In the Series
We’re now in week three of our six-week (and seven-service) Advent and Christmas series. From watch, to turn, to see — this is our trajectory in the series so far. We’ve climbed a bit of a hill, and now stand at a kind of plateau, taking in the vista around us.
In your planning team, discuss the following, and use this and the following reading and discussion to inform your planning for today.
Now that we’ve turned, what can we see, or what do we see, that we could not see before, or that we can now see differently?
Read aloud or invite the team to read silently:
The gospel reading for today calls us to see people we may have overlooked or treated quite differently before.
Specifically, Jesus calls our attention to people who are blind, disabled, deaf, lepers, dead, or poor. How do we “normally” see them? Given how Jesus treats them, and our own turning and commitment to follow his way, how are we able to see them now? Seeing them in his way, what will we now do differently?
At the same time, we are becoming more aware in our culture of the danger of the bias of “ableism.” We norm our world and our expectations for how others may inhabit it on the basis of those who can see, can hear, have no physical disabilities, and who have perhaps at least a “middle class” level of economic means. We treat people who do not meet this standard as “less than,” and do not see them as fully able and capable people who can and do have much to offer precisely as they are — if we will but allow ourselves to see that. Not all blind or deaf or physically disabled people need to have their blindness or deafness or other disability “healed.” Instead, what may be needed is to challenge the “ableist” assumptions that these people are automatically “less than” because they cannot physically do what “normal” people do in the same ways that “normal” people do them. Yet they still can do them! The question becomes not one of whether they can function alongside “normal” people, but whether “normal” people are willing to engage in a different act of healing, an act of social healing, we might say, that allows people of all sorts of abilities to live as one coherent community.
When the reading is finished, discuss these questions:
- What do you see when you look at yourselves as a worshiping community? Whom does your worshiping community unwittingly exclude because you have allowed the abilities of “normal people” to dictate how you worship, work, and communicate?
- Do you teach and practice American Sign Language in your worship and ministries to make sure deaf people are fully included? Do you make allowance for seeing-eye dogs, braille, and other forms of support to enable blind people to function fully among you? How do you intentionally find ways to include “hard-to-handle” people (lepers) others may treat as outcasts?
- Do the social and practical norms of your community, including how transportation happens and what folks are expected to be able to pay to participate in social events, give good news or bad news to people who are poor?
- Now, what do you see when you consider the work Jesus was doing and that John’s disciples witnessed? And how do you see all these people differently because you do?
Acts of Testimony and Thanksgiving
Today, especially if you do not celebrate Holy Communion, consider making room for some testimony from people who are blind, deaf, physically disabled, “lepers,” left for dead, and/or economically poor. Invite each to speak briefly (one minute or less) of ways Jesus has spoken healing and good news into their lives. After each, sing a verse or brief chorus of thanksgiving, then continue to the next. At the conclusion of these testimonies, invite the people to share brief testimonies with one another about ways they have seen Christ’s saving power at work in their lives recently (one to two minutes), and conclude with a final verse of the thanksgiving song or chorus.
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
Lecionário em português, Lecionário comum revisado
Isaiah 35:1-10. A song of hope to exiles in Babylon…. “Waters shall break forth in the wilderness, streams in the Syrian Desert… a highway shall be there.”
Luke 1:47-55 (UMH 199, The Upper Room Worshipbook 17-20). Canticle of Mary (the Magnificat).
James 5:7-10. "Be patient . . . until the coming of the Lord." Consider singing “Wait for the Lord” (Worship & Song 3049) or “Until Jesus Comes” (Worship & Song 3050) as a repeated response leading into the gospel lesson.
Matthew 11:2-11 John the Baptist in prison sends a question to Jesus: "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"
Last week, we responded to John the Baptist’s call to turn from our current ways and become aligned with the ways of the one who is to come. This week we hear from John the Baptist again, indirectly, expressing perhaps nearly desperate doubt through his disciples. “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect another?” Jesus’s response is the theme for today’s service. “Go and tell John what you see…”
Once we have turned toward the fulfillment of all things God intends, we are invited and empowered to see the world and treat others in it in a new way.
Advent Wreath Resources: BOW 262, 2016 Advent Wreath Meditations (based on Isaiah readings)
Ecumenical Prayer Cycle: Cape Verde, the Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal