Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Advent to Christmas 2014 Worship Series: The Promise

This Advent season at FUMCA we're following the thread of messengers, the people who prophesied and proclaimed the good news the culminated in a fulfilled promise with the birth of Jesus Christ.

Our Advent journey will take us from the heartfelt prayers of Isaiah, to the rugged preaching of John the Baptist.  Then to the tender joy of Mary, mother of Jesus, as she sings her song of thanksgiving after the angel Gabriel gives her the news that God has chosen her to bear the Son of God into the world.  Finally, after the long wait, the promise of God, Jesus the Messiah, comes to us at Christmas.  A promise fulfilled.

Here is an outline of our plan, with liturgy resources and graphics to come.  This is all shared freely, but if you use it within your faith family, just do me a favor and share that in the comments!


Advent to Christmas 2014 Worship Series:

The Promise

November 30 (Advent 1) - “A Promise and a Plea" - Isaiah 64:1-9

Isaiah prays, "Oh, that you would tear the heavens and come down ..."

This lesson is a heartfelt plea for mercy, which is unlike many of the iconic Advent scriptures we pull from this prophet's deep words.  Where is the Holy Mountain, or the Great Light?  Isaiah is speaking for a world that needs a savior, a messiah, a rescuer.  Do we not cry for this still today as we wait for Christ to come again?  We wait still for the great intercessor to appear.

We remind our people though, as evidenced by the Incarnation, that God does hear our prayers.  That God does move towards us.

December 7 (Advent 2) - “Passing the Baton” - Mark 1:1-8

John proclaims, "One who is more powerful than I is coming after me ..."

A rough and tumble prophet, John wasn't into the pretensions of his time.  He wanted to get down to business, declare a season of repentance, and get people right with God.  However, he wasn't the Messiah, he wasn't the endgame ... Jesus was/is.  John, the way-maker, is preparing the people to meet Christ, for real.  John starts the race, but Jesus finishes it.  So, the question may be, still today, how are we making the way for Jesus in people's hearts right here, right now?

December 14 (Advent 3) - “A Mother Sings” -  Luke 1:46b-55

Isaiah had cried out to God for mercy (as had many Israelites), and here mercy is, gifted to Mary to bring into the world.  The special thing, though, is that God is buying into the human experience.  Not only will God come down to earth and to our rescue, but God will do so by coming into the world the way all humans do.  You might say, "God has skin in the game."

And, of course, this is Mary's song.  It's a riff on Hannah's song from the First Samuel, but Mary makes it her own.  She's prophesying in a way, singing the themes that are the Gospel of Luke's central message: the world as we know it is upside down from here on out.  That is, God's heart is for the lowly, the tread upon, the outcast, the ill, those who have no way out in society.  Mary is one of those people, and here she is, soon-to-be Mother of God.

December 21 (Advent 4) – “Yes!” - Luke 1:26-38

"Nothing is impossible with God ..."

God makes it happen for God's children.  The world needs a savior, and a savior is sent.  Not on a flaming chariot with an angel army as backup, but as a child.  However, the approach to Mary needs to be made, and Gabriel gets to make it.  Angels in the OT aren't bringers of joy, on the whole.  The Israelite history with angels is pretty scary stuff, so it's no wonder that Gabriel first tells Mary not to fear.

The Lord is with us, we don't need to fear.  Do we fear things this time of year?  Loneliness?  Money problems?  Brokenness in our families and relationships?  Are there things in our lives that we find impossible?  Is God there to help us find a break through?  The Incarnation is proof to us that God is ready, willing, and able to work miracles.  Mary was brave enough to say "YES!" to God, what about us?

December 24 (Christmas Eve) - “The Promise is Kept” - Luke 2:1-20

This sermon is so easy, but so hard.  How do  you bring something new to the Christmas story?  Do you even need to?  The awe, wonder, and praise wrapped into these twenty history-changing verses are timeless.  The joy of the angels, the shock to the shepherds, the love of the holy family.

But perhaps the greatest thing of all: God was always on the move to bring us Jesus, and God is still on the move in the world today.  Karl Barth wrote of the incarnation, not just that Emmanuel means "God with us", but also that "God does not want to be without us."

That is the Good News of Christmas!

December 28 (1st Sunday After Christmas) - “Seeing Salvation” - 2:22-40

"My eyes have seen your salvation ..."

The Song of Simeon rounds out the three songs that open the Gospel of Luke (Mary's Magnificat and the Song of the Angels being the other two).  Most people may know the Nunc Dimittis, 'Let your servant go in peace', set to music, but it doesn't give much of the scriptural context.  Simeon had been waiting, and waiting for the arrival of the savior, having a witness that he would meet the Messiah from the Holy Spirit.

What a gift Simeon received - to have tangible proof that God's promises are true.  We humans, some 2,000 years later have to take to these stories on faith.  However, the point should be made more often that while we don't see the Human One in the flesh before us, we, the church, are the Body of Christ - baptized to love and serve others as Christ did.  In other words, others should be able to see Christ in us.  In the aftermath of Christmas and before the New Year, what can we do to better show people that we know Christ was/is real?  Do we bring good new to the poor?  Let the oppressed go free?  Help people shake off their spiritual blindness?  Proclaim the time of the Lord's favor on the whole wide world?