Prepare the Way Worship Series, week 1 —STAND
December 2, 2018
Small Groups: From Worship To Discipleship
This resource is meant to be used in connection with the worship resources for the Season of Advent through Epiphany Sunday. Each session uses the same Scriptures and themes as the previous Sunday’s worship service. The preferred pattern is for participants to experience the worship service first, followed by group study during the week that follows.
The subtitle, “From Worship to Discipleship,” is intentional. By deliberately connecting the themes and Scripture from corporate worship to the small-group experience, participants will be more fully formed into disciples of Jesus Christ. People learn best when they are in conversations with others.
The role of the group leader is not to be the “answer” person or the person with the most biblical knowledge. Instead of providing the “right answer,” a good facilitator helps the group members ask the right questions. Facilitators should familiarize themselves with the format, questions, possible answers, and background information ahead of time.
Group size should consist of six to eight people. If there are more than eight participants, consider adding more time for the group to meet and/or more groups. Each person added to the group will create more relationship dynamics to be managed; each person might not have enough time to share. It is highly advisable to use a group covenant to provide expectations of participants’ roles and manner of speech. Specific items to include should be confidentiality and speaking only for oneself. Participants must be willing to risk sharing their perspectives, no matter how popular or unpopular.
Another group dynamic to consider is space. If your group meets in a church building, be sure the chairs are soft and the group is set up in a circle. Use one table for food only. If participants meet in a home, make sure there are plenty of seating areas and be sure to limit distractions, such as pets. If your group is meeting in a coffee shop or restaurant, be sure the space will be comfortable and quiet enough for conversation.
Introduction to the Format
There is a pattern for each week (though notice a slight modification to week 5). The times are suggestions and are loosely based on an hour timeframe. The times should be modified as needed. Each session will consist of the following elements:
Fellowship (Snacks or a Meal; 10 minutes with snacks; longer obviously, if there is a meal)
Gathering Time (5-10 minutes) — Each session will begin with an opening exercise to foster dialogue and help the participants settle in to the theme for the week.
Group Dialogue (Approximately 30 minutes) —This guide does not include a multitude of questions. The intent is for greater time to be spent on certain questions. During the dialogue sections, you will see guidance and possible answers to the given questions with brackets [ ]. These are only possible answers and are not meant to be exhaustive of other answers. Questions that begin with (R) are meant to be more reflective. This means more time should be spent on these questions relative to others and will often result in participants needing more time to process. It is a helpful practice to allow participants plenty of time to internally process these questions. Don’t be afraid of silence.
Prayer (10 minutes)—Allow each participant who would like to do so to lift up a person or situation he or she would like the group to be in prayer over. Following each request, the leader will pray, “Lord, in your mercy…”; and the participants will respond, “Hear our prayers.” If the situation is warranted and the participant is willing, surround the participant as a group to lay hands on him/her and allow those who are willing to pray for this person and/or situation.
Sending Forth (1 minute)—Ask for a volunteer to send the group out with the printed blessing or read the prayer in unison.
Biblical and Theological/Liturgical Helps.
These two sections are meant to give some background material. It can be used by the leaders and/or the participants. These series will focus on liturgical information to help participants have meaningful Advent and Christmas seasons.
Week 1 — STAND
Fellowship—Snacks or a Meal. (10 minutes with snacks; longer, obviously, if there is a meal)
Gathering Time (5-10 minutes) — In pairs, discuss: “What are you hoping to gain by being part of this group?”
Group Dialogue (Approximately 30 minutes)
Opening question: “What does the season of Advent mean to you?”
Read Jeremiah 33:14-16 and Luke 21:25-36
- Have each participant complete the following sentence: “During the holiday season I usually feel…”
- At a loss
- How does Jeremiah envision the coming of the Messiah? [justice and righteousness; living in safety] What might it mean for the Messiah to execute justice and righteous?
- Advent does not just look backward to the first coming of Christ, but also looks forward to the Second Coming of Christ. Have each participant complete the following sentence: “Thinking about the Second Coming makes me feel…”
- How do the first and third comings that we celebrate in Advent (see Advent below) give us the assurance to stand as we wait for the Second Coming?
- How does the promise of God’s victory in the Second Coming enable us to stand during times that feel chaotic? How do the first and second comings enable us to see signs of the coming kingdom now?
- (R) How do the practices of Advent (praying, waiting, and watching) help us to stand when our world seems to be crumbling?
- (R) How does standing firm during difficult times help prepare the way for others?
Fig Tree and the End. The people that Jesus spoke with were keenly aware of the agricultural signs that marked the seasons. Yet, they seemed to be less aware of how to discern the signs of the times in which they were living. Jesus’ parable of the fig tree in verses 29-33 is part of Jesus’ answer to the disciple’s question from verse 7.
Jesus’ answer is meant to instill confidence where confusion was predominant. Many Jews of Jesus day believed that when the Messiah appeared, the end of history would also arrive. When Jesus speaks of the destruction of the Temple (21:5-6), the disciples’ question Jesus about the meaning and timing of this event. Jesus’ answer is that the end is near, but coming not as expected. Jesus’ death will, in fact, usher in the kingdom more fully. Though there is a delay in the ultimate coming of the kingdom, this should not be a time for passive waiting. Rather, they are to “stand up and raise [their] heads” (v. 28). That is to say, followers of Christ are to endure (v. 18) during these chaotic days. Those who are found alert (v. 36) to signs of the kingdom notice where the kingdom is already present as a glimpse here and now as they wait for the day of completion at Christ’s Second Coming.
This generation. Though easily taken as referring to a time period, the way Luke uses this phrase has more to do with those who are actively resisting the kingdom’s arrival. Thus, it is not referring to a time length as much as noting that though the kingdom is coming, there are those who will resist. Nevertheless, God’s word will remain steadfast.
Advent. Advent marks the beginning of the Christian calendar year. The Christian calendar provides the church a rich cycle of rehearsing the mighty acts of God in Jesus Christ. Appropriately, the calendar year begins by looking backward to the first coming of Christ at Christmas and looking forward to Christ’s Second Coming to usher in God’s kingdom in fullness. Journeying through Advent takes us to Christmas, where we celebrate another coming of Christ – the coming of Christ into our hearts. We then remember the wise men worshiping before the infant Christ (on Epiphany) and how his glory was revealed among us. Then during Lent, we journey with expectation for news of the Easter resurrection while traveling with the Messiah of the cross. The Easter season celebrates the resurrected Christ while pointing us to the ongoing nature of Christ’s presence. Then we get to the longest season of Kingdomtide or ordinary time. It is this extended period that reminds us that while we learn and grow, much like those in Old Testament times and those in the New Testament, we to look for God’s ongoing acts of redemption in our ordinary, everyday lives. This season builds to Christ the King Sunday, bridging ordinary time with Advent, and so the cycle begins anew.
Advent, originating from the Latin adventus, means coming. Advent, like Lent, is a season marked by preparation and expectation. As the community of faith, we focus once again on waiting and expecting God to do the miraculous. Advent invites us to do the preparing work that John the Baptist points to in preparing the way for the Lord. During Advent, we celebrate the three “comings” of Christ:
- Remembering Christ coming as an infant to the world.
- Anticipating Christ’s Second Coming.
- Gratefully allowing Christ to come into our lives in ever deeper ways through repentance and preparation.
For additional lectionary planning resources, see
Prayer (10 minutes). Share prayer requests and respond appropriately.
Sending Forth (1 minute). Ask for a volunteer to lead the group or read the following prayer in unison:
Faithful God, our normal rhythm is rushing. We are thankful for this season of Advent as a reminder to pause, wait, and anticipate your miraculous ways that are often found in unexpected places. May we be alert this week to signs of your coming kingdom. Amen.
(Preparation: Make or purchase an Advent wreath. An Advent wreath contains four—usually purple—candles representing the four Sundays leading to Christmas. Many people place a white candle in the center of the wreath.)
Gather together with no distractions to light the first candle and share this time of spiritual fellowship.
First Reader: We light one purple candle as a symbol of hope. Advent means “arrival.” We wait to celebrate Christmas when Jesus first arrived as a baby. We are also waiting for the day when Jesus will return again as the Lord of all.
Second Reader: Let’s listen closely to God’s word for us in our Bible passage.
Jeremiah, chapter 33, verses 14 through 16, says, “‘The days are surely coming,’ says the LORD, ‘when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’”
Conversation: Take turns talking about those verses. What stood out for you in the Bible passage? Why did it draw your attention? What does it mean for your life today?
Pray aloud together this Family Litany.
One: Dear God, you fill our hearts with hope while we wait for Jesus to arrive.
All: God, you are good! You always keep your promises.
One: Send your Spirit to help us remember that you are faithful when we cannot see you.
All: Let your steady flame of hope keep glowing in our hearts and lives.
One: You are bringing us closer to the day when everyone will know Jesus as Savior.
All: We worship and praise you, Lord. Let the day of your arrival come soon!