Image from final page of The Story of the Little Gray Mouse,
Dorothy Sherrill, 1945 (copyright lapsed). Public Domain.
See the texts, artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.)
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Para obtener más recursos leccionario, Estudios Exegético: Homiléticos.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
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 greeting 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.
We begin a new church year. November 30 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 11, 2015) all of the lectionary readings are selected to coordinate with each other.
See our webinar, “Planning for Advent 2014,” for five different approaches to planning for this season in ways that enable you to celebrate both Advent and Christmas Season as fully as possible.
See our article, “Planning for Advent Year B” for guidance for a series-based approach to this year’s lectionary readings that will also be followed in these planning helps.
Finally, see our extensive collection of Advent and Christmas Season leadership and worship resources.
With the beginning of a new year, consider encouraging worshipers to begin a new discipline (or continue an existing discipline) of daily Scripture reading and prayer. An excellent guide is Steve Manskar’s A Disciple’s Journal 2015, which includes the Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings for every day of the year. These readings bridge from Sunday to Sunday. You will read texts preparing for the coming Sunday from Thursday through Saturday. From Monday to Wednesday, you will read texts that expand on the readings from the past Sunday. The Kindle version includes live links to the Scripture readings for each day.
Today is also United Methodist Student Day, with a special offering designated. The link points to multiple resources available from United Methodist Communications.
World Aids Day is tomorrow, December 1. Discipleship Ministries (Discipleship Ministries) and the General Board of Global Ministries each provide resources for the observance of 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 Christmas Season.
January 1 New Year or Holy Name of Jesus
January 4/6 Epiphany Sunday/Epiphany
January 11 Baptism of the Lord (also this) Human Trafficking Awareness Day
January 18 Human Relations Day (Discipleship Ministries Resources)
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
January 19 Martin Luther King Jr. Day
January 25 Ecumenical Sunday in The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
All Month: Black History Month (USA)
February 8 Scouting Ministries Sunday (USA)
February 15 Transfiguration of the Lord
February 18 Ash Wednesday
Atmospherics: The Season of Advent
The image at the top of this resource highlights the paradoxical nature of the season of Advent. It is fundamentally about “The End,” the culmination of all things in Christ. Normally when we think about “The End,” we think about negative things, such as death, destruction, even extinction. Yet in the image, the mouse is dancing with joy.
So it is for Christians as we keep the season of Advent. Yes, it is about The End. It is thus also about death and destruction that accompanies the final judgment.
But we understand the final judgment to be good news. We see the judgment primarily affecting all the kills and destroys in the universe and the moral universe as we experience it. And we see the effects of Christ’s final judgment as bringing new life out of death, healing out of disease, new creation out of the daily chaos we continue to experience in this life in this age.
We take both realities seriously. We know it takes serious judgment, nothing less than dramatic divine intervention, to bring about The End of evil, injustice and oppression in all the forms in which they present themselves. While we are called and empowered in our baptisms to resist these things in our lives, only God can end them forever. During this season, we especially long for and look for the day when God will. And in anticipation of that day, we do rejoice.
That is the dance of Advent, a dance of solemn joy, with the emphasis equally distributed among the two. We are solemn because we are not sanguine, at all, about where this world is heading and what must be done to address it. We are joyful because we wait for that day and hour with hope, because Christ, raised from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father, will surely come again as judge to end the reign of the powers that be once for all, and reign without rival forever.
The call to plan for Advent is a call to plan for a season, not just four Sundays, in which we seek to live daily in and from this solemn joy.
Worship planning for this season calls for worship that punctuates or perhaps recatalyzes our life in solemn joy, from now to Christmas Eve. From there, we move to awe-filled joy.
Back to top.
The End We Need to Come
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?
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 been 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).
If Isaiah and Psalm 80 primarily bring us face to face with Advent solemnity, I Corinthians primarily brings us to Advent joy. This text was selected 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.” 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.
Mark addresses two eschatological moments at once— the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem 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!
Putting It All Together in Your Planning Team
Today you may be continuing, but more likely starting, a new season. As noted above, the idea of a season in Christian worship is not to have a series of ‘special services’ but rather for those services to help the whole community live in an intense and intentional way focused, in this case, on the solemn joy that accompanies our living hope for the fulfillment of God’s kingdom in the second coming of Christ.
So one of the first tasks of your worship planning team is to be in communication with other planning teams—for education, family life, and mission, to name three. Work through and across your teams to plan a total set of resources, gatherings, educational experiences, mission actions and events that will support as many in your congregation who are willing to live as fully into and learn to live as fully from this sense of solemn joy at the promise of Christ’s return as possible during these weeks. If you can help individuals, groups and families establish good habits of daily life in this expectation during these 25 days before Christmas, you will have given them the foundation to continue them through Christmas Season as well, and for the rest of their lives. Do not miss this opportunity to help your congregation to experience the transformation of heart and life this season was created for. Plan thoroughly, richly, and well!
Worship during this season can be a punctuation mark or kick-start to the ways of life you seek to help folks live during the intervening days. This Sunday in particular, the first in the season, has that role of kick-start.
So let the readings do their work this day unimpeded. Jesus says the stars will be falling from the heavens, boding the destruction of the whole cosmos. Isaiah boldly asks for God to remake everything, and just as boldly acknowledges how the people’s own sin is deeply connected to how messed up everything is now. Don’t domesticate these texts. Use them!
If you use our Advent Wreath Meditations for Church and Home to begin worship each week, read today’s Scripture from Mark’s gospel boldly (these are no gentle texts!), light the candle and then consider singing a bold text such as “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” (UMH 196), “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending” (UMH 718) or “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying” (UMH 720) as a processional hymnal, followed immediately by a bold reading of Isaiah, a confession of sin in response (as the reading itself seems to call for), and then moving directly into I Corinthians and the whole of the gospel reading, previewed in the Advent Wreath meditation.
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) a comprehensive and general corporate acknowledgment of our
failure to be faithful and the acts of evil we have committed or
b) silence during which persons are invited to confess their specific
personal sins before God, and
c) 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 to 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.
And, as always, follow the confession with silence, then an act of pardon.
Your more creative work for this service, and each service in this season, needs to go into thinking through how what you do in worship can be a powerful catalyst to daily living with solemn joy in light of Christ’s promised return during the coming days. You know what your folks can do, and what other teams have planned. Keep the major themes of the sermon connected with the specific practices you want to call your congregation to undertake each day in the week ahead so that what happens in worship today not only inspires their continued response, but also prepares them to carry it out well.
Greeting: 243 (Mark), 244 (Isaiah), 245 (general)
Opening Prayer: 254 (Mark), 253 (Isaiah, 1 Corinthians)
- 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 Ebola and AIDS victims, caregivers, and medical researchers)
Ecumenical Prayer Cycle: Liberia, Sierra Leone
The Great Thanksgiving: BOW 54-55
Dismissal with Blessing: BOW 559 with 560 (spoken) or BOW 190 (sung)