Planning - Second Sunday of Advent
"The heavens will pass away with a loud noise and the elements will dissolve with fire" (2 Peter 3:10). This is no vain religious speculation. It's a regular happening in our universe. The latest science estimates that our own sun will continue to expand until it becomes a Red Giant, literally dissolving the first three inner planets, including earth, with its heat. How then shall we live?
Four brief prophecies arranged in dramatic form declare the hope of God's coming to rescue the exiles from captivity. In verses 1-2, the prophet is called by God: "Comfort my people in exile!" In verses 3-4, a voice cries, "Prepare God's way," as a highway forms across the desert from Babylon to Judea. In verses 5-8, the prophet announces, "Life is ephemeral; God's word is eternal." In verses 9-11, those keeping watch in Jerusalem, a city in ruins, are called to declare from the highest height the victory of God because God will bring the exiles home and sustain them.
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13: (UMH 806).
A response of thanks and trust in God's deliverance. Sing the response with Tone 2 transposed to A Minor (UMH 737).
2 Peter 3:8-15a.
The coming fiery destruction or purification of the world as we know it means that we now, in the face of that, must strive for lives of holiness. We are called to make the present age a place where righteousness is at home, even as we wait for new heavens and earth to follow that great conflagration.
The gospel begins with the ministry of John the Baptizer, calling all to repentance and baptism for forgiveness to get ready for the kingdom of the one to come, the one who baptizes not simply with water, but with the Holy Spirit.
For Leccionario Comn Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes (pdf), click here.
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Advent continues. Christmas (December 24 after sundown through January 6, sundown) approaches for Christians. Hanukkah (December 21-28) approaches for the Jewish people.
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).
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.
On the US Calendar, this coming Wednesday (December 7) marks the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which marked the entrance of the United States into World War II. Consider what some worshipers may need to offer today in remembrance of that day. As you may need to plan, keep in mind that our worship is not for this nation or any nation, but in the name of Christ our coming Lord, Ruler of All. One way to do this is to include the people who remember that day, who may have been involved in that day, or whose lives were involved, changed or ended in that war in your intercessions.
Looking ahead to January -- January 1 can be celebrated in a variety of ways -- as The Feast of the Holy Name, as a Watch Night (December 31), or as New Year's Day. This year, it will also be Epiphany Sunday (Epiphany itself is always January 6). Plan for your principal service to be Epiphany, and schedule a separate time for others as fits your context. January 8 will be Baptism of the Lord Sunday. Special offerings and events for January include Human Relations Day on January 15, Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Observance on January 19, the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity (January 18-25), and Ecumenical Sunday (January 22).
Atmospherics: Getting Ready for the End to Come
Advent is one tough season, and for good reason. It is not designed to get us ready for the babe in the manger, someone we can hold and love and let sleep in our laps. It is designed and has been designed from its beginnings to get us ready for the Second Advent, the coming of the Lord in glory to judge the living and the dead, and after that, the new creation. It is not designed to get us ready for something we can see clearly now, but for something that seems impossible to see, and perhaps something that inspires more awe than "heavenly peace."
Getting us ready for these things is tough work, especially if we may have reasons not to look forward to them.
Consider reading Isaiah this week as a mini-play in four scenes and possibly an epilogue. You need at least four actors/readers: the prophet, the voice of God, an unidentified voice (for scene 2), and a messenger in Jerusalem (no lines, but addressed by God in scene 3). Place the voice of God and the unidentified voice on opposite sides of your worship space. If you have wireless microphones, consider placing them outside the space so neither is seen.
Scene 1 (Verses 1-2): A prophet among exiles in Babylon (Iraq) is told by God to tell these people that they are about to be set free. The message seemed out of the blue, with no advance warning and no reason, based on current circumstances, to believe it.
Scene 2 (Verses 3-4): An unidentified voice cries out (to whom?) over the uninhabited lands between Babylon and Jerusalem, "Prepare a highway for our God through this desert." More orders come, but to whom? "Level those mountains. Fill in those valleys. Patch and resurface all the rutted paths." This is a huge construction project. But its purposes seem unwarranted by any current facts. There is no one among the exiles who can do this work. There is no end in clear sight to the current political circumstances. And Jerusalem was a city in ruins. Who would want to build a highway all across the desert just to end up in a city full of broken buildings?
Scene 3 (Verses 5-8): Another voice, probably that of God, instructs the prophet to proclaim that all flesh is grass but God's word stands for ever. In this mini-play, that harsh word about human mortality is comfort, too. It is saying, "Look, everything you see around you cannot survive for long, including the current circumstances, as solid and permanent as they appear. But God's word stands." Again, these are tough words. Has the prophet gone mad?
Scene 4 (Verses 9-10): The audience changes. The new audience is a messenger in Jerusalem. This messenger climbs to the top of mount Zion, home of the ruins of the temple, and starts shouting, "Look! Our God is coming! Behold! See his armies! See the booty of victory our God has brought home!"
Epilog (Verse 11): At the end, we hear words of encouragement (perhaps from the prophet) about what was to come. It's the closest we get to tenderness in the text. But even this tenderness requires tough faith, faith to see and act on what simply is nowhere to be seen in the current circumstances.
This is a drama, full of prophetic words and actions. It would simply not have been heard as comforting to many of its first hearers unless they had faith enough to believe what could not be seen. It challenged them to a faith beyond their circumstances, to be embraced by and follow the word of a God they could not see or even worship properly in their current circumstances.
As you work with this text in your worship planning team, ask yourselves where each of these scenes would be set and how they would be played out where you are now. What is the exile and oppression of the powers in which you find yourselves and see no apparent way out? (Scene 1) Who speaks a word of comfort where you are that says "You've had enough of this!" not simply "It's going to be okay!" (Scene 2) What is the journey from where you now are to where you should be? What construction orders need to be given now, even if no one is ready or able to listen to them, so the highway from here to there can be built? Who brings the voice that reminds all of our mortality, that nothing we see or have or know is or will be permanent, except for God's word? (Scene 3)
The place of hope to which these people are to return is no shining city on a hill. It lies in ruins. God sets ruins as their hope. And God tells the people in the ruins to start shouting God's victorious return. Where is the ruins to which you're heading? Who needs to start shouting God's victorious return there? (Scene 4)
The image at the top of this resource represents the physical destiny of our sun and our planet. 2 Peter described it in poetry two millennia ago. "The heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire." That will happen to this planet within the next 5-7 billion years.
It may happen for us as a species, as it has for many other species on this planet, much sooner than that. The best scientific consensus on the future of the planet right now says that unless we radically reduce carbon emissions to a sustainable level, by 2050 upwards of thirty percent of the species on this planet will be endangered or extinct, and the billions of humans living near coasts will be displaced or killed by flooding or disease. This isn't liberal or conservative, Red State or Blue State. This is and remains the best scientific consensus climatologists on the planet have achieved to date. It does not matter who or what we think caused this reality. But where humans can mitigate it, it is surely our task to do so.
As Christians, we are called to prepare for an end, now, in which ultimately, there will be nothing left of this planet. We are faced with realities in the shorter range, that within the next four decades, there may be little left of the economic and energy systems we now see, or little or nothing left of billions of homes and people and hundreds of species we now see.
That is what this text calls us to do. Prepare now to face such a challenging end. Prepare now because this is the kind of end we face. 2 Peter leaves no room for debate about this. He assumes it. "Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way (verse 11), what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness?" What we long for in the end is beyond the end of this planet as we know it -- new heavens and new earth, where righteousness is at home (verse 13). Until then, we are to live at peace, spotless, obedient to our Lord in all things, entrusting ourselves to the divine and patient Mercy (verse 14).
More tough Advent challenges.
How will your worship planning team step up to these cosmic and ecological challenges and help your people get ready for them -- starting now?
Being spotless and blameless, being holy, godly, and obedient, does not mean sitting around and letting the world continue to descend into destruction around us when there may be something we can do to relieve or abate at least some destruction in our lifetimes. Rather, it means continued active following of the way of Jesus! It is to love God above all and do all we can to love every neighbor as ourselves.
Who are the people where you are engaged who live patient, holy and godly lives, inspired by good eschatology, the Advent proposition of the end that drives us now to prepare for new creation?
It is the authenticity of the voice and witness of these people that will best bring home the Advent hope, the biblical hope, from this text today. They will know how to speak in ways that may inspire your congregation to come to believe and obey. Find them. Let their voices be heard today.
Mark offers another angle on the end that drives us to prepare even now. We hear it loud and see it clear in the prophecy and manner of life of John, known as "The Baptizer."
The opening of this text recalls the second scene of Isaiah's mini-play, the call for the construction project in the desert. John embodied that call by where he placed himself -- in the Judean desert, near the Jordan River, the last place on the highway from Babylon to Jerusalem the exiles would encounter before returning to their homeland.
John's choice of food and clothing bore witness that the "ways of his culture" were not the "ways God provided." John rejected the manufactured robes of the powers that be for camel hair. He turned down the food available in town for the bugs and honey he could collect by the Jordan.
John's preaching boldly proclaimed a fiery end to come, an end no existing powers would survive. That end required preparation -- baptism as a sign of repentance of our participation in the way things now are. One more powerful was coming, he proclaimed. That one would baptize with more than water. So get ready!
In Mark's gospel, in particular, the promise of the coming of Jesus as destroyer of the present age and harbinger of the age to come does not disappoint. This age is passing away. God's kingdom is breaking in, changing the rules of power, breaking what keeps people in bondage, forgiving sins, healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out demons, setting all kinds of bound-up folks free. There would be no going back to the former ways. The new had begun. And there would be more, much more, to come.
While the other two readings for today point us largely to the second coming of Jesus, this one also points squarely at the first. But it does so with no less an Advent proposition of an end of all things that calls us to get ready here and now.
So where is the edge of the wilderness, the desert, where you are? Who is "crying out" there? What are the cries? How do these cries warn of the end of the world as we know it?
How has the coming of Jesus already become, in your midst, through the church in the power of the Spirit, a lively fulfillment of those cries about the Coming One?
Where is your worshiping community in need of repentance from having sided with the powers opposed to the Coming One?
How will you plan to embody repentance today, repentance that does what John talks about here -- repentance not merely of our peccadillos, but of our allegiance to powers other than the way of Christ?
Consider the possibility of using the first two of the baptismal vows (UMH 34) as your act of repentance today -- recognizing your complicity with forces of wickedness where that is occurring, recommitting to break from them, and resuming your commitment to accept Christ's power to resist evil, injustice, and oppression however they present themselves.
That's what John's baptism was about. That's what Jesus did when he was baptized by John. And that's the kind of repentance that Advent calls us all to make now as an essential part of our own preparation for the end to come.
Embodying the Word for Advent: The Entrance for the Second Sunday in Advent
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.
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.
Today's readings lend themselves to a wide variety of entrance points. Think of any of the four scenes from Isaiah -- which of these might best represent where many in your congregation are entering from today? A place of exile? The desert between? A place of hearing a hard word to declare but declaring it? A place of ruins needing a promised rebuilding? 2 Peter cries out for vivid images of red giants or supernovae or other destructive acts in the universe. The NASA website (www.nasa.gov) is full of these, and most of them are, by law, in the public domain. Or perhaps something more basic, down to earth, like an act of full or partial reaffirmation or repentance around the font -- as suggested in Atmospherics for Mark's gospel.
However your team works through these ideas, consider how what you will do connects with the texts for the day in a lively and compelling way, and truly helps the people of YOUR congregation know and feel they have entered into the courts of the Holy One, who was and is and is to come.
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Greeting: 240, 241 (Isaiah, Mark), 248 (Isaiah), 307 (2 Peter)
- UMH 201 (Isaiah, Mark)
- BOW 521 (Isaiah, 2 Peter) might also be used as basis of Concerns and Prayers
Advent Wreath: Follow the pattern you set up last week for this and the remaining Sundays of Advent.
Musical Responses to the Word: Worship & Song includes a number of new Advent hymns and songs very appropriate for today's readings from 2 Peter ("View the Present through the Promise," 3048) and Mark ("Make Way," 3044 and "Down by the Jordan," 3045).
Confession: BOW 478 (2 Peter, Mark) adding a pardon sequence such as in BOW 475 or BOW 477.
Concerns and Prayers:
- TFWS 2232 "Come Now, O Prince of Peace" (O-So-So). You might use this very accessible song as a prayer song throughout Advent. See the Worship Planner edition of The Faith We Sing for helpful suggestions.
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Cape Verde, the Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal
The Great Thanksgiving: BOW 54-55
Prayer of Thanksgiving if there is no Communion: BOW 255 (use only the first half that concludes with "your coming kingdom ..." and then continue with the Lord's Prayer said or sung.
Dismissal with Blessing:
- BOW 246 (Isaiah, 2 Peter, Mark) Although listed as a greeting, it is certainly appropriate for a dismissal
- Sing TFWS 2279 "The Trees of the Field" (Isaiah)
- Franciscan Blessing. Adapt it as needed.
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