- Revised Common Lectionary Readings
- Worship Planning Notes
- Resources in The United Methodist Book of Worship
Revised Common Lectionary Readings
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
Lecionário em português, Lecionário comum revisado
Zephaniah 3:14-20 The prophet sings a psalm of thanksgiving in anticipation of God's deliverance from exile, protection from present and future enemies, and promise to make the name of God’s people renowned and praised everywhere on earth.
Canticle: Isaiah 12:2-6 "Surely it is God who saves me." Recommended for this day: Sing "The First Song of Isaiah," 2030, The Faith We Sing (pew edition). Have the choir or a cantor sing the verses from another edition (Singers or Accompaniment).
Philippians 4:4-7 Paul calls for a leader, perhaps the local bishop named Syzygos, to intervene to help reconcile a conflict. Then he reminds the congregation that in and through all challenges they may face as a community, they can and should rejoice in Christ who is near and offer prayers and thanksgivings without anxiety. As they do these things, Paul promises they will experience the peace of God sustaining them.
Luke 3:7-18. An excerpt from the preaching of John the Baptizer. One more powerful is coming! Unquenchable fire awaits! Don't just stand there: Repent! And show that repentance in the way you live and work in the world.
Worship Planning Notes
Today is the Third Sunday in Advent, Year C. For those of you following the “Extended Advent” calendar, today is Advent 6.
In the Western tradition, the Third Sunday in Advent is also called “Gaudete" Sunday, or Joy Sunday. This is because of the reading from Philippians that fell on this Sunday every year: Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I say rejoice!” In our current lectionary, the Song of Zephaniah (OT reading) kicks off the joyous celebration, while the gospel reading from Luke on the ministry of John the Baptist may seem to quell it. Unless… unless we hear the joyful promise of the completed work of Messiah he prophesies (Luke 3:15-18).
"Joy to the World" (UMH 246) is an excellent Advent hymn, and fits this day beautifully. "Love Came Down at Christmas" (UMH 242) or "O Come, All Ye Faithful," (UMH 234) could also be appropriate, provided you omit verses 4-6, which make more specific reference to the birth of Jesus.
Next Sunday is Advent 4 (Advent 7, Restored). The response to the Old Testament reading is the “Magnificat,” the song Mary sang at the home of her cousin Elizabeth. Find some way to sing it! Sung versions may be found in The United Methodist Hymnal (198-200) and Upper Room Worshipbook (17-20, with a particularly stirring version called "Canticle of the Turning" on 18).
For more on Advent, see The United Methodist Book of Worship, 238. You may print this section in your bulletin or church newsletter provided that you include the copyright notice as indicated on page 12 or the online resource.
Resources for Planning Ahead
Here are several articles and webinars to help you plan through the end of Christmas Season.
Advent (introductory article from the Book of Worship)
Advent Wreath Meditations Year C
Three Ways to Celebrate Advent and Christmas Season Fully in 2015/2016
When Should You Hang the Greens?
Extended Advent Webinar (to learn more about how to implement Extended Advent)
Planning for Advent and Christmas, Year C
Webinar Slides: Planning for Advent and Christmas 2015
Full Webinar: Planning for Advent and Christmas Season 2015-2016
Christmas Season (introductory article from the Book of Worship)
The Three “M’s” of Christmas Season: Mystery, Martyrs, and Magnificat
The Season after Epiphany (introductory article from the Book of Worship)
January 1 New Year’s Day / Holy Name of Jesus
January 3/6 Epiphany Sunday/Epiphany
January 10 Baptism of the Lord
January 11 Human Trafficking Awareness Day
January 17 Human Relations Day (Discipleship Ministries Resources)
January 18 Martin Luther King Jr. Day
January 18-25 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
January 24 Ecumenical Sunday
All Month Black History Month
February 7 Transfiguration of the Lord
February 10 Ash Wednesday, and Lent Begins
February 14 Scouting Ministries Sunday (or observe after Lent)
February 15 Presidents Day (USA)
Going Rosey… or Not?
While most of the “themes” attached to the Sundays of Advent by twentieth-century church supply houses (Hope, Love, Peace) have no precedence in church history except that created by those church supply houses, today’s “Joy Sunday” does have some. Advent had initially been an extended season of preparation for baptism, lasting seven weeks, much like Lent. As a season of baptismal preparation, and with its themes of readiness for the second coming, judgment, and new creation, it was also a generally “admonitory” or “penitential” season as well.
So just as Lent has its “Laetare Sunday” (fourth Sunday in Lent) to “lighten the mood” a bit, so Advent has its “Gaudete Sunday” (originally, the sixth Sunday of Advent). Vestments and pavement candles (candles placed in large stands around, but not on, the Lord’s Table) would shift from purple to rose on this day. If you have pink or rose things, go for it. If not, it's fine to stay with what you have while adding other elements that make your worship space feel joyous today.
But think, too, whether rose/pink is the right color for you. Ask in your worship planning team what colors speak of joy in your congregation or community. Use them in presentations, add them in wall hangings, bring in other objects or symbols of rejoicing for all to see and perhaps even for children to play with. Keep the font and the Lord's Table for their stated purposes: the font for baptism; the Table reserved for use in Holy Communion—but perhaps draped with paraments reflecting a joyous color palate (rose or the colors that speak of joy where you are). Today's theme does not give you or your worship planning team warrant to turn either of these holy places into decoration stands for another purpose! But do consider other places in the sanctuary to be fair game.
This history of this day as “Joy Sunday” also affects how the lectionary texts are selected. Joy is the uniting theme and theological concept. But in today’s readings, it is more specifically joy against a backdrop of holy fear of the coming judgment. And with that as a backdrop, in each instance, joy is not as much an emotional response as an enacted choice. There are ample reasons to be afraid. But the call on this day is to choose joy.
The Readings through the Lenses of the Season, the Day, and the Gospel
The Coming Re-Boot: Joy against a Backdrop of Fear
As we follow the contour of the Advent journey each year, this is the second of two weeks in which we hear about the ministry and prophecy of John the Baptist. Last week, we were introduced to him and his call for repentance in broad strokes. This week, we hear the unrelenting and frightening vision of coming wrath that drives the need for that repentance. “The ax is lying at the root of the trees,” John cries out. There’s a fire coming that will consume every tree that does not bear good fruit.
The repentance required is at once practical and demanding. “Anyone with two coats, share one with those who have none. Anyone with extra food, do the same!” (Luke 3:11). There is no room, at all, for the slightest self-indulgence. The crisis is already upon us. What is coming demands immediate action, not just better intentions. Tax collectors had to undermine their own system of advancement by taking only what was owed them, rather than continuing to feed a Ponzi scheme of underlings and overlords who ran the tax system for personal profit (verses 12-13). Soldiers, likewise, had to live only on their meager wages, no longer acting like Mafiosi to get ahead (verse 14). The one to come will baptize with Holy Spirit and fire. Keep living to maximize your own gain at any expense to others, and you will not survive the refiner’s fire (verse 16).
This is what the coming one and the coming age demands.
Or as Jesus taught, pray for and rely on daily bread, and no more.
Or as we promise at baptism, “confess Jesus as Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him—and him alone — as Lord.”
It’s tough stuff on what’s supposed to be “Joy Sunday,” right?
Only if you’re not the poor and the oppressed, or you’re not willing to live in solidarity with the poor and oppressed.
For the poor and oppressed, it’s sheer joy. There will be a coat and daily bread. Always. There will be no more swindling by tax collectors and no more threats from soldiers. Ever. My family can live, survive, maybe even thrive. This is, indeed, good news to the poor. What God was about to do would not let the forces of deprivation and oppression stand.
Zephaniah’s song reminds us who sings with joy. It is those promised release from exile, a God who fights for them, exults over them, and brings them home in a fanfare of rejoicing.
Isaiah’s song in response continues the theme. We rejoice in the one who brings us salvation, actual, concrete deliverance. We rejoice in the one who now settles those taken from their land and dragged through the desert alongside deep wells that will not run dry. And we rejoice in anticipation of that great and final day when what was true for the exiles of Judah becomes true for all, everywhere, whom human evil and oppression have parched and made destitute, at the judgment seat of Christ and the wedding feast of the Lamb.
Today we rejoice in this hope of all that Jesus began to do among us, and all he will fulfill at his coming again in glory. We rejoice, and rejoice again, as Paul advised the Christians at Philippi, not because we are already happy, but in anticipation of that great happiness God intends and will bring upon the earth in the renewal of all things, the fullness of the age to come. The Lord is near (Philippians 4:5). It is because we have this long, cosmos-wide view of the coming deliverance, already in progress, that our prayers and supplications can be seasoned with thanksgiving (verse 6). And it is nothing less than the peace God continues to unleash upon the universe, beginning in Jesus Christ, that guards our hearts and minds.
John the Baptist was clear. The Great Changer was coming among us, and has come, and, we know, is also yet to come. The Great Change is underway and continues. The Great Change causes rejoicing for the poor and the oppressed as it demands or effects the undoing of the rich and all oppressors. It clothes the naked. It feeds the hungry. It brings the exiles home. It slakes the parched. It undergirds prayer with thanksgiving and hope in peace. And it consumes, utterly consumes, all dross.
And the dross isn’t whom the rich, oppressive, and powerful claim to hold down or cast out by their power.
Good Christians, all, rejoice!
If you can.
In Your Planning Team
Last week’s call was to holiness. This week’s is to rejoicing in what the coming One will do, and already is doing.
And to be able to rejoice in that, truly rejoice, we need to be aligned with if not already among those to whom the promise of rejoicing is most especially made—the poor, the oppressed, the suffering.
If you are focusing primarily on eschatology through this season, today is a day to bring home for whom the hope of the culmination of all things in Christ is joyful—and for whom it is not.
If you are focusing on becoming more holy, today invites you to concrete practices of not only of giving things away, but of breaking and disobeying systems in which you participate, whether in your career or simply as part of Western materialism and consumerism, that demand you keep getting more and more for yourself. It was no accident that those seeking to become holy in the early monastic movements almost universally took and helped one another live into vows of poverty. It’s also no accident that Wesley and the early Methodists taught earning all you can and conserving all you can for one reason and one reason only—to give all you can, to become conduits of that love and power by which those who have nothing and little way to earn anything receive what they need. “Take time to be holy” also means for us, “Stop building storehouses for yourselves” and “Take time to give all you don’t need to someone who needs it.” Or, “Live simply, that others may simply live” (Elizabeth Ann Seton).
If you are focusing on preparing people or supporting people to live the baptismal vows, today invites you to imagine and practice with others what it means to confess Jesus Christ as Savior (you do not save yourself, nor is any earthly power truly out to save you), trust solely in his grace and provision (a provision aimed especially to cause the poor and oppressed to rejoice!), and serve him as Lord (not the powers that tell you to keep getting more for yourself, but the One who tells you to keep using whatever you have to bless others). And to do all this in union with the whole church made of all kinds of people from every place and station in life.
Any one of these is a fruitful path this Advent. Don’t try to cover them all each Sunday! Stay the course with the one you’ve begun. And whichever that may be, remember to rejoice and call your people to rejoice, and no longer fear, the good news of the one who comes to baptize with Holy Spirit and with fire.
Resources in The United Methodist Book of Worship (BOW) with links and other suggestions
Greeting: BOW 242 (Zephaniah; “Sing and rejoice, O Daughter Zion”)
Call to Worship: BOW 206, "Entrance Song for Advent" (Luke)
Advent Wreath Meditations: McIntyre/Jackson, Garland
Advent Wreath Litany: BOW 208, "Come, Lord Jesus"
Opening Prayer: BOW 250 (Zephaniah, Luke; “Merciful God, you sent”)
Prayer: United Methodist Hymnal, 201, "Advent" (Luke)
WORD AND RESPONSE
Prayer for Mercy: UMH 597, "For the Spirit of Truth" (Luke)
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession: BOW 255 (Zephaniah)
Ecumenical Prayer Cycle: Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Togo
THANKSGIVING AND COMMUNION
Prayer of Confession: UMH 366, "For Guidance" (Luke)
Prayer of Confession: BOW 482 (Zephaniah, Luke)
Great Thanksgiving: BOW 54-55
Blessing: BOW 561 (1 Thessalonians)