It is one thing to notice that there is work to be done. It is quite another one to determine that you are the one who needs to do that work! This week’s worship is about commitment. That could be hard when a large part of the congregation is still online. How do we get folks to commit to ministry when getting together is difficult? What does ministry look like in this pandemic era? These are some of the questions the worship team might consider answering, or at least making suggestions about this week.
How might we be about the business of lifting valleys and bringing down hills so that the way of the Lord is prepared? It seems beyond us, certainly. Especially when we seem so limited these days. Where do we start? We start with prayer. Not because there isn’t anything else we can do. But because that is where worship always begins. We pray, and we learn to pray, and we practice praying. What are the hills that we need to be praying get moved out of the way so that God’s way can be accessed? What are the valleys, and who is down in those valleys that need to be lifted up so that they can see the one who comes? We don’t pray because we’re helpless. We pray because we know where the power is.
So, this second week of Advent, we pray. We pray as though we were members of a clean-up crew, knowing we are making a difference in the world and in the lives of those around us. But prayer doesn’t prevent us from acting or from giving or serving or working. The clean-up crew has plenty to be doing. What Christmas ministries are you used to doing in this season? Rather than simply saying we can’t do that now, rethink how to do them. How could those ministries be done in a physically distanced way, protecting workers and recipients both? This is not the time for the church to sit back and wait for a return to normal. This is a time for creative thinking, for an Advent spirit of anticipation and hope as we long for a new reality.
Some are saying, that sounds more like a missions rally than a worship service. There are some similarities, to be sure. But here in Advent, we are looking forward by making ready. We are anticipating by rolling up our sleeves and getting to work. Worship is a call to action, not simply an opportunity to feel good about ourselves. We receive a spark to put our worship into action in the world around us.
Issue the call, this second Sunday of Advent. Invite the worshipers to join the clean-up crew. Let the work be as physical as possible, as well as spiritual; let it be as communal as it can be, as well as individual. There should be both a desire to do something after the benediction is pronounced and something clear to do. Plan for follow-up of this worship. Include getting the church readier for guests to come as we get closer to Christmas. But don’t let all the work be inward-focused. How will we invite our community to join us? How will we make it clear that we care about their lives and not just the numbers in the pew or log-ins to our YouTube channel?
Worship cannot begin and end in the sanctuary or online stream. It has to grow out of real needs in the lives of the worshipers and the communities in which they live, and then it has to feed out into those communities, even as it continues to work on those who shared the worship experience.
Let it begin with the lighting of the Advent wreath. Communicate that the light isn’t to be kept inside only for those gathered in person or online. But it is hoped that this flame will bring light to the whole world. Because we are the ones who know that company’s coming.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.