Advent 1

December 3, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Isaiah 64. 1-9 —“Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” God will reshape us, as a potter reworks the clay.

Psalm 80 — “Give ear, O shepherd of Israel!” We are a vine out of Egypt that has gone to ruin. Restore us.

1 Corinthians 1.3-9 — We have every spiritual gift we need as we await Christ’s coming, for which God strengthens us so we’ll be ready.

Mark 13.24-37 — Jesus imagines the coming of God’s “Human One” with “signs in the heavens.” The New Human is near. Stay alert. Like servants ready for the homeowner’s return, Keep awake!

Preaching Thoughts

Oh, how badly our people want to skip Advent and get right to Christmas! Part of the discipline of Advent is holding back, waiting, trusting, being patient—even being powerless. We experience our need for God to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves. But it’s not a desperate waiting. Hope isn’t wishful thinking, it’s trust in what is already present but unseen. Let your people experience the discipline of waiting in trust: surrendering, being still, listening, Confession isn’t just enumerating bad stuff we’ve done. It’s also simply naming our need, our incompleteness without God.
      People want Christmas already—and they want Christmas carols. One way I’ve found to satisfy people’s hunger for Christmas carols in December and still stay in Advent is to set liturgical words to the melodies of familiar carols. I use them with table songs (preparation for communion), Eucharistic responses, whole Eucharistic prayers, and songs of blessing.
       We anticipate the birth of Christ on three levels: looking to the past, with Joseph and Mary we prepare for the birth of Jesus; looking to the present, we prepare for Christ to be born in our own hearts; and looking to the future we prepare for the coming of Christ to transform human history. Following along with Joseph and Mary and Elizabeth can help us practice a spirit of preparation and “hurry up and wait.” Listening to John the Baptist helps us prepare more than presents, food and decorations: we open ourselves to the transformation of our hearts. A quick perusal of the headlines as well as honesty about our own hearts makes it clear how badly we need God, how we need to be saved from the demonic power of our fears, desires and distrust. Even as we sometimes worry about the future and “where the world is headed” God’s promise is for blessing. We practice preparing for grace even when things look scary. Advent is a time when we re-tool how we think about the world, and our role in its healing.
       Often terrible things happen in December that seem to “spoil Christmas.” But in fact those terrible things are exactly why Jesus is coming, and where Jesus is needed. It’s those awful experiences that are really the “reason for the season.” If it weren’t for them we wouldn’t need Jesus. Advent is a time to get honest about suffering and injustice, about our hurts and wounds, our worry and despair, and the power of evil, selfishness and fear in our world. It’s in honesty about our brokenness that we prepare ourselves for the coming of the Healer of the World.

     Advent begins, even before the luminous promise of God’s coming, with the reality of our need, our deep hunger for God, for grace, for the restoration of life. Isaiah’s image of God far off, needing to burst the bounds of heaven to come to us, is not literally true. God is not distant. God is here, in everything. But the longing is real. We don’t sense God’s presence—or trust God’s presence when we don’t sense it. Our lack of trust is a veil that makes God seem distant. What needs to be “torn open” is our awareness. We long for God to burst through the veil of our inability to see, our inability to trust.
        Our awareness, of course, depends on our perspective. So often we want to sense God’s presence for our own comfort and reassurance. Because that’s self-centered, that’s not where we’re likely to behold God. But if we re-orient ourselves in love, then we see God! So what’s needed is not for God to move toward us but for us to turn around and face toward God. This requires more than a new thought: it’s a re-modeling of who we are. We need to be re-worked like a potter works the clay into a new vessel. In Advent we express our longing and anticipation in repentance.

       Apocalypse. Jesus seems to have had a vision, consistent with apocalyptic thought, of God entering into human history in a concrete way on a certain day in the future. Such thought is common among persecuted minorities who believe human culture is unable to “evolve” to where God intends us to be, and nothing short of divine intervention will save us. “Apocalypse” doesn’t mean the end of the world. It means “revealing.” God reveals God’s true intent for human history, by dismantling the systems we have in place—taking apart the Legos of human society—and re-creating it the right way. It’s “the end of the world as we know it” only if we hang onto human power structures. If we let go and repent, it’s not an end at all but a new birth. The point of apocalypse is not the burning cauldrons and Hollywood special effects of death and destruction, it’s the new heaven and new earth. (By the way people who try to “bring on the apocalypse,” for instance by encouraging huge disasters like war or ecological collapse, are tragically deluded: the apocalypse is something God does in God’s own time, and we have absolutely no influence on God’s timing.) Advent is a time when we turn our eyes and our imagination toward the reality that God is revealing to us in Jesus, the life of love and justice. It’s a world that is not yet fully here. We await its coming.
       Apocalypse now. Of course Jesus isn’t concerned with some imagined future event that may or may not involve us. (After all, if it’s been over 2000 years, who’s to say it won’t be another 2000 before it happens?) He is, as always, directing our attention toward the present moment. If at some point God intends to bring human culture into harmony with God’s grace, what might that look like? Imagine that—and live that way now! Jesus’ parables aren’t about checking the timetables of God’s future appearance, they’re about living in harmony with God’s grace right now, this moment. One way to do that is to be aware of God’s grace at work in this world, here, now. Even in this broken, twisted world full of evil and injustice and suffering and grief, God’s grace is present and at work. Look for it. God’s love is powerful. Notice it. Keep your eyes open. Focus on the overwhelming power of goodness and kindness amid greed and violence. Focus on the courage and beauty that love gives to people in the face of fear and oppression. Stay mindful of injustice and how it works, and keep your eyes open for justice and how it rises, how it changes things. Advent is a time of increased focus in our awareness.
       The New Human. Jesus says the Son of man is near. “Son of Man” has a double meaning. It means both “one of us,” or “really human human being,” and it also refers to the character in Daniel’s vision that in Jesus’ time was given Messianic overtones: someone sent by God to usher in a new age. For Christians Jesus exemplifies both of those: he is an ordinary human, “one of us,” but also shows us the glorious and even divine nature of who it is we really are. He dies this not by claiming anything but by showing us: by enacting a new vision of what it means to be human, and thus ushering a new age of human experience. He’s the New Human. In Advent we observe the emergence of a new way of being; as thew prophet cries to “prepare a way” we acknowledge that Jesus is the way. So Advent isn’t just a time to look to the heavens for God to come intervene. It’s also a time to look at a new way of living, and new way of being human
       Stay woke. Conservatives have reacted against the idea of being “woke,” but being woke is exactly what Jesus is talking about: being awake, aware of what’s going on—“when you see these things taking place”—and in particular aware of justice and injustice, and alert to signs of God’s activity in righting wrongs and confronting injustice. Or in Isaiah’s words (that Jesus seems to love), the work to “bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners, and to proclaim the time of God’s favor” (Isa. 61.1-2). Such wakefulness requires painful self-examination for the ways we are complicit in injustice. People who demonize being “woke” are simply giving voice to our resistance. So Jesus coaches us: “Keep awake!” Stay woke. Advent is a season of waking up in the dark, and beginning to see the light.

       See Advent Resources including Advent Candle lighting prayers (two        series), Advent Wreath prayers and music including Eucharistic prayers and        responses and weekly litanies.

Call to Worship

1. See Advent Candle lighting prayers here.

2. See Advent wreath prayers here.

O deepening darkness, make room for us!
       O gathering darkness, receive our prayers.
O luminous darkness, bring Mystery near.
       O welcoming darkness, let us find God.

We gather to worship, O God, seeking your light.
       We come by your invitation, led by your love.
Bless us in our worship, that we may see your light.
       Bless us that we may be your light,
       the light of Christ dawning in this world’s night. Amen.

We are gathered here, led by the Spirit that has called us.
         We are led by our longing, longing for God,
         for God’s peace in our hearts and justice in the world.
Rejoice, and be glad, for God is near.
         God is coming, always coming into the world,
         and into our hearts.

God, you open our eyes to see signs of your coming.
         Even our longing is the voice of God.
God, we worship you in hope and in faith.
         Come, dear Jesus, come, and renew our hearts.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

God of Eternity, God of this moment, we trust that you are coming. Come to us in scripture and in silence. Open our hearts to your grace, that we may prepare a room for the birth of Christ in us and among us. Awaken us, God, and keep us awake. Amen.

God of Hope, we turn to you. In the darkness be our light. In the longing be our hope. In the silence be our Word. May your Promise be our light. Amen.

Eternal One, we cry to you. A the darkness of night enfolds us, wondering and waiting. We long for light. We long for you. We long for the coming of Christ, your humble one, among us. Open the eyes of our hearts to look for your coming. Open the arms of our souls to welcome you. Lift up our heads to watch for your dawning. Amen.

Gracious God, Creator of all things,
we give thanks that you are still creating.
Receive our deepest longings with tenderness, and nourish them,
that we may plead for your coming in hope.
Gentle Christ, you who came 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, you entered into Mary, and she bore you into the world.
Bless us, that we may participate in your coming
with deep and life-giving peace. Amen.

God of hope and mystery, we cry out to you out of the darkness of winter and the darkness in our hearts. How we long for you to reveal yourself to us, to come and be with us! Open our hearts as we worship and as we live our lives, that we may hear again your promise, see signs of your coming and ready our hearts for your advent among us. We pray in the name of Christ, who is coming. Amen.

God, sometimes it feels you are far away. Open the eyes of our hearts to see you are near. Open the ears of our spirits to hear your footsteps in this world. Strengthen the hands of our faith tp open the door to you, for you are coming, always coming, into this world and into our lives, in the person and the presence and the spirit of Jesus. Amen.

Listening Prayer

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

In the night
the dawn is barely perceptible
but we know it is coming.
So we know your grace is present
through we cannot see it.
Awaken our hearts, keep our spirits alert,
open to signs of your grace. Amen.

In the night, just before dawn,
your gentle light rises in the east
of our hearts.
In stillness, watching, we wait.

Eucharistic Prayer

See Advent table songs (preparation for communion), Eucharistic responses, whole Eucharistic prayers, and songs of blessing. All set to traditional 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 Faithful One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

God of grace, we thank you,
for out of the chaos and darkness you brought light;

out of the shadows of slavery you brought us to freedom
out of the dark tomb you raised Jesus up to life.

And now in the darkness we look for your grace
we see your power at work, and we know you are near.
Entering into the brokenness of our world,
you transform and bring forth life.
By many signs you awaken us to your coming.

Therefore we join with all those who long for new life,
whose eyes are eagerly on the door of your grace:
together with them we rejoice at the promise of your coming,
and we sing your praise.

            [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,
the flesh of your presence and the light of your coming,
Jesus loved the neglected and healed the broken,
gathered the outcast and gave hope to the despairing.

Jesus entered into the suffering of the world to redeem it,
and to redeem all who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

[The Blessing and Covenant…]

Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
As often as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection until he comes again.
Remembering these, your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving
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]

Awaken your Holy Spirit in these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Awaken your Holy Spirit in us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,
transformed by your grace and confident in your coming,
to your eternal glory and praise.

     [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.) You promise to enter into our suffering and the suffering of the world. By this meal awaken us to your coming and come to new life in us, that we may live as signs of your coming, for the sake of the healing of the world, in the power of your Holy Spirit and the name of Christ, who is coming. 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.) In the depths of our hunger, you feed us with your promise. In the darkness of the night you enlighten us with your coming. May your longing in us be light for this world, for the sake of the healing of all Creation, in the name 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.) Help us to prepare for your coming again in hope and trust. Send us into the world, transformed by your grace into the Body of Christ, to be signs of your coming, by your presence in us, 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.) You have filled us with the bread of hope, the bread of longing. Bless us that we may never lose our hunger for you. Send us into the world to plead for your coming with patience and faith, living prayerfully, and serving lovingly, in the name and the Spirit of Christ, who is coming. Amen.

Suggested Songs

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

See Advent table songs (preparation for communion), Eucharistic responses, whole Eucharistic prayers, and songs of blessing. All set to traditional Christmas tunes.

Come, Bring your Light and Shepherd of Israel are weekly litanies, one verse per week; suitable for a call to worship, introduction or response to scripture, response to sermon, affirmation, or other places in worship. The Cantor’s lyrics reflect the day’s lectionary texts; the congregational response is the same throughout Advent.

Come, Bring Your Light       (Original song)
A weekly litany. A dialogue between solo cantor and congregation.

Week 1:
O God, that you would tear open the heavens and come down!
You are our maker, you the potter and we your clay.

We lack no spiritual gift as we wait for you, O Christ.
For you will strengthen us to the end.

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

Keep alert, for you do not know when the Beloved will appear.
As with the fig tree, watch for signs of new life.

Heaven and earth will pass away but your words will not pass away.
Help us follow your call to keep awake.

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

Shepherd of Israel      (Original song)
A weekly litany. A dialogue between solo cantor and congregation.

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

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

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

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

Week 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.

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