22

December 2019

Dec

Trust

Are We There Yet?

Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A

Perhaps you, too, have become suspicious of your GPS. You’re following the directions to a destination where you have never been. Then you’re directed to make a turn that doesn’t feel right. You’re in an area of the city that doesn’t look right. The directions keep coming, but they don’t seem to be on the right path.

For Your Planning Team

The Christian church’s liturgical calendar begins with the season of Advent. Faith communities intentionally adorn their worship spaces with a Hanging of the Greens ceremony, a precursor to Christmastide. The ceremony is held directly before the first Sunday of Advent, and it emphasizes symbols of everlasting life (circular evergreen wreath), the light of Christ (Advent candles), Chrismon symbols hung on the evergreen tree that “direct our attention to the nature and ultimate work of Christ and primary Advent themes.” These symbols can include the crow, descending dove, fish, Celtic cross, Jerusalem cross, shepherd's crook, orb, crown, fish, star, anchor, chalice, shell—all made in the colors of white and gold (purity/perfection, majesty/glory), and clear lights. The Hanging of the Greens ceremony also creates a sacred space that builds or strengthens an ethos of koinonia, a community intentionally setting forth on a divine journey with God and with one another.

Planning Notes

The season of Advent is a highlight of any congregation’s life. It is a time of joy, color, light, and anticipation. And it is a time of worship. This is a season that calls us to fall to our knees in worship of the awesome God. Advent is the season where we remember that God chose to put on flesh and dwell among us. God reached down from incomprehensible heights to touch the life we live. And God chose to be born in the humblest of ways, in a manger, in a barn, or a cave, or on the side of the road. The Creator God Almighty crying in the prickly hay, fodder for animals. There is no proper response, other than worship.

At the same time, Advent is a reminder that there is more to come, that we are on a journey toward a new reality, a new way of being. Advent, from the Latin “venio” – coming and “ad” – to, is more about what is next than what was before. It is less a remembrance of the first coming and more an anticipation of the completion of the promised kingdom. Yet, the seeds of the return and reign of Christ were planted in the first coming, which is why the power of Christmas is so strong. Our constant struggle is to pay attention to the need of the church to anticipate the return of Christ and the fulfillment of the promised kingdom, when our congregations are longing to celebrate Christmas and all the beauty and tradition and sentiment of that season—especially since our culture has been pushing Christmas on us for months now. So, how do we live in the balance? How do we anticipate what is to come, even as we celebrate the traditions and the excitement and the wonder that is Christmas?

We suggest a journey. You’ve made journeys before in this season: the journey to Bethlehem; perhaps, the journey to Christmas. Perhaps this year, our horizons are a little farther and a little broader. Perhaps this is a journey to a place you have longed for and yet have never quite reached. Perhaps this is a journey you have heard about since you first became a follower of Jesus. And you are not alone; many have been on this journey and longing for this destination since the beginning of the people of God. So, they will be our partners on this journey, companions as we travel.

We’ve chosen to weave together the Gospel and the Hebrew Scripture passage in this Advent+ series. An occasional reference to the Epistle and the Psalter will appear, but we’ll stick primarily to those two texts each week. We’re calling this an Advent+ series because we have included suggestions for Christmas Eve, for the Sunday after Christmas, and for Watch Night. Your local traditions may make it hard to use the theme for those services, but we wanted to give the full scope of the season of anticipation and hope.

Journeying together this Advent+ season will be the whole family of God, the ones who occupy the seats beside you as you gather together for this shared experience. Present and not present, these are the ones who occupy your minds and hearts as you seek this new place, this new way of being together. Invariably, when you travel together, some are more anxious than others. Some may prefer to stay where they are. Others are so hopeful of what is to come that they may begin to overwhelm the rest. Some just want the journey to be over. Others are content to enjoy the ride. Journeys impact us in different ways. But even with the best of intentions and the joy of community, it won’t be long before someone says, “Are we there yet?”

This season, let that question not be a whine from an uncomfortable back seat or an impatient traveler; let it be a plea for God to break into our reality and bring us the glorious fulfillment of the promise; let it be a hope that God remains in charge, despite the trouble we see in the landscape through which we travel; let it be a call to work and worship in this season of light.

Are We There Yet?

Advent Candle Lighting Liturgy 2019

Reader One: One thing we have learned on our Advent journey is that it is better not to go alone. We live in a do-it-yourself culture that celebrates the individual. But faith is not something that we can do on our own. We need companions on the journey; we need others to support us and strengthen us and encourage us. We put our journey in the hands of many people around us; and although it is a risk, we are better for it. We learn to trust that someone has our back, as we make this journey of faith.

Reader Two: Matthew reminds us that when God chose to come to earth the first time, God chose to trust in people to help make it happen. God trusted in Mary, and God trusted in Joseph. In turn, we trust in God to be faithful to the promise and to sustain us through many others as we continue our journey of faith.

Reader One: We light the candles of peace, hope, joy, and trust, as our circle is complete.

(Light four candles on the wreath.)

Reader Two: Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, that God may teach us the ways of peace, hope, joy, and trust.

Congregation: Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

Advent Worship Liturgies (Upper Room 2019)

Speak: “Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18).

Light the fourth candle for love. Let us see love in the Lord!

Read: Isaiah 7:10-16 and Matthew 1:18-25

Reflect: Read and reflect on Psalm 80:19. Remember that salvation is a gift of love from the Lord. What other gifts has God given you today?

Engage: Show an act of kindness to a child with a parent who is ill or incarcerated, or take dinner to the medical team at your local emergency room or urgent-care clinic.

Pray: Gracious God, we seek you everywhere with expectant eyes that invite us to see love in the world today. Amen.

Liturgical Resources of the Season

Cynthia A. Wilson (copyright 2019)

CALL TO WORSHIP

Leader: God’s Spirit has led us here.

People: And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is PEACE.

Leader: God’s Spirit has led us here.

People: And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is HOPE.

Leader: God’s Spirit has led us here.

People: And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is JOY.

Leader: God’s Spirit has led us here.

People: And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is LOVE.

Leader: There’s a sweet, sweet Spirit in the place,

ALL: And we know that it’s the Spirit of the Lord!

CALL TO WORSHIP

Leader: The Liberator is on the way!

People: We’re watching and waiting.

Leader: The Liberator will arrive soon!

People: Blest is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.

Leader: Lift up your hearts; Lift up your heads,

People: So that the Liberator can come in.

Leader: We are watching; we are waiting; we are anticipating….

ALL: The Coming of our Liberator, The King of Glory, The Savior of the world!

BENEDICTION

People of God, we wait with hope; we wait with courage; we wait with joy unspeakable, full of glory; we wait with the assurance that The Liberator will come in power, in justice, and in peace. Go now, trusting and believing that it is so . . . in the name of Jesus, the Christ!

SYMBOLS OF THE SEASON

The Advent Wreath is circular and evergreen, signifying God’s eternity and endless mercy without end. The four candles represent Jesus’ light for a dark and sinful world and our call to reflect the light and grace of God in the world.

JAPANESE KANJI SYMBOLS FOR ADVENT

COLORS OF THE SEASON

The purple candle represents the penitent spirit. Some faith communities have replaced purple for blue (royalty) to distinguish Advent from the Lenten Season. The one pink or rose candle sometimes used to celebrate Gaudete Sunday (from the Latin word for “rejoice”) symbolizes joy. One of the four candles is lit for each Sunday of Advent. In the center is one white candle called the Christ Candle. It is traditionally lit on Christmas Eve or Day, where there is a service on these days.

Synonyms of the Season for Advent Prayers, Litanies, Calls to Worship, Benedictions: Arrival, Coming, Onset, Entrance, Visitation, Approach, Occurrence, Appearance.

In This Series...


First Sunday of Advent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Second Sunday of Advent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Third Sunday of Advent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Christmas Eve, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes First Sunday After Christmas Day, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes New Year's Eve/Watch Night, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes

Colors


  • Purple
  • Blue

In This Series...


First Sunday of Advent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Second Sunday of Advent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Third Sunday of Advent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Christmas Eve, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes First Sunday After Christmas Day, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes New Year's Eve/Watch Night, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes