Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; John 1:6-8, 19-28 or Luke 1:46b-55; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Isaiah speaks of the good news of God’s deliverance of the people, words that Jesus echoed in his own ministry six hundred years later. As we prepare for Christ’s coming into our lives in a new way, we prepare for God’s deliverance. While the ancient Hebrews prepared to rebuild their city and repair the temple, we prepare for Christ to rebuild our lives and repair our broken hearts, to give us to the tools to continue to build up the reign of God on earth. In the darkness of Advent, and indeed, in the darkness of the world around us, as we continue to struggle with poverty, war, famine, drought, economic injustice and other challenges that can cause us to despair and wonder where is God, there is light in the Light of the World. There is light in the ways we seek Christ’s presence in each other and as we continue to share the Good News of God’s Love in our lives. We are called to bring forth good news and rebuilding in a time of darkness and destruction. We are called to proclaim joy.

Psalm 126 (which was part of one of my Advent Devotionals earlier this week) is a song of joy about God’s deliverance and restoration in spite of the destruction that had been seen and the exile that had been experienced. Despite the bleak forecast and the doom and gloom of so many who say it was better in past days, we know that God has great joy in store for us and that we can live into this joy in our lives.

The Maginifcat as sung by Mary in Luke (also a lectionary suggestion for next week) also is a song of joy, of singing of God’s deliverance and hope. Mary has not given birth to Jesus yet, Mary has only heard the words of Gabriel and of Elizabeth, and yet she trusts God. Mary, an unwed mother, who may have faced scorn and contempt (though we speculate; in Luke’s Gospel we read no such thing, only Mary’s concern about how she could possibly be pregnant) sings of God’s deliverance, of hope, of trust in God’s faithfulness throughout the generations.

It is really easy for us in today’s culture to be focused solely on our own generation–perhaps our children, perhaps our parents, but we are more concerned about what is going to happen to us. In Mary’s time, there is a sense of generational time–of seeing God’s faithfulness through the ancient stories of the faith and knowing God’s presence is the same even if experienced differently. Chronological time is important, but knowing that God’s faithfulness is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow is even more important. I think in our culture, especially with our quick election cycles, we panic when things turn bleak for a few months or even a few years. We forget that it took 25 years for the Dow to recover after the crash of 1929. We are not patient. We demand quick fixes and solutions now. Neither people, nor God, work that way.

We need to be less concerned about things that are troubling now and have been troubling for a short time in the relative space of time and be more concerned about things that effect multiple generations: pollution continues to be a concern. War continues to be a concern. HIV/AIDS continues to be a concern, as does malaria, famine, and poverty. And while we care for ourselves, our families and our neighbors over concerns such as unemployment, retirement funds, and education, we lose the larger picture of what we should be working towards; and therefore, we lose the larger picture of seeing God’s faithfulness throughout the generations, as well as the opportunities to participate in God’s reign by eradicating hunger, poverty, HIV/AIDS, pollution, and other concerns that have spanned the generations.

John’s Gospel shares the story of the coming of John the Baptist before Jesus, the proclamation on earth of who Jesus was to the people: the Messiah, the Son of God. John comes before Jesus to prepare the way for the message of Christ: to repent of sins, and to be baptized, to enter the waters of renewal as a symbolic rebirth: for to encounter and follow Jesus as the Messiah, one must put an end to the old life and take on the new. This new life is a life of living for Christ and living for others, and not for one’s own sake. It is about losing one’s life to find it, and John the Baptist heralds that proclamation.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 is a reminder from Paul of the faithful life: to always remember God’s faithfulness and to celebrate that faithfulness in a life full of joy. Sometimes as Christians we can fail to share the message of God’s faithfulness: we are down, grumpy, doubtful, judging, condemning and critical, instead of being open to the Spirit of love, peace, patience, kindness, (and etc.), but especially of joy. We need to be open for God’s great joy to break forth in our hearts, in our lives, and in the world. We need to share that message now more than ever.

It is easy for us to get caught up in the world around us. People are angry, no matter what political affiliation you are. People are fed up. People want change, but in many ways, no matter what ideological stance you take, most people want things better for themselves or their family and friends–and not necessarily for others. But rather than an “us vs. them” approach, we need to look at the wholeness of God’s children and God’s creation: we must be the 100% or nothing at all. We must be all of God’s children, or we are unhuman. We must be mindful of God’s work throughout human history and the course of creation and remember God’s faithfulness, through the stories of our faith as well as through our mere existence.

Call to Worship (based on Isaiah 61):
Leader: The Spirit of the Lord is upon you
People: The Lord has anointed us.
Leader: God has sent you to bring good news to the oppressed.
People: We are called to bind up the brokenhearted.
Leader: God has sent you to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners;
People: We are called to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Leader: Let us comfort those who mourn, bringing a garland instead of ashes, and let us rejoice in the Lord.
All: Let us worship the Lord God, who will cause righteousness and praise to spring up, before all the nations.

Prayer of Confession:
Creator God, we confess that we have lost sight. We are concerned with what is happening to us now, in this moment and in the time around us, that we forget Your faithfulness throughout the generations. We are worried and hurried about things that in the course of our history will not matter. We are turned inward and have become selfish instead of turning outward and sharing Your Good News. Forgive us for our short-sightedness and selfishness. Forgive us for our outlook of doom and gloom, for fearing death instead of living our life. Forgive us most of all for being Good Friday people instead of Easter people. In this season of Advent, as we look forward to the birth of the Christ-child, renew in us Your life and joy, that we might share Your life, light and joy with the world. In the name of the Light of the World, we pray. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon:
As we sing in that great carol, “The hopes and fears of all the years Are met in Thee tonight,” we lift up our hopes and fears, knowing that You bear all our burdens. You forgive our sins, make us new, and restore us to life. Guide us in ways that we might rebuild and restore life to this world in Your name. Amen.

In our mourning, Lord, bring us comfort.
In our despair, Lord, give us light.
In our weakness, Lord, give us strength and courage.
In our foolishness, Lord, give us wisdom.
In the darkness of the world, Lord, give us love, for Your love becomes our light.
Guide us in ways that we might bring Your light to the world.
Help us to bind up the brokenhearted, bring healing to the sick, hope to the lost, welcome to the marginalized, and uplift to the oppressed. Most of all, Lord, help us to share that You, the Christ, are with all of us always. Help us to share that there is no one so far lost that cannot be found, no one so far removed that cannot be brought in, no one in utter darkness that cannot be shown the warmth of Your light. In the name of Jesus, the Light of the World, the Joy of Your Salvation, we pray. Amen.

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