In the Series
We’re now in week two of our six-week (and seven-service) Advent and Christmas series. Last week, we were warned to watch and begin to think about what it takes to get ready for the fullness of the coming of God’s kingdom. The second week of any series needs to build on both the overall series promise and more specifically on where you left off at the conclusion of the first service, and clearly take the series to the next level in energy, intensity, and purpose.
Today’s readings and service do just that. Now we focus on how to get ready since our attention has been captured and we have begun to be on watch. And the heart of that “how” is to “turn,” to repent, to change our ways and keep changing them in light of God’s kingdom drawing near already and in the days to come.
This has important implications for what you will do not only in worship, but as you prepare for worship today. John the Baptizer was not fooling around. The call to repentance in today’s reading is real, compelling, palpable, concrete. Make sure as you plan and lead today’s service that you convey those realities about this call. To do that, make sure you – pastor and team –have addressed this call in your own lives.
Here are some questions to help you and your team make the transition from watching to turning in your own lives.
1. What are the people on your planning team, your church leaders, and your congregation and wider community watching for as they consider the Christmas or the “holiday” season?
2. How are you and they preparing for what you are watching for? Especially those for whom celebrating the birth of the Messiah or his coming again to rule in final glory might not be the critical issue?
3. Read Matthew 3:8-12 aloud in your team meeting and give it time to sink in. Read it more than once if you need to. Invite the group to take seriously the reality of the judgment that awaits us all, and what it means for all of them to produce fruit in their lives that shows they’ve actually repented and are still repenting — turning toward the ways of God’s kingdom.
4. What actions or patterns of life do you, the members of your team, and the people among whom you serve need to confess are not “fruit showing you’re actually repenting”? What do you need to repent (turn away) from? How concretely can and will you do it? How concretely can and will you help one another continue to do it?
Now that you’ve gotten clear or clearer about these things among yourselves, consider carefully how worship today and other elements of your congregation’s life in the coming week can help the people in your congregation do the same thing. We’ve included a Call to Discipleship in today’s service order as one way to accomplish this.
About the Call to Discipleship
This is what some might call an altar call. It is a time to ask people who want to make a decisive turn in their life to make that decision known by coming to an appropriate place and sharing that commitment or a request for prayer to help make that commitment with at least one other person who will commit to follow up with those who come during the coming week.
Exactly how you design this section depends on your team’s discernment of how this may work best in your context. Some communities may have a tradition of people coming forward for prayer and a railing in the front that facilitates several people doing so at once. Others have no such rail or architectural feature, but have a practice of people coming to people at designated places or stations for individual prayer. Still others have no such practice or no recent memory of such practice at all.
The practice of physically going somewhere to see someone about repentance is critical in today’s reading. Even if the going involves moving in the seats to gather with one or two others nearby, encourage some form of movement for those who wish to participate in this action, not simply staying put. At the same time, be clear that it is not expected that everyone MUST go. The invitation to repent in this way is just that, an invitation, not a mandate.
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
Lecionário em português, Lecionário comum revisado
Isaiah 11:1-10 Isaiah prophesies the coming of a righteous ruler out of the stump of Jesse.
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 (UMH 795) A psalm in praise and intercession for a righteous king, such as the one foretold in Isaiah. Consider singing the Psalm using these combinations: Response 1 with Tone 3 in F major or Response 2 with Tone 2 in D minor.
Romans 15:4-13 A call for Jewish believers in Rome to welcome Gentiles into full fellowship, even as Christ, “the root of Jesse,” has welcomed them all. By the power of the Spirit, Jewish and Gentiles alike can abound in hope.
Matthew 3:1-12 John the Baptist appears in the wilderness proclaiming repentance and offering baptism as preparation for the kingdom of God drawing near.
Welcome to week 2 of our lectionary-based series of resources for Advent through Epiphany. You can download the entire set of resources for the series in a single .pdf, or you may prefer to use the individual parts of these resources as they appear in discrete sections on the website.
We started this series last week with Jesus and his disciples called to be on watch for the end of the universe as we know it. It is that same end of all things John the Baptist declared to those he invited to receive baptism as a sign of repentance, of making a decisive turn from their sinful ways to prepare themselves for the end of this age and the beginning of a new one. Today we hear his message and respond to his invitation to turn from our attachments to the powers of death and destruction in this age and live out of the Spirit-led mission of the coming reign of God.
Advent Wreath Resources: BOW 262, 2016 Advent Wreath Meditations (based on Isaiah readings)
Ecumenical Prayer Cycle: Liberia, Sierra Leone