Category Archives: ADVENT Resources and Reflections

Simply Loves Us

snowflake1-271x300Matthew 3:11  But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.

Reflection

John says he isn’t worthy of the one who is coming, but it’s not because the One who is coming is a powerful big shot. It’s because the power of the One who is coming is love, and he is coming to love us.

If John feels unworthy, it’s because he is unworthy. When it comes to the heart of the matter—love indiscriminate and unaccountable—no one is worthy. Thus the question of worthiness is forever the wrong question. Love does not require worth; love bestows it.

Sometimes we work hard for the kingdom as if it were all up to us. Being driven by holy duty is not bad, but the One who comes offers something better—life and work that spring from the unending well of worth bestowed. God wants us to be loved, and to know it.

Loved like that, we can rest as well as toil, keep still as well as speak, let go as well as commit. Loved like that, we can welcome without anxiety, wait without control, love as we are loved.

Love is first, love remains, love is all in all.

There comes Another. “Amidst ten thousand losses and swirling joys” we wait. For the one who truly loves us, simply loves us, only loves us, loves us, loves us.

Prayer

Advent, by Patricia Van Ness

 

Amidst ten thousand losses and swirling joys

At this very instant

On this sacred Earth

I wait.

Come to us,

Beauty, Wisdom, Goodness, Peace,

Solace, Grace, Counsel, Love.

 

Through the open archway this cold night

Air, rich as gold, flows.

 

Fine snow glistens on our faces.

Each flake,

Every exquisite crystal blossom

Is a covenant of your love

Told a thousand thousand times.

Amen.

 

 

Say It Again

advent4-277x300Malachi 3:3-4  For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit and refine them until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.

Reflection

Every Advent, the prophets remind us that God is disgusted by piety divorced from justice. But because we keep divorcing them, God has to sit down (because it’s going to take a lot of time and patience), fire up the furnace, and burn away our dross. And God has to scrub us with harsh soap until we carry out, without separation, right worship in church and right action in the world.

Year after year, it’s the same message—if you’re indifferent to your neighbor, you sing, sacrifice, and pray at your peril. We know that. We’ve heard it before. And we’re trying, Lord, we’re trying.

So why does the church keep saying it year after year?

For the same reason you tell family stories over and over—so that you’ll memorize what matters most, so that you’ll remember who you are, so that your children will know who they are.

And because if the church doesn’t say it, fewer and fewer people will say it, until there’s only silence. Ask someone struggling for justice about the terror of that silence, the awful things that happen when no one utters a word.

And because there’s knowing, and then there’s knowing. One kind fills your head with interesting ideas. The other penetrates, aims for your fault lines, and leaves you so shattered you require divine rearrangement.

You could hope for nothing more than to find yourself in shards like that; for Scripture also says that God will not pass by a broken heart.

Prayer

Say them over and over to me,
wonderful words of life. Let this be the year they break my heart.

Dying of Thirst

 

 

Psalm 42:1-4

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and see the face of God? My tears have been my food
 day and night,
 while people say to me,
“Where is your God?” These things I remember,
 as I pour out my soul:
 how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, 
a multitude keeping festival.

Reflection

The psalmist’s thirst for God is an animal need, urgent and physical. He will go mad and die unless he gets a drink of God. He has been subsisting on tears, which are plentiful (there is so much to be sad about), but drinking brine will eventually kill him. He needs water, fresh and clean.

The only thing keeping him from despair is the vivid memory of what it was like to worship with the people of God, to sing and dance in jubilant procession, to behold God’s face in the elation of the assembly. What’s keeping him going is his hope to be swept up in those billows again.

Worship that rarely lifts you outside yourself or brings you to your knees, praise that stays inside the lines, timid trickles of prayer, joy cut fussily into small white cubes—is this what we offer, in writer Peter Hawkins’ words, to all the deer who come crashing through the underbrush, hunting for water to keep them alive?

If a congregation has a financial deficit, it’s worrisome. If it has an ecstasy deficit, it might well be fatal.

Where is your God?

Prayer

Refuse our tepid songs, our threadbare words, our ungenerous rituals, great God. Intrude upon our safe remove, and plunge us into the depths to drink you in. Revive your crazed and panting deer, dying of thirst without your face. We want to live.

 

Minefield in the Manger: Dissing ‘the Jews’ in Advent and Christmas

Advent and Christmas are the seasons many Christians love best, yet they are shot through with an almost intractable challenge—and no, I’m not talking about the pressures of consumerism and secularism during the run-up to Christmas. In a way, that’s the least of the church’s problems in these seasons. I’m talking about our age-old reliance on a simplistic, often erroneous, and even disdainful view of ‘the Jews’ to make the seasons bright.

The problem is acute during Lent and Holy Week too. It always has been (it was the season of pogroms in the Middle Ages); but these days we are more sensitive to the issue of anti-Judaism in that solemn season, most of us having rejected by now the old libel that ‘the Jews’ killed Jesus, and many of us having started to speak more precisely about of the meaning of Jesus’ death so that we don’t claim the triumph of church over synagogue and the replacing of the ‘old covenant’ with ‘the new.’

But Advent, being a gentler and more subtle season, is also a sneakier one when it comes to this nasty business. Our Christian sentimentality is loathe to police our biblical texts, prayers, and hymns, and more reluctant to rework our assumptions about what is happening theologically in Advent and Christmas in order to redress the ancient wrongs of Christian triumphalism and supersessionism.

We may be aware of the issue in Advent and Christmas, but only in general terms, and we might therefore miss the telling details that add up to the ‘contempt’ we say we want to avoid so as not to add anything more, however small, to the historically violent mess we’ve already made of our relations with Jews.

And so we still rely, for example, on a few culled verses from the prophets, mostly Isaiah, to support our case for Jesus as the foretold messiah. For Christian purposes, of course, there is nothing wrong with this kind of fulfillment theology (fulfilling is not the same as superseding). It’s okay for us to read the Hebrew scriptures through a christological lens, as long as it’s not the only lens we ever bring to them, and as long as we fully appreciate that those texts remain the Testament of an ongoing tradition not our own, and that therefore they are not ours alone to interpret–i. e., we can’t monopolize their meanings. But there is plenty wrong when we then proceed subtly (and not so subtly) to blame ‘the Jews’ for not agreeing with us that those texts point clearly to ‘the’ Messiah, while we ignore a zillion others that do not point to Jesus as the one God chooses to redeem Israel, but to someone or something else.

We sing without a second thought about this (Christian) Messiah who comes to ransom ‘captive Israel,’ leaving the impression that without him, ‘Israel’ will be left to its captivity and perhaps be lost—as if God were not faithful forever, as if God has changed allegiances, switching to Christians and forgetting ‘the Jews.’

We proclaim that the Christ Child ‘came to his own, but they knew him not,’ and congratulate ourselves on having the perspicacity to see what ‘they’ could or would not, being a stubborn people; or because they are always looking for the wrong kind of Messiah in all the wrong places, being also an obtuse people.

We contrast Christ’s coming as a shivering child, hidden, humble, and poor, with the supposedly militaristic and monarchical messianic aspirations of ‘the Jews of Jesus’ time.’ We preach that they expected someone powerful in worldly terms, but God had a surprise up the divine sleeve. They got it wrong, but we out-Israeled Israel and got it right.

We say and sing and pray these things without once pausing to ask whether this contrast is actually true, or whether perhaps it is a libel against Jesus’ first century co-religionists, whose views of the Messiah and the messianic age were in fact rich and varied and often mutually contradictory and cannot be reduced to a few verses from prophets we find sympathetic to our cause.

We preach about the Gentiles coming into God’s embrace in the symbolic personages of the wise men from the East; and we give thanks that, in the person of our Messiah, God has overcome the supposed particularism and clannishness of ‘the Jews’ to open the gift of salvation to all. We particularly relish this idea in the progressive church, for we are exceedingly partial to inclusion and ‘extravagant welcome,’ and thus also much inclined to read Christian history as God’s rebuke of Israel’s supposed narrowness and exclusivity in favor of  Christianity’s ‘universality’ and openness—another assumption we must somehow bring ourselves at least to question, even if the answer ruins our neat paradigms.

We also speak of God’s wondrous breakthrough into human history in the person of Jesus of Nazareth as if this were the first time God had ever made God’s person and presence known in human affairs, effectively reducing Israel’s long history of down and dirty dealings with God to insignificance, at most a pale preamble to Jesus’ appearance in the womb of Mary. We sing of the birth of Love among us, as if that love were a new thing, unheard of before the manger and stable, replacing ‘the God of the Old Testament’ who is so angry and mean.

I could go on. I won’t, because the question already rises—so if what I’m saying is in any way valid, what are we supposed to do, junk all our Advent songs and Christmas carols, our  songs, liturgies, and texts?

All of them, no, but some of them, yes–and why not?  Is it better to hold on to them and perpetuate the problem? Or is it a worthy aspiration to heal the season that intends to heal us? Why couldn’t we call upon Christian artists and liturgists and singers and poets and theologians to take this challenge seriously and reconstruct Advent and Christmas along different and more fruitful lines, maybe working with Jews to do it—wouldn’t that be something?

But first Christians need to get real about the problem, confess it as such, and resolve to do better. This means taking our Jewish critics seriously, setting ourselves a program of assiduous study, and working patiently, day by day, year by year, to overcome our nostalgic reluctance, review our assumptions, and skillfully revise our  liturgical ways and means to more fully reflect the wondrous particularity of our Christian hope without falling into contempt, triumphalism, or bearing false witness against our Jewish neighbors.

ADVENT: Prayers and Other Resources

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION

(Before the reading of Scripture)

L: Let us pray.

Your Word is a fire

refining us for you, O God.

Speak to us now,

and fan the embers in our hearts.

Increase our faith to hear you

and our desire to obey what we hear.

We ask in the name of Jesus,

who listened to you always

with an open heart. Amen.

ADVENT RESPONSE OF FAITH

(Statement of Faith)

L: Let us declare our faith together.

We believe that the day is coming

when God’s grace will change the human heart,

and we shall live as one with every living thing.

We believe that the day is coming

when Christ’s compassion will fill the earth,

and no one shall do harm, be hurt, or feel alone.

We believe that the day is coming

when the Spirit’s freedom will unbind our souls,

and we shall live generous lives for each other

with a joy no circumstance can alter.

We believe this day is coming,

and we wait and work for it with steadfast hope,

for God has promised it, and God is faithful.

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

 ADVENT PRAYER

You give us Advent, Lord,

And we are grateful and glad

To abide in your time,

Which is urgent, yet unhurried,

And pregnant with life.

You give us Advent, Lord,

And we are grateful and glad

To watch by your light,

Which is candid, yet hidden,

Our lamp for the way.

You give us Advent, Lord,

And we are grateful and glad

To rest in your love,

Which is pleasure, yet mystery.

And gift without price.

You give us Advent, Lord,

And we are grateful and glad

To receive your new hope,

Which is wholesome, yet fearsome,

And child-shaped on straw.

You give us Advent, Lord,

And with your grace

Let us keep it,

Abiding, watching, resting, receiving.

Let us keep it, with your help,

for our souls’ sake,

which you love,

and the sake of the world,

heart of your heart.

Amen.

PRAYER AT THE END OF ADVENT

Most gracious God,

Desire of every living thing

You have lighted our way in Advent

Candle by candle

Dispelling our gloom

And now four candles shine

The night is almost over

The Day is almost here

But not yet

Promise by promise

You have cleared our sight

with words from afar

Dreams, signs and wonders

And now the Word made flesh

Is almost appearing

But not yet

Grace by grace

You have kept us awake

Brightening our eyes of faith

And now we watch only a little more

Now on tiptoe

The one we waited for

Is almost here

But not yet

At the end of Advent

In the harder days of not quite yet

Look with compassion

On the pain of the joyless

the grief of the childless

the sorrow of the bereaved

for not all people enjoy the season

not every family embraces

not every womb conceives and carries

not every day dawns with the presence of those we love

not every story is full of angels

not every song is Glory!

As we tell over and over the story

Of your coming among us

Bind our hearts to the anguish of the poor

the suffering of the sick

the misery of the imprisoned

and keep us alive to the terrors of war

too easily forgotten, too easily accepted

Increase the joy of earth,

And help us relish with thankful hearts

every good thing that will be ours at Christmas

every pleasure and taste,

every sound and sight,

every touch and every memory.

so that in the delight of our bodies

and the thoughts of our minds

we will know and love you,

who visit us through every sense and pore.

More than anything, O God,

we ask again for Christ –

to meet his love, to know his goodness,

to experience his power, to be attracted to his way.

We ask for Christ—

to make the difference, to anchor our hearts,

to lead the way, to bring us home.

We ask for Christ – for cradle and cross,

for lullaby and lament, for life and death

and life made new in him.

In hope we pray,

the spirit of Christmas leaping within us

heartened by his almost visitation,

the words he taught us on our lips: Our Father….

Advent Communion Liturgy

 

Advent Communion

 

*Invitation  

L: Come, people of God, come to the table of hope!

All: Our hope is in God, who made heaven and earth!

L: Come, people of God, come to the table of peace.

All: Christ is our peace, and healing for the nations!

L: Come, people of God, come to the table of life!

All: The Spirit will feed us and make us new!

 

L: You are our life, O God,

our hope from the beginning of time to the end of the age.

In your presence, water springs from dry ground,

grapes hang heavy on the vine,

and grain abounds in valleys of peace.

Your word brings joy to the desolate,

and your steadfast love awakens

even those who are sleeping in death.

Therefore, we who cling to your promise

and wait for a Child to lead us,

raise our hearts to you, and with everything that lives,

we proclaim your endless glory, as we sing:

 

*Sanctus

 

Remembering and Giving Thanks 

L: And now, O God, with grateful joy, we remember Jesus.

 

Silence

 

L: We remember that he came to us humbly.

All:  He put aside the glory that was his.

L: We remember that he announced your favor.

All: He taught us to welcome your mercy.

L: We remember that he resisted evil,

loved well, and turned no one away.

All: He did your will, and trusted your love.

 

L: And we remember that on the night before he died,

eating supper with his friends,

he took bread, gave you thanks, and broke it.

He gave it to them and said:

Take this, all of you, and eat it.

This is my body, broken for you.

Whenever you do this, remember me.

 

And when they were finished eating,

he took a cup filled with wine.

He thanked you for it,

and passed it to them, saying:

This is the cup of a new covenant

poured out for you and for all,

so that sins might be forgiven.

Whenever you do this, remember me.

 

Prayer to the Holy Spirit  

L: Come, Holy Spirit, satisfy our hungry hearts.

Bless this grain from the field,

these grapes from the vine—

gifts you have given, and work of human hands.

As we share their goodness, 

give us love for each other

and make us servants of your peace,

until the new age of justice comes,

and every creature beholds it.

We pray in the name of Jesus, who taught us to say:  

 

THE LORD’S PRAYER

 

Agnus Dei and BREAKING OF THE BREAD

 

Sharing Bread and Cup 

 

Thanksgiving

L: Let us give thanks for all the goodness we have received!

All: Thank you, holy God,

for life in the Spirit of Jesus,

for gladness in this bread and cup,

for love that cannot die,

for peace the world cannot give,

for joy in the company of friends,

for the splendors of creation,

and for the mission of justice

you have made our own.

Give us the fruits of this holy communion:

oneness of heart, love for neighbors,

forgiveness of enemies,

the will to serve you every day,

and life that never ends.

In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

 

Prayers for Advent Candle-Lighting

L: Come, People of God, let us walk in the light of God!

All: We have come to God’s house, that we may learn God’s ways.

L: Now is the favorable time: now is the time of salvation!

All: We will put off darkness and clothe ourselves in Christ.

The first candle is lit.

L: The light of Christ!

All: Thanks be to God!

L: Let us pray.

All: Holy God, you have gathered us into your presence to praise and thank you. By the light of this Advent Candle, give us purpose and hope. Keep our  hearts awake and watching for the savior you promised, so that when he comes he may find us ready, occupied with the works of peace, and learning war no more. We ask this in his name. Amen.

L: Come, People of God, bless the God who does wonders!

All: Blessed be God, whose glory fills the earth!

L: Let us gather in harmony by God’s grace,

All: And be filled with peace and joy in believing!

Two candles are lit.

L: The light of Christ!

All: Thanks be to God!

L: Let us pray.

All: Give justice to the poor and meek of the earth, O God. By the light of these Advent candles, may we leave old ways behind and witness to the new thing you are doing on the earth, so that the peaceable kingdom you promise may be the inheritance of every creature. Through Christ the savior, we pray. Amen.

L: Come, People of God, return to the Lord rejoicing!

All: We come back singing, joy everlasting upon our heads!

L: Be strong, fear not! Here is our God!

All: Happy are we whose help is the God of ages!

Three candles are lit.

L: The light of Christ!

All: Thanks be to God!

L: Let us pray.

All: Gracious God, thank you for lifting the lowly and announcing good news to the poor. Together we wait in hope for the early and late rain of your mercy, for the harvest of peace. By the light of these Advent candles, make us ready to welcome the savior, and to receive from his fullness grace upon grace. We pray in his name. Amen.

L: Come, People of God, for God is ready to restore our hearts!

All: God gives grace and peace to all who wait in hope.

L: Here is a sign for us: a woman bears a child,

All: And she names him “God-is-with-us”!

Four candles are lit.

L: The light of Christ!

All: Thanks be to God!

L: Let us pray.

All: Gracious God, you send us dreams of angels, visions of salvation, hopes of peace. Give us the courage to welcome your message and to do your will. By the light of these Advent candles, may we learn to refuse evil and choose the good, giving testimony of your love  in all times and places. We ask in Christ’s name. Amen.

L: Let us pray.

Other prayers for candle-lighting

Holy God, you call us to your house

to grow in love together.

By the light of this Advent Candle,

make our joined hearts eager and strong.

Keep us on tiptoe,

watching for the One you are sending,

so that when he comes, we will greet him

with hands made holy by the works of peace.

We pray in his name. Amen.

L:  Come, People of God, return to the Lord rejoicing!

C:  We come back singing, joy everlasting in our hearts!

L:  Be strong, fear not!  Here is our God!

C:  Happy are we whose help is the God of ages!

The candles are lit.

L:  The light of Christ!

C:  Thanks be to God!

L:  Let us pray.

C:  Gracious God, we thank you

for the early and late rains of your mercy,

and for the harvest of peace that one day will come.

By the light of these Advent candles,

grant us the joy that never ends,

and give us courage to proclaim

good news to the broken-hearted,

release to captive, and justice to the poor.

We pray in Christ’s name.  Amen.

L: Beloved, come! Hear the promises of God!

All: The promise of comfort, the promise of strength!

L: The promise of peace!

All: The promise of light!

L: Our God is still speaking!

All: We long to hear God’s voice!

The candles are lit.

L: The light of Christ!

All:  Thanks be to God!

L: Let us pray.

All: Most merciful God,

by the light of this Advent Candle,

open our hearts to your Word

and set our open hearts ablaze!

Melt away our despair!

Refine in us a new hope,

new life, and new songs,

so that in this world you love

we might be the praise of your glory

now and forever! Amen.

L: Out of Bethlehem will come a savior!

C: From something small, something great!

L: Our shepherd is coming to gather us in!

C: We will live in safety: he will be our Peace!

The candles are lit.

L: The light of Christ!

C: Thanks be to God!

L: Let us pray.

All: Holy God, prompt our hearts

to leap for joy at the coming of our Peace.

By the light of the Advent candles,

help us also to find our way to each other.

May we welcome your life into our lives

and proclaim your justice to the world.

We pray in the name of Jesus,

who is coming soon. Amen

Prayer for the Second Sunday of Advent (Year C)

Advent God,

you are always coming to us

To open our hearts,

To heal our lives,

To refresh our spirits,

And to make a glad way

Through valleys of sorrow.

You are always coming to us,

The delight and desire of your heart.

Allow us now to come to you

To savor your presence,

To know your safety,

To enjoy your love,

To receive your blessing,

And to say our prayer

That your kingdom come,

And your will be done on earth

As in heaven.

Receive us today at your refiner’s fire,

In its light, all hearts are open

And nothing is hidden from you.

Purify in its flames

our desires and our deeds.

Teach us not be afraid of your judgment,

For your judgment is mercy,

And your mercy never ends.

We give you thanks for all the signs

of the coming of your New Age

even in our own day:

every chain that is broken,

every belly that is filled,

every gun that is laid down,

every gulf that is bridged,

every beauty that is created,

every promise that is made and kept,

and every candle lit in hope

against the night.

You are always coming to us,

And so we come to you,

And ask you to bless and heal

All in our company who are sick and troubled,

All who struggle with the ordinary things of life,

And all who are searching for the joy you promise.

Give to us all a good word to say

About who you are and what you desire,

A testimony that rings true

In a world exhausted with empty words.

Make us bold to share with the neighbors we serve

The joy you are for us

And the mercy you have offered us

Through Jesus Christ, our brother and friend,

In whose name we pray:  Our Father….

ADVENT 2A Confession Prayer

 

Mathis_Gothart_Grünewald_024

God of the root and the trunk,

Lord of the young shoot and the green branch,

we cannot break our own hard shells.

We are buried too deep to be softened by rain.

We do not imagine the light above ground. 

We do not dream of fresh things;

we sigh and fret about the old.

You say, I am coming.

Change your hearts. Turn around.

We say, Help us, O God,

to bear the fruits of Advent.

Give us what we need to crack open with hope.

******

God of the holy mountain,

Lord of the house where righteousness dwells,

we are not like you who knows the heart,

who sees inside.

We judge by what our eyes see and our ears hear.

We do not consider the poor, nor decide for the meek.

We do not know who you are.

We do not inquire after you.

You say, I am coming.

Change your hearts. Turn around.

We say, Help us, O God,

to bear the fruits of Advent.

Give us what we need to be wise.

*****

Lord of the lion, the wolf and the lamb,

God of the leopard, the kid, and the nursing child,

we cannot lie down together in peace.

We tread carefully near the serpent’s hole.

We are afraid of everyone.

We make them afraid of us.

We watch for each other with swords in our hands.

You say, I am coming.

Change your hearts. Turn around.

We say, Help us, O God,

to bear the fruits of Advent.

Give us what we need to make peace.

 *****

God of the threshing floor, the fork and the fire,

Lord of wild honey, of locusts and wild places,

God of the axe and the crowd, 

we do not line up at the river.

We do not wade in.

We do not bend our knee.

We untie no one’s sandal.

We are a crooked road, a stony path, a haughty crowd.

We level no mountains,

 raise no valleys.

We are unprepared.

You say, I am coming.

Change your hearts. Turn around.

We say, Help us, O God,

to bear the fruits of Advent.

Give us what we need to get ready.

Give what we need to begin.

*****

God of Mary, whom you disturbed,

God of her life upturned,

God of the fruit of her womb, Jesus,

who mothered our lives with his mercy,

we are not startled by angels;

we guard against interruptions.

We do not turn and turn again the prism of our hearts,

pondering the whys.

We do not open our hands: we expect so little.

You say, I am coming.

Change your hearts. Turn around.

We say, Help us, O God,

to bear the fruits of repentance.

Give us what we need to desire.

Give us what we need to dare.

*****

God of the One who comes again,

who is always coming,

who is coming soon,

help us to watch for his coming,

help us to know when he’s near,

help us to pray in his spirit,

help us to pray as he taught us:

Our Father, who art in heaven…


Blessing and Sending


May the God of all hope

who sends justice down like rain

and summons joy from the depths of the heart;

who keeps promises

and satisfies the desire of every living thing,

be for you courage and grace,

anchor and horizon,

this day and forevermore.

Amen.

 

 

Go in peace, to wait and watch, to serve and work.

Go in peace, to dream and hope, to reach and desire.

Go in peace to sing Good News to all the weary world.

Amen.

According to Matthew

Epiphany-Josephat-Rest-Gentile_da_Fabriano_030-e1356892384419

–Joseph Sleeping, Gentile da Fabriano

According to Matthew, angels do not sleep: in the small hours they intervene, scattering the sleep of others.

They harry exhausted fathers and tip off shrewd men who hail from far away.

According to Matthew, the world is a place where good people’s dreams bulge with warnings, and hope is barely one hard breathing step ahead of tyrants bent on harm.

According to Matthew, there is an inexhaustible supply  of tyrants.

Angels have to work overtime; even then children die.

Only one escapes this time.

He will grow to be the sort of man who accepts angelic ministrations in wilderness and garden, but no more intervention.

Even forewarned, he will not flee; not even put up a fight.