Advent 3

December 17, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Isaiah 61.1-11. The Spirit has anointed me to do God’s justice: to care for the poor and powerless and set people free. God says “I love justice.” God will cause righteousness to spring up like growing shoots.

Psalm 126
Thanks for recovery from disappointment. “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping shall come home with shouts of joy.”

1 Thessalonians 5. 16-24 “Rejoice always.” In all circumstances rejoice and pray, be thankful, and hold fast to what is good as we await the coming of Christ.

John 1. 6-8, 19-28 John the baptizer is not the light, but bears witness to the light: “among you stands one who is coming.”

       See Advent Resources including Advent Candle Lighting Prayers,
       Advent Wreath prayers, and music including Eucharistic prayers
       and responses and weekly litanies, and more.

Preaching Thoughts

       “Good news for the poor” seems to be Jesus’ mission statement, as he announces in Luke 4. There are certainly echoes here of last weeks’ Isaiah reading: “Comfort, comfort my people….” But there are also the seeds of discomfort. Good news to the oppressed, liberty to captives and release to prisoners will not be good news for the prisons, oppressors and systems that support them. Both sides of justice are evident. So Advent comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. Our preaching needs to do the same. As much as we expect people to want warm, comforting Christmas sermons in Advent, what scripture gives us is more transformative—hence, unsettling. Advent invites us to gently shepherd our listeners to be prepared to be unsettled, which is how you enter the new “way” God is preparing. The justice Isaiah anticipates here is a new world whose advent requires that we let go of the old one.

1 Thessalonians
       To “rejoice always” can sound sappy, and if misunderstood can encourage us to minimize our grief, ignore the real suffering others endure, and overlook the anguish caused by the injustice in which we are complicit. Happiness that is numb to the evil we suffer and the evil we cause is simply denial. But when we’re aware of the suffering hope and joy can be revolutionary and even subversive. Part of the power of oppressive systems is their capacity to instill resentment, despair and hopelessness in the oppressed. To rejoice in the face of suffering and to be at peace in the face of threats robs the oppressor of power. We are neither numb to evil or suffering, nor willing to let them define our response. Hope in the face of oppression is an act of resistance.
       It’s hard to “rejoice always” when we’re suffering. It’s also hard to remain sensitive to the suffering of others. So many of the shootings in America are committed by men who can’t bear the feeling of being wronged, threatened, or even merely inconvenienced, while other people’s suffering means nothing. This is an extreme example, but part of the nature of not knowing how to rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances. Advent invites us into the paradox of holding fast to what is good even as we face what is evil, rejoicing even as we work against injustice ,and giving thanks even as we suffer. Our hope is not wishful thinking, but trust that the Coming One is already here at work.

       Religious authorities react against John’s message because it subverts religious power structures, but they’re also uncomfortable with John himself because he doesn’t fit their established categories. They don’t know what to make of him. We all have ways to judge and categorize people. The more entrenched our categories are, the more discomforted we are by people who don’t fit them. They threaten ours sense that we know what’s what. Witness people’s emotional reactions to trans people, drag queens and strong women. John represents a crumbling of our established stereotypes. Advent reminds us that God’s justice will require the dismantling of a lot of our judgments, stereotypes and power structures. Jesus won’t fit any of our expectations—not the warrior Messiah his contemporaries expected; not the nice, meek shampoo model we see posted in our Sunday Schools; not the defiant, muscled, gun-toting manly man white Christian nationalists wish for… Nope, he’s Something Else. Advent invites us to allow Jesus to be a new person, to come in a new way, and to initiate a new world. We long for confirmation of our beliefs. But God promises transformation of ourselves, our faith, our minds, and our world. Advent is a time of preparation through repentance.

Call to Worship

See Advent Candle Lighting Prayers here.

See Advent Wreath Prayers here.

In the beginning was the Word.
The Word was the light of all people.
Prophets bore witness to the light.
We ourselves are given the light.

As we worship, God, kindle your light in us.
May we shine in this world as signs of your coming. Amen.

Gentle Christ, you who have come among us in love, you are still coming.
Open our hearts, that we may prepare for you with lives of love.
Spirit of Life, you shone in the darkness, and still you shine.
Shine in us, that we may proclaim your coming in lives of joy and justice.
Incarnate God, in love and mercy you are continually coming into the world.
Bless us, that we may participate in your coming with deep and life-giving peace. Amen.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

Loving God, you who are coming, you who are here: we await the coming of Christ, the ruler of the world and of our hearts. Prepare a way: give us courage to be a voice in the wilderness crying out for your desire. Lead us in the ways of justice. Open our hearts to the coming of Christ and his Reign of mercy and justice. Amen.

God of life, as your prophet cries in the wilderness, we prepare a way in our hearts for your coming. We open ourselves to your presence, to your transforming Word, to your power in this world. Be our light in the darkness, our song in the silence, our star in the night, so that we might be your people in this world. Amen.

Gracious God, you sent John the Baptizer to call people to repentance and to prepare the way for Christ. By your spirit, speak your Word to our hearts, and help us to repent of all our ways that injure life, so that we might bear your justice into this world, and bear your healing to those who are hurting, in the name of Christ. Amen.

Gracious God, Creator of all things, you are still creating.
Receive our deepest longings with tenderness, and nourish them,
that we may plead for your coming in hope. Amen.

Gracious and ever-present God, your prophets promised the coming of your reign of mercy and justice, and the healing of the world. We still our hearts and minds before you now, to listen for your Word, that this mighty transformation may begin in our own hearing. Bless us, that as your Scriptures are read and your good news proclaimed, we may hear, and our hearts may be healed, our lives changed. Amen.

Gracious God, we bless you, for you hear our prayers and come to us, bringing light into the darkness of our hearts. Grant us, your people, the wisdom to see your purposes today and the opening to hear your will, that in our lives we may bear witness to Christ¹s coming and so prepare his way. This we pray, in the name and the spirit of Christ. Amen.

Listening Prayer

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

Loving God, you bid us to pray without ceasing.
May our listening be prayer,
our breathing be praise.
God of peace, sanctify us entirely.
We are yours.

Prayer of Confession

Gentle God: to rejoice always, to pray without ceasing, to give thanks in all things, to abstain from every form of evil, these have been hard for us. Forgive us, heal our hearts, and renew your Spirit in us, that we may faithfully hold fast to what is good. May Christ be born in us, that we may become new people. Amen.

Eucharistic Prayer

See Advent Eucharistic Responses (Sanctus, Acclamation, and Amen set to familiar Christmas tunes.)
And see Advent Eucharistic Prayers, entire prayer set to familiar Christmas tunes.

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

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
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.

It is always our delight to sing your praise, O God,
for when all was darkness and chaos, you brought forth light.
You made us in your image, with your light already within us.When we were lost and enslaved you came to us;
you condemned and overthrew the powers of oppression and set us free.You have spoken to us through the prophets and walked with us in love.Even in the darkest times you hid your light within us and your hope among us,your promise already given, the dawn already on its way.
Therefore we rejoice, and sing your praise with all creation:

            [Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
        Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
        heaven and earth are full of your glory.
        Hosanna in the highest.
        Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
        Hosanna in the highest.
               [or alternate version]

Blessed are all who come in your name, and blessed is Jesus, your Christ.
Born in a rough stable, hunted by death squads, refugee to Egypt,
he walked with us in our darkest passages.

He brought good news to the poor, release to the captives and sight to the blind.Healing and teaching, gathering a community and crying out for justice,
he embodied your love.
Crucified and buried, Christ bore the burden of human suffering.Raised from the dead, Christ embodied your overpowering grace.Christ lived as your promise among us, your hope given flesh,
the new world beginning even now.
This is our hope, our joy and our trust.

[…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, spoken or sung:]
        Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
        Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
        Christ will come again in glory.
             [or alternative]

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.
May we live your promise with faith, giving thanks in all things.
May we be your light in this darkness.
May our lives be good news to the poor and proclaim release to the captives.
By your grace may Christ be born in us,
that we may be living signs of your coming.

     [Spoken or sung]

* 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 of Dedication / Sending / after Communion

[Adapt as needed.]
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) Christ has prepared a way for you, in this meal and in this community. Changed by this grace, may we go out and do the work of justice, to prepare the way for your Empire of Love, in the name and spirit of Christ. Amen.

Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) Loving God, born in our hearts and enfleshed in our community, be our hope our courage and our joy. Send us out as your light, in the name of Christ and the power of your Spirit, for the sake of the healing of the world. Amen.

Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) You have fed the hungry; now send us into the world to share your justice, to bring your good news to the poor, and to shine your light in this world to make a way for your coming, in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) Blessed, transformed, and sustained by these gifts, we go into the world in your name to bring good news to the poor, to set the captives free, and to proclaim your grace. Send us in the power of your Spirit, with the blessing and the company of your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, who even now is coming. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

Advent Table Songs, invitation to communion set to familiar Christmas tunes.

Two Weekly litanies, one verse per week; suitable for a call to worship, introduction or response to scripture, response to sermon, or other places in worship: Come, Bring your Light, and Shepherd of Israel

Come, Bring Your Light (Original song)
A dialogue between solo cantor and congregation.
The Cantor’s lyrics reflect the day’s lectionary texts; the congregational response is the same throughout Advent.)
Week 3:
The spirit of God is upon me,
for the Holy One has anointed me.

God has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
and to bind up the broken-hearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,
to declare the time of God’s favor and comfort those who mourn.

        O Come to us, O come, Emmanuel,
         and bring your light into our darkened world.

The true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world,
the Only Begotten, who is close to God’s heart, has made God known.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all things.
The God of peace will sanctify you and keep you
until the coming of the beloved, Jesus Christ.

        O Come to us, O come, Emmanuel,
         and bring your light into our darkened world.

Shepherd of Israel (Original Song)
A dialogue between solo cantor and congregation.
The Cantor’s lyrics reflect the day’s lectionary texts; the congregational response is the same throughout Advent.)

Kyrie Eleison. Christe Eleison. Kyrie Eleison.
Come to us, and grant your peace.

1. Shepherd of Israel, come, restore your people.
Shine your face on us and save us, God.    … Kyrie…

2. Comfort, speak tenderly. Gently lead your people.
God, forgive our sins and make us new.    … Kyrie…

3. Pour out your Spirit, God, Heal the brokenhearted.
Love, prepare our hearts to see your light.    … Kyrie…

4. Grant us your mercy, God. Fill the poor with good things.
Guide our feet into your way of peace.     … Kyrie…

Child of Promise (Original song)

Child of promise, oh, child of hope, prophets spoke of you:
visions treasured but unfulfilled. Shall our dreams come true?
Help us wait for you.

Child of woman, oh, child of God, birthing us anew,
make a room, oh, make a womb, in our hearts for you.
Help us wait for you.

Child of patience, oh, child of pain, suffering ills we do,
heal, forgive and help us be gentle child, like you.
Help us wait for you.

Child of wonder, oh, child of joy, you make all things new.
Re-create us, come again like the morning dew.
Help us wait for you.

Prepare Your Way In Me (Original song)

Prepare your way in me, God, prepare your way in me.

1. Make my rough places smooth, the crooked make straight, my God.
2. Lay your hand at my root, that I may bear fruit, my God.
3. Come and empty my heart of all things but you, my God.
4. Guide my feet in your Way. Fill me with your peace, my God.

Isaiah 61 (Tune: O Little Town of Bethlehem)

The Spirit of the Lord our God is strong in us and sure,
sent in God’s grace to be God’s face with good news for the poor,
to heal the brokenhearted, and set the captives free,
and to proclaim in God’s own name their deep new liberty.

We shall provide for those who mourn and broken lives repair,
for God demands that in our hands God’s justice we shall bear.
As earth brings forth new green things, our God will cause to rise
the righteousness that all shall bless, the dawn that greets our eyes.

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