Planning - First Sunday of Advent, Year B
The prophet calls for God to appear decisively, to "tear open the heavens" so the nations would tremble. He also confesses the need for such decisive intervention -- the utter sinfulness of humanity, even of those who are part of God's covenant. Finally, he changes metaphors -- from earthly catastrophe to remaking pots, begging God to be merciful when God comes.
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19: (UMH 801).
The people cry out for restoration from the midst of exile. "Restore us, Lord God of hosts. Shine the light of your countenance upon us, that we may be saved!" Consider singing the Psalm, using Tone 5 in F sharp minor and using response 1.
I Corinthians 1:3-9.
In the midst of offering a greeting to the Christians in Corinth, Paul points to the end -- the coming Day of the Lord -- to call them to continue to grow and be faithful in using their spiritual gifts.
Jesus describes the end and instructs his disciples to be on watch for signs of it.
For Leccionario Comn Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes (pdf), click here.
Back to top.
We begin a new church year. November 27 is the first Sunday in Advent, the opening of the liturgical year, and the first Sunday in lectionary cycle B of the Christian calendar. From now through Baptism of the Lord (First Sunday after Epiphany, January 8, 2012) all of the lectionary readings are selected to coordinate with one another.
See our article "Restoring Advent and Christmas" on the UMC Worship Blog for three different approaches that may enable your congregation to experience a full Advent AND a full Christmastide. Also see The Advent Project website for full resources to support a restored 7-week celebration of this season, truncated to four weeks in the 11th century by act of Pope Gregory VI.
Remember, Advent isn't about Christmas -- mangers, shepherds and Magi-- but about its eternal context, the promised inbreaking of God's reign into the powers of this world and the fulfillment of that promise begun in God's incarnation in Jesus. For more specific guidance for Advent, see "Planning Advent for Year B." For more about the Revised Common Lectionary, see The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL).
Today (November 27) is also United Methodist Student Day, with a special offering designated.
World Aids Day is December 1. The General Board of Church and Society and the General Board of Global Ministries provide resources for this day. This is the only "programmatic" day during December so that our congregations may focus fully during this month on the celebration of Advent and Christmastide.
Atmospherics: Advent 1 -- The End We Need to Come
The readings on this First Sunday in Advent call us to a grim, yet hopeful, recognition. The world as we experience it is unsustainable and incompatible with the flourishing of life God desires. It keeps too many of us trapped in oppression and other forms of injustice. No amount of tinkering with it on our part will change this. Its patterns are so ingrained in histories, cultures, technologies, politics, economics and ways of life that only a decisive intervention by God can restore it to God's intended purposes. We need this world as we know it to end and a truly new world to come in its place.
This is why the prophet in Isaiah 64 begins by crying out for more than "help" for a people in exile in his own day. He cries out for a decisive personal intervention by God that will not only show the world God in action, but that will also decisively break the ways and the realm (symbolized by the sky) of the powers that be. That's what "tear open the heavens" means.
Where do people where you are need to join the prophet's cry? "We can't take this anymore! Stop the madness! God, fix this!!" How will you make room in worship today not just to hear this cry, but to enable those in your midst, or in your community who may not normally be in your midst, to make it with the prophet? Consider using the Psalm as part of this, with its constant refrain "Save us! Save us, Lord God of Hosts! Shine the light of your face on us, that we may be saved!"
The prophet begins with such a cry for decisive action. But he does not stop there. He also offers another kind of appeal to God.
Beginning in verse 3, the prophet recalls times when God had shown up in the past in a game-changing way. Immediately, however, the prophet also acknowledges that the reason that the people of God find themselves in their current situation is their own sin and God's consequent abandonment of them into exile. He confesses this openly in verses 5b-7. It is on the basis of this confession of sin that the prophet makes a second appeal for God to act. Yes, the people are surely sinful, but they also are God's handiwork. Remember us, he cries, and come to us if only because you made us and we are yours.
Which of these two responses -- outcry, or confession and appeal -- or what combination of them may be most helpful for your worshiping community in your context on this First Sunday in Advent?
If you write your own confession of sin, remember these guidelines, suggested in Living into the Mystery:
The United Methodist Hymnal (1989) and The United Methodist Book of Worship (1992) contain many examples of corporate prayers of confession of sin. Common to all of these prayer acts is a three-fold pattern:
- a comprehensive and general corporate acknowledgment of our failure to be faithful and the acts of evil we have committed or allowed,
- silence during which persons are invited to confess their specific personal sins before God, and
- an act of pardon.
The baptismal covenant calls Christians to repent not only of personal sins, but also of their participation in "evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they may present themselves" (UMH, p. 34). When congregations confess in ways that express the full spectrum of sin, personal and social, they may be open to experience forgiveness more fully, too. When these prayers are general, more worshipers can recognize and authentically confess their behavior in the words they pray.
Since public prayer is the corporate act of the community, the creation of new resources should be a corporate act, as well. When you write a new prayer of confession, solicit the critique of a colleague and a few trusted members of your congregation. The text will be stronger and the congregation will be more ready to pray it as their own.
That last bit of advice can be fulfilled within your worship planning team, or by sharing the prayer you or others may have composed with trusted folks inside or outside your congregation for feedback and revision before you ask your congregation to pray it. What you are looking for today is a prayer of confession that adequately and accurately expresses the sin of your particular people, does not put false or hyperbolic words in their mouths, and that speaks of their sin as they would.
The prophet speaks as one unsure of God's forgiveness. We, in Christ, are not. God has intervened decisively in the world already for us in Jesus Christ, who announced, embodied, and rules the inbreaking (and "heaven-rending" -- remember his baptism?) kingdom of God. We confess he will come again in glory to complete what has begun. Our own outcries and confession with this prophet, then, are as those who already know of Christ's coming that has torn the heavens and who trust in Christ's coming again that will "melt the earth" and make all things new (2 Peter 3:12).
I Corinthians of the three texts today may seem the "safest" and "least Adventy." This text was selected, however, not for its "feel-good" qualities, but because of the strong connection it makes between the use and power of spiritual gifts now and our waiting for the "revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ" who will "strengthen you to the end." Indeed, Paul's point is that we are given the strength we have -- the goodness of our fellowship and the gifts we can use in ministry -- so that we will be made ready for Christ's final appearing. To use theological terms, Paul makes no separation between ecclesiology (the nature of the church now) and eschatology (the end of all things). Rather, his eschatology drives his missiology (what we are to do now) which drives his ecclesiology. Christ is both and at once the reigning and the coming Lord. That great fact determines both what we're sent to do in the world and how we organize and prepare ourselves to do it. We need the spiritual gifts we are now given precisely because, even more, we need the end to come, and so to be prepared for it.
Advent reminds us of the priority of the end, of God's future colliding with our present to drive us and all things to fulfillment. Prosperous and powerful Christians, as this world counts prosperity and power, have often either severed eschatology from our daily thinking or have mangled the vision of Christ's coming again in ways that justify our present realities. Why think of the end when all our needs are met? Why think of the end when we have stock portfolios to manage, and even if they're tanking, we still have many more resources than most? Why think of the end when the demands and rewards of the now are so enthralling? Isn't thinking of the end, especially focusing on the end first, merely escapist? Might focusing on the end, first, thus be irresponsible, in a way?
Talk in your worship planning team about how can worship today begin to address the severing and mangling of Christian hope for Christ's return. Could the singing of "old-time" hymns that speak powerfully of Christ's return ("Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory" for example) become an entry point for your congregation to take this seriously again, if they have lost view of it, or to reaffirm it, if is it still a potent vision among them? Consider how elements in the Great Thanksgiving may be lifted up for special notice in the sermon, or the bulletin, or onscreen, such as "Make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet" and, as we proclaim the"mystery of faith" "Christ will come again."
Building on the reading from Isaiah, when we come to the place of calling for God's decisive intervention, and so when we call for Christ's final return, how does that motivate us to be part of the change ourselves, here and now? How does our crying out for or confessing bodily Christ's return also help others who hear or overhear our cries? Who in your congregation or community may have a testimony about how hearing or reclaiming such a cry for Christ's coming has helped them grow in faithfulness here and now? Where will you make room for such testimony in worship today?
Mark addresses two eschatological moments at once: the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and of Jerusalem itself and the final coming of Christ. There is an intriguing promise in the middle of the text: "This generation will not pass away until all of these things have taken place."
Some interpret the term "generation" to refer to "age," and some take it more literally.
The more literal interpretation can go in two directions simultaneously. On the one hand, the signs of the coming of the Son of Man, the inauguration of the kingdom, were indeed already present in that generation. On the other, this could be Mark's way of encouraging Christians living in the midst of the Syro-Judean revolts against Rome of the late 60s that even the destruction of Jerusalem itself was sign of God's reign, not of Rome's ultimate victory.
The less literal interpretation -- "this generation" meaning "this age" -- stretches the time horizon and compresses it at once. "This generation" acts as an initial "bookend" while the reality that day and hour of the final coming remains unknown to all except "the Father" (verse 32) acts as an indeterminable other. In other words, we are taught here that Christ will surely come again, but without warning. That is why Jesus tell his disciples there is a constant need to "Keep awake" (Luke 13:33, 35, 37).
The brief parable Jesus tells here (verses 34-37) gives the context for that admonition. A master has left his household, put his slaves in charge, and told the doorkeeper to keep watch. He gives them no clue about when he will return, only the word that he will do so. If he returns to find his household not being cared for and the doorkeeper asleep, the slaves and the doorkeeper will have disappointed their master and will pay the consequences. If he finds them on the job, they will have met their master's expectations. What does the master want? He wants his charges to have kept the house well. To do that, they must remain awake, alert, watchful at all times. Perhaps not telling them when he would return may spur them to just such a state of constant readiness!
Who around you is meeting our Master's expectations? Who is keeping watch? Who is living the way of God's kingdom? And what do you have in place as a congregation to continue to encourage people to "Keep awake" for the Master's return?
Consider this an occasion where folks in your congregation or community engaged in a Covenant Discipleship or other accountable discipleship group designed to support and sustain such readiness-- may be resources for testimony or planning in worship.
Advent wreaths, the hymns and songs of Advent, the prayers and the preaching proper to Advent are invitations for you and your people to experience liturgical waiting even if the culture at large is extravagantly proclaiming "Christmastime." Discipleship Ministries has a vast array of resources for and articles about Advent worship on our website. We also have over 150 downloadable hymns and other musical scores for the season, made available for free thanks to your congregation's and conference's faithful giving to General Church apportionments.
Back to top.
Embodying the Word for Advent: The Entrance
With the beginning of a new Christian year, we come also to the beginning of worship as we resume this section of the weekly Worship Planning Helps.
Entrance is the first of the four great movements of worship in what United Methodists call our Basic Pattern of Worship, and what is known more widely as "The Ecumenical Ordo": Entrance, Proclamation and Response, Thanksgiving and Communion, and Sending Forth.
The first three of these movements can also be understood as forms of assembly -- figuratively or even literally -- around different focal points of Christian worship. The Entrance is an assembly around the baptismal font, which marks our new birth and entrance into the the body of Jesus Christ, the community of our Triune God. Proclamation and Response as a movement is an assembly around the Scriptures, read, expounded, and responded to in confession, testimony, and prayer. Thanksgiving and Communion are an assembly around the Table of the Lord, where we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving and receive the body and blood of Christ.
The fourth movement is in some ways the perpetual motion of the church. Here we are continually sent out by God as witnesses of God's kingdom. Each time we gather, this sending takes us from the Table, through the space where Scripture is proclaimed, past the font again, and then into the world to live out the "re-assembly" that has happened among us in worship.
During Advent, the Entrance is often marked by the use of an Advent Wreath and in some contexts the singing of one or more verses of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" (UMH 211). Keep in mind, however, that the primal symbol for the entrance throughout the entire year is baptism, and so the baptismal font. Consider placing the Advent wreath near the baptismal font, and placing both in places that mark "entrance" for those coming into your worship space throughout the season. Many of our congregations have a variety of entrance points for worship space, so the specific location from week to week could vary in ways appropriate to the Scriptures for each Sunday or the themes from the Scriptures that will be highlighted in worship. Consider, too, the possibility, at least one of these weeks, perhaps the first, of an actual physical assembly around the font, perhaps with Advent wreath, as the Entrance for that day.
You may choose to begin worship on the First Sunday of Advent with a baptism or a reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant, or both. If you do this, remember the strong advice of our Hymnal and Book of Worship also to celebrate Communion in the same service! When you do, be sure to invite the newly baptized to assist in the presentation of the gifts of bread and wine/juice as they are able, to receive first (always), and to be among those who serve as well. And yes, this can include infants, too (with a little help from parents and sponsors!).
Back to top.
Greeting: 243 (Mark), 244 (Isaiah), 245 (general)
Opening Prayer: 254 (Mark), 253 (Isaiah, 1 Corinthians)
Advent Wreath: BOW 208, Advent Wreath Litany (Come, Lord Jesus)
See also The Advent Wreath Revisited.
Other resources to consider:
- Blessing of the Advent Wreath: BOW 261 (Advent)
- Response: BOW 207 or BOW 208, "Come, Lord Jesus" (Mark)
- Advent Wreath Readings: BOW 262 (Advent)
- Response: BOW 210, "I Am the Lamp" (Advent)
- Response: UMH 585, "This Little Light of Mine" (Advent)
Confession and Pardon:
BOW 486 (Isaiah) adding a pardon sequence (see UMH, p. 8) or some other
Concerns and Prayers:
- BOW 255 (include AIDS victims, caregivers, and medical researchers)
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Liberia, Sierra Leone
The Great Thanksgiving: BOW 54-55
Prayer of Thanksgiving if there is no Communion: BOW 555
Dismissal with Blessing: BOW 559 with 560 (spoken) or BOW 190 (sung)