your coming, we dedicate our lives to your will. Send us out with confident patience to work and to pray and to live for the healing of the world, in the name and the Spirit of Christ, who is coming. Amen.

5.
Bountiful God, we give you thanks for (your love.) / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. Even as we long for your coming, we see signs of your presence in deeds of love and justice, in miracles of healing and reconciliation. Help us to wait with patience, as a farmer awaits the precious crop, strengthened by your Word, and renewed in joy, in the name and Spirit of Christ. Come, dear Jesus, come! Amen.

6.
A benediction: [Luke 1.78-79]
Leader: By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
All: to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.



Suggested Songs

(All songs with “Advent” tags, of course, but especially these. Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

Blessed Child of Bethlehem (Original Song)

Blessed child of Bethlehem, waiting to be born,
some will bring you incense, and some a crown of thorns.
Yet you bear so gently all our joys and harms.
How I long to greet you, and hold you in my arms!

Blessed child of heaven, waiting to be born,
joy of all Creation, delight of those who mourn:
teach us how to worship, teach us how to love,
living in the presence of angels from above.

Blessed child among us, waiting to be born,
in whom we are healed and all our sorrows borne:
help us live with love, in peace and reconciled.
By your birth in us, everyone’s a holy child.

Blessed child within me, waiting to be born,
bringing gifts and wonders with the light of morn,
heaven springing in me, new life yet to grow:
child of holy promise, oh how I love you so!


Magnificat    (Tune: What Child Is This)

My soul sings out in joy to God,
and glorifies my Savior:
for in my powerless, lowly state,
my God has shown me favor.
Praise! Praise the Mighty one
for all the things that God has done.
Love, love will honor God,
whose mercy lives forever.

God’s arm is strong, and mercy great,
God’s name forever is holy.
God brings the powerful down from thrones
while lifting up the lowly.
Praise God, who feeds the poor,
and leaves the wealthy rich no more.
Praise, praise the Faithful One
who promises mercy forever.

Short Version:

My soul proclaims, “How great my God!”
Rejoice, for God is holy.
God feeds the poor! The rich no more
receive, but those who are lowly.
Praise! Praise the Mighty one
for all the things that God has done.
Love, love will honor God,
who promises mercy forever.


Signs (Tune: O Little Town of Bethlehem)

The night is long; the darkness deep; our childish dreams long gone.
We lie awake with hearts that ache for warmth and light of dawn.
We long to trust the promise the prophets have foretold:
we look for signs of your designs for what the future holds.

In our unknowing and our doubt, O Christ, you speak your Word:
to stay awake and watch and wait for signs unseen, unheard.
Yet in our very longing, your Spirit cries for home:
for you are near, and hidden here, and yet are still to come.

And so in silent stillness now we watch, and as we do
your grace imparts into our hearts the gifts we seek in you.
Our openness transforms us: for now your grace is clear,
that we may shine and be a sign that Christ is drawing near.

            Weekly Advent Theme Responses

[These songs are designed to be used throughout Advent, using one verse per week. Each is a dialogue between a soloist (or choir or ensemble) and congregation. The congregation’s response remains the same throughout the season. Each week’s (solo) verse reflects the week’s Lectionary readings, especially in Year A. Below are the current week’s lyrics.]

Come, Holy Dawn (Original Song)

Congregation:
Come, morning star, light our way, in our darkest night.
Come, light of God, grant us peace, gently shining bright.
Come, holy dawn, sun of love, fill us with your light.
Cantor:
Patience now, my people! God’s promises are sure.
Justice quells the mighty, empowering the poor.

Come, O Jesus, Come (Original song)

Soloist, introduction:
Rise, O people, awake!
The light of Christ is dawning!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Come, O Jesus, come!

Congregation, chorus:
Dawn on us from above. Raise us up in your love.
Awaken our hope with the day, and lead us in your way.
Come, O Jesus, come! Come, O Jesus, come!

Soloist, verse:
The day will soon come of justice and peace; the wolf and the lamb will share.
Repent and prepare the way in love. A child will lead us there! (Chorus)


Longing Night (Original Song)

Introduction- Cantor:
      Alleluia. Alleluia. Make ready your hearts for the Coming One. Alleluia. Alleluia.
Response- Congregation
       In our deepest longing night, dawn upon us, God of light.
VersesCantor:
      1. One now comes to prepare the way. Deserts will bloom and the blind shall see.
Response.
      2. God overthrows the mighty with love, spurns the rich and lifts the poor. Response.