Worship Resources for January 16th, 2022—Second Sunday after Epiphany

Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

Narrative Lectionary: Jesus Cleanses the Temple, John 2:13-25 (Psalm 127:1-2)

In this season after Epiphany, we look to signs of Christ revealed to the world.

The Hebrew Scripture lesson is again from Isaiah, in the time after the exile. The prophet promises the people of Israel that the nations will witness God at work through them. What they have been through will not be for nothing. They are the crown jewel of God’s creation. Like many prophets, Isaiah uses names as metaphors for the people, who will no longer be known as Desolate but as My Delight is in Her. In the metaphor of marriage from this particular time period and history, the forgotten young woman is now the delight of the new bride. It is a romance story of all romance stories—God loves the people madly and chooses them, though they were rejected by the world.

Psalm 36:5-10 speaks of God’s steadfast love. The psalmist writes of God’s faithfulness and righteousness like the strong mountains God has created. God provides out of the abundance of creation to the people, and God is the people’s refuge and salvation. “In your light we see light,” is a metaphor for understanding that when we embrace the fullness of God’s presence in our lives, we know God’s presence everywhere. When we look through the lens of God, we see God everywhere. When we take notice of God being revealed in us, we take notice of God revealed everywhere.

The Epistle reading begins a series in 1 Corinthians on spiritual gifts, starting with 12:1-11. Paul was concerned about divisions within the church at Corinth, and also some of their prior beliefs when they were followers of the Greek gods. Paul wants them to know that there are a variety of spiritual gifts, but they all come from the same Holy Spirit. If they claim to have gifts, but curse Jesus, then they do not have the Holy Spirit among them—the Holy Spirit is present with all good gifts and works. There is one God, though the manifestation of the Spirit may be different in each person, for we are all individuals, yet part of the same body of Christ.

The Gospel lesson was the Narrative Lectionary lesson last week, the Wedding at Cana in John 2:1-11. The passage begins with “on the third day.” The first day, back in 1:35-42, was John the Baptizer’s testimony—John’s revealing of who Jesus is to his own disciples. Andrew told his brother Simon, and they both followed Jesus. The second day, John 1:43-51, was Jesus’ journey to Galilee, where Philip from Bethsaida chose to follow Jesus and persuaded Nathanael to meet Jesus, and he also followed him. So the first day was the revelation by John to his own disciples, the second day a revelation by the disciples to new potential followers along the way. The third day, while still in Galilee, they went to Cana and attended a wedding with Jesus’ mother. The wine ran out—an embarrassing problem for the hosting family. Mary told Jesus that they were out of wine. Jesus was stubborn—he told his mother that his hour had not yet come, but she ignored him and insisted to the servants that they do whatever Jesus said. Mary reveals who Jesus is by his action of changing the water into wine, because he would not disobey her. Although no one, besides the disciples, Mary, and the servants, knew what happened, Jesus was revealed through a sign to his disciples, and they believed in him.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the next part of John’s Gospel account, 2:13-25, when Jesus overturns the tables in the temple. In John’s account this happens very early on in Jesus’ ministry, whereas in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it happens the day after Jesus entered Jerusalem during the last week of his life. In this account Jesus makes an early trip to Jerusalem for the Passover, and finds people selling animals for the sacrifices and the money changers at their tables. Jesus makes a whip of chords and drives all of them out of the temple, overturning the tables and dumping out all the money. He yells at those selling the doves that this was his Father’s house, and they were turning it into a market. The people in the temple asked why he was doing this, and what sign could he show them as to why. Jesus responds with, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” In Mark’s account, at his trial his accusers use those words against him (though he did not speak these words himself in Mark’s Gospel), but in John’s account he speaks them here. Jesus was alluding already to his death and resurrection, his own body. By the time John’s account was written the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Romans, and perhaps this was speaking to a different kind of worship for the followers of Jesus after the temple’s destruction.

Psalm 127:1-2 contain the words of God’s blessing to the family and home. Unless God “builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” The foundation of family and home must be in God, or it is for nothing.

Relationships, family, marriage—all of these need a strong foundation. A strong foundation includes trust, respect, but also boundaries. Some of the marriage metaphors found in our scriptures are abusive, even in their historical contexts. Even in the way we speak of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, spiritual abuse has often been shoveled onto the marginalized and vulnerable. Churches and leaders have taken advantage of those seeking belonging. Jesus saw abuses in the temple and in his view, the whole thing needed to be turned over. Paul reminds us that in a world where we prioritize wealth and power there is a different way to live. Through the Holy Spirit, there are a variety of gifts: to appreciate everyone for what they bring from God to all of us. There are no gifts greater than others. We are reminded that in Christ we all belong to one another, we all serve one another. There is no fairy tale prince that rescues and redeems us—Christ laid down his life for us so that we would lay down our lives for one another. We are the ones who save each other, for Christ saved us. We are the ones who tear down the systems of oppression and injustice for each other, because Christ conquered those systems of sin in his death and resurrection.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 36:5, 9-10)
God’s steadfast love extends to the heavens,
God’s faithfulness to the clouds.
With God is the fountain of life,
In God’s light, we see light.
May God’s steadfast love be with us,
May we draw closer to God.
In this time of worship,
May we seek the presence of Christ in one another.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty God, our Rock and our Salvation, we confess that our own foundation has been shaky. We have schemed in relationships, used friends and others for social gain. We confess that at times we tolerate the actions of others when they should be called out. Forgive us for the times we have transgressed boundaries and taken advantage of others. Show us how to be gentle with ourselves when we have been hurt and wronged by others. Teach us how to create good boundaries and sure foundations with one another of trust, respect, compassion, and mutual love. In Your love and grace may we grow in relationship with one another. Amen.

“There are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit.” The Holy Spirit has gifted each of us. We are all unique, but we are all needed. You are very much a part of the body of Christ; without you, we are not whole. Each of us is worthy of God’s love and worthy of being loved by others. Learn to forgive and to seek forgiveness. Learn to help heal and restore and seek healing and restoration for yourselves. Share in this Good News, this body of Christ, and help restore and repair our world together. Come, you are invited. Amen.

God of Many Names, we rejoice that You know us. You know our truename in our hearts: Beloved. Child. Holy and Wild Ones. Beautiful Creation. Dancer. Lover. Rejoicing One. You know our inmost parts, as the psalmist sings, and knit us together long ago. We rejoice that we can know You through the life of Jesus our Savior, Brother, and Friend; through the Holy Spirit, Breath and Wind and Refiner’s Fire, Sophia and Wisdom; and through Your work as Creator, Maker, Weaver of the Stars and Sky, Almighty One. So many names for You, O God, and yet You know each of us. Remind us to delight in You and to rejoice with one another, celebrating that we are made in Your image of love and light and laughter. Amen.

Worship Resources for January 9th, 2022—Baptism of Christ Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Narrative Lectionary: Wedding at Cana, John 2:1-11 (Psalm 104:14-16)

See last week’s blog post for Epiphany resources.

We begin this season after Epiphany with the Baptism of Christ, and the theme through the scriptures is God’s voice.

The Hebrew Scripture passage recalls the people of Israel returning after the exile, and God speaks through the prophet Isaiah to the people in 43:1-7. God knows the people, for they are God’s own, the ones God has redeemed. Neither water nor fire will overtake or consume the people, for God will make sure they will return. These faithful are precious in God’s sight, and God would give everyone else up for them. God will gather all those in exile and bring them back to where they belong, for God has called them by name.

Psalm 29 is a song of how God’s voice commands over the heavens and the earth. The psalmist calls upon the heavenly beings to worship God, for God’s voice is over all creation, in command over the wilderness and wild waters and the wind. God’s reign is over the forces of nature and causes the neighbors of Israel to flee. The psalmist prays a blessing for God’s strength and peace to be upon the people.

In Acts 8:14-17, Peter and John traveled to Samaria where they met some followers of Jesus who were baptized in his name, but had not received the Holy Spirit. They were possibly disciples of John the Baptist. Peter and John laid their hands on these followers, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Luke shares an account of Jesus’ baptism in 3:15-17, 21-22. While the people who gathered at the Jordan questioned whether John might be the Messiah, John told them that one was coming after him who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. John described the Messiah as the one with the winnowing fork in hand on the threshing floor, separating the wheat that grew together with the chaff. The chaff was thrown into the fire of purification, an unquenchable fire, and the wheat gathered into the granary. Baptism is a preparation for the work of the Messiah, a repentance from our sin and accepting of our belonging to God through the Holy Spirit. When it’s Jesus’ turn, however, John doesn’t make any special announcement about Jesus when he comes forward to be baptized. Perhaps he didn’t know. Even though Luke’s account has John and Jesus being cousins, they may not have known each other before this. It’s after Jesus was baptized and praying that the Holy Spirit descends like a dove, and a voice from heaven declared this was the Son of God, and God was well pleased.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to the Wedding at Cana (which will be the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel passage next week) in John 2:1-11. The passage begins with “on the third day.” The first day, back in 1:35-42, was John the Baptizer’s testimony—John’s revealing of who Jesus is to his own disciples. Andrew told his brother Simon, and they both followed Jesus. The second day, John 1:43-51, was Jesus’ journey to Galilee, where Philip from Bethsaida chose to follow Jesus and persuaded Nathanael to meet Jesus, and he also followed him. So the first day was the revelation by John to his own disciples, the second day a revelation by the disciples to new potential followers along the way. The third day, while still in Galilee, they went to Cana and attended a wedding with Jesus’ mother. The wine ran out—an embarrassing problem for the hosting family. Mary told Jesus that they were out of wine. Jesus was stubborn—he told his mother that his hour had not yet come, but she ignored him and insisted to the servants that they do whatever Jesus said. Mary reveals who Jesus is by his action of changing the water into wine, because he would not disobey her. Although no one, besides the disciples, Mary, and the servants, knew what happened, Jesus was revealed through a sign to his disciples, and they believed in him.

Psalm 104:14-16 is a portion of a song blessing God as Creator and Provider. In these verses, the psalmist praises God for cattle and plants that bring forth food, for the grass that feeds the cattle. The psalmist also praises God for the fruits of the land: wine that gladdens the human heart, oil that makes the face shine, and bread that strengthens us. Paired with the Wedding in Cana, we are reminded that God delights in our joy and celebrations, especially when we invite God and are reminded of God’s presence in our celebrating.

This season after Epiphany continues to be a season of revelations. The magi revealed Christ to the world; Jesus’ baptism reveals who he is yet again, as the Son of God, the one on whom the Holy Spirit descends. Jesus is revealed in the wedding at Cana as God who celebrates with us. Jesus’ very human mother Mary reminds her Godly son to be human, too, and to be concerned when we are concerned and to celebrate when we celebrate. Jesus is revealed as both human and divine in his own baptism. God’s voice is the one with the power over all creation, but it is Jesus’ mother’s voice who reminds him of who he is, and his own voice is given authority by her saying, “Do whatever he tells you to.”

Call to Worship (from Isaiah 43:2-3a)
When you pass through the waters,
God will be with you;
And through the rivers,
They shall not overwhelm you;
When you walk through fire
The flame shall not consume you.
For the LORD is our God,
the Holy One, our Savior.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy One, we confess that we live at times as if You are far away. We live at times as if You are above us, distant in a cloud. We have forgotten the humanness of Your life, that You were born as vulnerable and messy as us. You were baptized as we were baptized, in water from this earth You created. You called forth followers who were Your friends. You celebrated at weddings and had family members tell you what to do. Remind us to invite You into the mess of our lives, O God, for You have lived it and experienced it. You know what it is like to be rejected by family, to be feared, to be forgotten, and to be loved and accepted and cared for. Remind us that You are very near to us, not only in Spirit, but in experience. You know us. You know our hearts. You know our lives. May we rejoice and celebrate that You are dear to us, and we are dear to You. Amen.

Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of God is my mother and my sister and my brother, my siblings, my family.” Whenever we turn back to Jesus’ way and live into God’s will, we know that we belong to God’s family, that we belong to Jesus and Jesus belongs to us. Love one another, forgive one another, help one another in healing and encouragement. Live into this good news, knowing that God knows the number of hairs on your head, and loves you madly. Amen.

Wellspring of Life, we need water and air to live. By our breath we know Your Spirit; by the waters we know death and life. We are birthed into this world in the water of the womb, and born into You by the breath of the Spirit. In our baptism, we remember that we are both fully born of You and of this earth. As Jesus came to us, may we understand our unity in You. May we grow in understanding of our connection to the earth and all of creation. May we do our part to clean our water and air, to remember these gifts from You, gifts through the earth, that are part of us. In the name of Christ, who was born of Mary and brings us into new life now on Your beautiful earth, we pray. Amen.

Worship Resources for January 2nd, 2022—New Year’s Sunday, Second Sunday of Christmas, Epiphany Sunday

Revised Common Lectionary Options
New Year’s Sunday: Ecclesiastes 3:1-13; Psalm 8; Revelation 21:1-6a; Matthew 25:31-46
Second Sunday of Christmas: Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 147:12-20; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1: (1-9), 10-18
Epiphany Sunday: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

Narrative Lectionary: Jesus Says “Come and See,” John 1:35-51 (Psalm 66:1-5)

There are several options for this Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary.

For New Year’s, we begin with a poem on the seasons of humanity experienced in Ecclesiastes 3:1-13. Part of the Wisdom Literature, this poem reminds us that that seasons of joy and mourning, of struggle and release, are part of life. As we look to a new year, we are reminded that things come and pass. Though other passages of scripture remind us to look to a future with hope, in these uncertain times the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us that all of life is uncertainty, a balance of suffering and hope.

Psalm 8 is a song of wonder and awe at God, the one who made all the heavens. God’s strong foundation and fortress is in the newly born, who sing God’s praise. The psalmist wonders, however, that out of all the universe, the moon and stars—why make human beings? What are we that God is mindful of us? And yet, God made human beings similar to divine beings, only slightly less so, and has given them glory and honor, and all of creation is under the care of human beings. How wonderful is God who has done this for us!

John of Patmos beholds a vision of a new heaven and new earth in Revelation 21:1-6a. In John’s vision, the heavenly city of Jerusalem descends to earth, and God’s home is made with humanity. There is no more dividing line between heaven and earth. Sorrow and mourning will cease, and God will bring us comfort. God is making all things new, for God is the beginning and the end.

Jesus tells a final parable in Matthew 25:31-46, though it’s not like the other parables. It’s the capstone on parables about the reign of God, and in this one, the Son of Humanity will sit on a throne as a king and separate the sheep from the goats. To those who have welcomed the stranger, fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick and the imprisoned, they have done so to him. To those who did not, they will depart to the eternal fire, for the righteous will inherit eternal life—those who have lived as if Christ was among the marginalized, poor, and oppressed.

The readings for the Second Sunday of Christmas begin with the prophet Jeremiah, the promise of the exiles returning in 31:7-14. God will bring back the exiles, the prophet declares, as God has fulfilled the promises of old. Celebration and restoration go hand in hand. God rescues the people from their oppression; as God has done so in the past, God will do so again. God, like a parent to all people, views Ephraim (another name for Israel) as the firstborn, the ones who changed how God related to all people the way a first child changes perspective for a parent.

Psalm 147:12-20 is a song calling for the city of Jerusalem to praise God as its protector. God is the one who gives strength and security to the people of the holy city. However, God’s commands are also for the whole earth. God is the one who works in all creation, yet also shares the commandments and ordinances with the people of Israel.

The opening of the letter to the Ephesians shares a blessing for God and for the community of believers, all of whom have become children of God through Jesus Christ. The theme of adoption is one used by the early church as a way of signifying that there were no divisions among the believers, for all were now part of one faith together. Through Christ, sins are forgiven, and God’s will revealed. Through the Holy Spirit, we are known to God and will know God’s salvation at the end of time.

John 1:1-18 was also the Narrative Lectionary choice for the fourth Sunday of Advent. John places Jesus at the beginning of everything with God, calling Jesus the Word (Logos). The Living Word was with God in the beginning, and is Life, the Light of all people, which shines in the darkness and is not understood. Dr. Wil Gafney translates darkness in this verse as bleakness in A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church, Year W, Second Sunday after Christmas. We must always be weary of how darkness and light have been used by white Christians to link darkness with evil and lightness with good. Instead, what John is conveying is that Christ came into this world to bring forth life to all people and nothing is able to overcome or extinguish life. John (the Baptizer) was sent by God to testify to the Word, the Life, so that all would believe in the Life. But the world did not recognize the Life, and neither did the Life’s own people. The Word became Flesh and lived among us, and we have seen the Word/Life’s glory, full of grace and truth. This is the Life that John testified to.

For Epiphany Sunday, we begin with the traditional reading from Isaiah 60:1-6. The words of Second Isaiah are hope for a people returning from exile. God’s glory now shines in the people who have returned, and other nations are drawn to their light, to the knowledge that God has remained faithful to them. Kings are drawn to the brightness of this new beginning, and the gifts and goods of other lands shall once again flow to the holy city of Jerusalem, including the image of camels bringing gold and frankincense.

Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 is a prayer of blessing for a new king. The psalmist asks for God to bless the king with God’s sense of righteousness and justice for the poor. The prayer seeks God’s guidance for the king that they may have long life and peace. The psalmist continues, calling upon other kings to pay tribute and to bring gifts in service of this new king for Israel. This new king will pay attention to the marginalized and oppressed, rescue the poor and needy, and honor the lives of those often forgotten about by society, for they are precious to God.

In Ephesians 3:1-12, the writer declares that the mystery of Christ has been revealed: Gentiles and Jews, all people, are members of the same body. All share in the same promise of Christ, and all share in God’s grace. God’s wisdom is revealed through the church, in which all belong, and is made known to the whole world. The faithful can be in relationship with God through Jesus Christ, in whom we have the boldness and confidence of faith.

Matthew’s account of the magi occurs after Jesus’ birth. The magi came to Jerusalem, the royal city, and visited the current king, Herod, to ask where the new king was born. They observed his star at its rising, for they were probably astrologers. Herod, a puppet of the Roman government ruling under the governor’s authority, had no idea what the magi were speaking about and was afraid of an usurper of his power. He consulted the scribes, who searched the scriptures and found passages from the prophets about a new king being born in the city of David, Bethlehem, one to shepherd Israel. Herod sent the magi to Bethlehem to search for the child. The star stopped over the house of Mary and Jesus, and they presented their gifts to him, before returning home via another road, as the magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod. The writer of Matthew uses more references to the Hebrew scriptures than other Gospel writers, and often out of context. This passage about the one to shepherd Israel from Micah 5:2 refers to a king in the prophet’s time when the Assyrian empire was invading. The writer of Matthew is concerned with proving that Jesus is the promised king for the people and tells a story in which Jesus fulfills those promises, though often not how people expected him to.

The Narrative Lectionary concludes chapter one of John’s Gospel with 1:35-51. When John sees Jesus and calls him the Lamb of God, his own disciples begin to follow Jesus. In John’s account, Andrew was first a disciple of John, but told Simon that they had found the Messiah. Jesus then calls Simon Peter. Jesus calls Philip to follow him, and Philip tells Nathanael that they had found the one spoken about by Moses and the prophets. But Nathanael is doubtful that anything good comes from Nazareth, a small town. When he meets Jesus, Jesus seems to know him already. Jesus tells Nathanael that he saw him under a fig tree, and Nathanael believes that he is God’s Son. Jesus tells Nathanael he will see greater things than these, including the vision that Jacob beheld of the angels ascending and descending from heaven.

Psalm 66:1-5 is a song of praise to God for God’s awesome works and deeds. All the earth worships God. In verse 5, the psalmist calls upon the people to come and see God’s deeds, and God’s awesome works for human beings.

It is hard to temper expectations when entering a new year, although the last few seem to have made us all pause. We do not know what the new year will bring, perhaps more than any other time in recent memory. Yet when we imagine two thousand years ago, an oppressive Roman Empire, a local government concerned with keeping power and the status quo, we can imagine that perhaps others were unsure how to have hope. In a time when there were several who claimed to be the Messiah (Acts 5:34-40) only to fail, it is the foreigners, the outsiders, who show those within the community that God is already present with them. Perhaps in a world of fear, we can look to the signs of hope and follow them. Life shines, despite the bleakness of our Covid world. Perhaps we can heed the warning signs from the past two years, and enter the new year by another way.

Call to Worship (for New Year’s Sunday, from Revelation 21:5b-6a)
God is making all things new,
For God’s words are trustworthy.
God is the Alpha and Omega,
The Beginning and the End.
We enter this new year with hope,
That we will draw closer to God;
For God has drawn near to us.
Together, we are Christ’s body.

Call to Worship (for Epiphany Sunday, from Isaiah 60:1-6)
Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
The LORD will arise upon you,
and God’s glory will appear over you.
Lift up your gaze and look around,
Then you shall see and be radiant;
Your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
You shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of All Beginnings, we confess our own despair and distrust. Our expectations have been tempered, our hopes subdued. We are afraid of being let down again by the world. Remind us that our hope is not in the things of this world, in our leaders or our systems, but our hope is in You, Creator of heaven and earth. Shape our hearts to love more deeply. Open our minds to accept what we cannot change but to transform our own lives to Your ways. Mold our lives to live as You lived, in compassion and loving-kindness, in gratitude and peace. Lift up our hearts, so we may enter this new year with Your living hope. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen

May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. May you enter this new year with expectation that the world will change. Emmanuel, God is with us, now and always, and we can never be the same. The worst thing in the world is not the last thing that will happen to us. Goodness, love, and mercy will always prevail. Trust these words in your heart, trust the promises of God, and know that you are forgiven, loved and restored. Amen.

Wondrous Star that shines so bright! Shine in the bleakness and misery. Shine in the shadows and gloom. Shine in our hearts when our hopes are failing. Shine in our lives when we feel out of place and lost. Shine in our world when the systems and structures of the world oppress and condemn. Shine in us, so that we may shine Your light and life to the world. Bright Morning Star, shine our way. Amen.

Worship Resources for December 26th, 2021—First Sunday after Christmas

Surprise! I’m posting resources a bit early as I know some may be planning ahead.

Revised Common Lectionary: 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26; Psalm 148; Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52

Narrative Lectionary: A Voice in the Wilderness, John 1:19-34 (Psalm 32:1-2)

The Hebrew scripture lesson for this first Sunday after Christmas contains a few verses about the prophet Samuel, when he was a boy serving God in the temple at Shiloh under the priest Eli. The priest blessed Elkanah and Hannah, Samuel’s parents, and the boy grew in wisdom and in favor with God and the people. These remarks on Samuel’s upbringing are similar to the remarks Luke makes about Jesus at the end of Luke 2.

Psalm 148 is a song of praise, in which all of creation, all the heavens and earth and everything God has made is a participant in the act of worship. Among humanity, all people, no matter their privilege or gender or age, are called into the responsibility to worship God. God’s name alone is above all names. For the people of Israel, God encouraged them, and they have remained faithful and close to God.

The writer of Colossians encourages the church in Colossae to live as the body of Christ in community with one another. Like clothing, they put on kindness, compassion, and forgiveness for one another. All these things fall under the love of Christ in which they are clothed in. The church is called to a way of life of gratitude, with the peace of Christ ruling in their hearts. They show their faith and love by teaching one another through their songs of praise to God. Their whole lives are to be centered in Christ, shedding selfishness, and everything they do ought to be in Christ’s name.

The Gospel lesson is from Jesus’ childhood, the only story in our canonical Gospels of what happened between Jesus’ infancy and adulthood. Luke 2:41-52 contains a story of when Jesus and his family went to Jerusalem for Passover, and he stayed behind in the temple to talk with the teachers, though his parents did not know it. They had forgotten whose Son he was, and were frantic when they couldn’t find him. Jesus reminds them that he is in his Father’s house. Mary and Joseph didn’t understand, but Jesus returned with them to Nazareth and was obedient to his parents. Repeating verse 19, Mary once again treasures the words and experiences of her child that she doesn’t understand and ponders them in her heart. She knows there is something greater for Jesus than what she can perceive. Jesus grows in wisdom and favor, similar to the prophet Samuel, in his maturing years.

The Narrative Lectionary continues in the Gospel according to John. In 1:19-34, the middle part of this first chapter, John the Baptist was questioned as to who he was. He declared he was not the Messiah, nor was he the prophet or Elijah, whom many believed would come before the Messiah. However, he quoted Isaiah 40:3, which the other Gospels also use to place John as the voice crying out in the wilderness. The religious leaders questioned why John was baptizing if he was not the Messiah or Elijah or the prophet. John shared that his baptism is only of water, and the one coming after him he was not worthy to untie the thongs of his sandals. The next day, Jesus came to him, and John declared that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, an account is shared of John baptizing Jesus, but in this account, John the Baptizer shares that he already baptized Jesus. John testifies to the religious leaders that Jesus is the Son of God.

The first two verses of Psalm 32 blesses those whose sins are forgiven, for those in whom there is no deceit. This is not to say there is no sin, but the one who confesses and is forgiven is blessed and truly happy.

The First Sunday after Christmas is a time when one can be creative. It is the end of the calendar year, it is a time when we explore the childhood of Jesus, the wonder and awe of the Christmas season. It is a time to take stock and look back on the year that was, to look forward to a future with hope. The readings today remind us that we may not fully understand, as Mary and Joseph didn’t, all who Christ is for us and for the world, but that in service to God, we increase in wisdom and in favor.

Call to Worship (Psalm 148:1-3, 13b)
Praise the LORD from the heavens;
Praise God in the heights!
Praise God, all the angels;
Praise God, all the heavenly host!
Praise God, sun and moon;
Praise God, all you shining stars!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
For God’s name alone is exalted.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Almighty God, we confess that sometimes we speak the first answer that comes to our mind as if it is the truth, the only right way. We confess we are quick to speak and slow to listen and ponder. Remind us to slow down from the busy-ness of the world’s ways, to take in other views, to listen for Your word in our hearts and minds before responding. Call us into Your path of wisdom and insight, to take notice of creation around us and what You are speaking. Guide us into Your ways of speaking truth in love, to not judge one another but to extend kindness and compassion, to be gentle in correction and open to Your way of forgiveness and healing. May we grow in wisdom and in Your favor. Amen.

For God so loved the world that God sent the only Son, so whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. You have that life now. You have God’s unconditional love now. Because God loves you and loves all of us so much that God made the beautiful earth for us and sent Christ to us to show us the way, the truth, and the life. Embrace the love of Christ. Forgive one another, and know you are forgiven. Seek restoration and reparation and may God’s peace be with you. Amen.

God of All Times, may we sit in Your time, Kairos time, for a while. May we not be worried about chronology, the turning of pages on a calendar and years in our lives. For a moment in this in-between time, this last week of 2021, may we sit with You and grow in Your wisdom. May we know that You have plans for us, plans for a future with hope as you spoke to Jeremiah all those years ago, though our plans and futures are far different. It is the hope we cling to, that somehow things will turn out better than they have been. But may we sit in this Kairos time, O God, and remember Your faithfulness to us in all times, in all days and months and years and seasons, and know You are present with us, now and always. Amen.

Worship Resources for December 19th, 2021—Fourth Sunday of Advent

Revised Common Lectionary: Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:46b-55 or Psalm 80:1-7; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45 (46-55)

Narrative Lectionary: Word Made Flesh, John 1:1-18 (Psalm 130:5-8)

The prophet Micah, who witnessed the devastation by Assyria, knew the empire would attack Jerusalem and Judah. However, Micah hoped that a new king in the line of David would save them. Similar to Isaiah, both prophets found hope in the rise of Hezekiah as king of Judah after Israel’s fall. As David was from Bethlehem, so the new king would be like David, a shepherd king, and there was hope that those taken in exile in the north would return. Christians, after the death and resurrection of Jesus, found these passages meaningful in their understanding of who Jesus was.

Mary’s Song is the first choice for the psalm (or it can be included with the Gospel reading). Mary’s Song echoes Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. God has looked with favor upon her, and she has accepted being the servant of God (read Dr. Wil Gafney’s A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church, Year W, Advent I, for more understanding on what it means for Mary to take on this role in Luke 1:26-38). Mary claims that God has done great things for her, but they are indeed for everyone. The mighty are brought down, the lowly lifted up. The hungry are filled with good things and the rich sent empty away. God has helped the servant Israel, for the people are God’s servants, and God remembered them in mercy because of the covenant made with their ancestors.

Psalm 80:1-7 is a song pleading for help from God, praising God who delivers the people. The psalm begins by speaking to the “Shepherd of Israel,” a title given to a king in the line of David, someone who rules in the ways of God. The people have suffered. They have only their mourning to nourish them, nothing that satisfies. They are laughed at by their enemies. The psalmist pleads for God to restore and save them.

Hebrews 10:5-10 explains how, to the writer of Hebrews, Jesus takes the place of sacrificial temple worship. This was the view of this writer to their community of Jewish believers in Jesus. Some of the prophets critiqued temple worship at times, when they felt it was hollow and empty while people suffered, and the priests and political leaders made poor choices. The writer of Hebrews sees Jesus as the ultimate and final sacrifice, ending the “first order” and establishes the second, in which Jesus’ own body is offered once for all.

In Luke’s account, Gabriel first came to Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth, and then to Mary, and the angel tells Mary that Elizabeth has also conceived. In this passage, Mary goes right away to her relative Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s own child, still in the womb, leaps for joy. Elizabeth calls Mary the “mother of my Lord.” Elizabeth recognizes how God is using Mary to do something new. Mary is inspired by her encounter with Elizabeth, and sings her song (also inspired by Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel).

The Narrative Lectionary turns to the Gospel according to John as its primary text until Pentecost. John places Jesus at the beginning of everything with God, calling Jesus the Word (Logos). The Living Word was with God in the beginning, and is Life, the Light of all people, which shines in the darkness and is not understood. Dr. Wil Gafney translates darkness in this verse as bleakness in A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church, Year W, Second Sunday after Christmas. We must always be weary of how darkness and light have been used by white Christians to link darkness with evil and lightness with good. Instead, what John is conveying is that Christ came into this world to bring forth life to all people and nothing is able to overcome or extinguish life. John (the Baptizer) was sent by God to testify to the Word, the Life, so that all would believe in the Life. But the world did not recognize the Life, and neither did the Life’s own people. The Word became Flesh and lived among us, and we have seen the Word/Life’s glory, full of grace and truth. This is the Life that John testified to.

In Psalm 130:5-8, the psalmist sings of their whole being waiting for God’s promise, more than those on the overnight watch wait for the morning. The psalmist concludes by calling the people to wait upon God, because God is faithful and will redeem them.

While this is the Fourth Sunday of Advent, for many churches this is the Sunday of Christmas. Not everyone has Christmas Eve services or can attend; many families end up traveling at this time of year. This is the Sunday to sing Mary’s song, to know that God has turned the world upside down with the birth of Christ, and yet, God is still turning the world upside down. The powerful will be brought down and the lowly lifted up. The hungry will be filled with good things and the rich sent away empty. The Life will shine in this world for others to know. But only if we participate in it. Only if we are willing to do the work of justice and mercy. Only if we are willing to testify to the Life that we have, in word and in deed.

Call to Worship (from Luke 1:46-49)
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
God has looked with favor on us,
For we are the servants of God.
The Mighty One has done great things,
And holy is God’s name.”
We await the birth of the Christ-child,
And God is about to do a new thing.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Just God, we confess that we have not kept Your ways of justice and mercy. We hear Mary’s song and think, “that’s a nice idea” but do not follow through. We hear the words of the angels and the prophets this time of year as hope for ourselves, but do not turn to others oppressed and marginalized, whose lives have not been changed for the better by those in power and privilege. We repeat the old stories as comfort for us, but fail to be transformed by them. Forgive us and deliver us from the ways of this world. Call us into accountability when we have propped up the powerful and discarded the lowly, when we have allowed others to go hungry while we continue to take what we want. Guide us into Your ways of justice, mercy, and peace, and help us in the work of restoration. In the name of Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, we pray. Amen.

“O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.” May you know the grace, forgiveness, and peace of Jesus, who is born again in our hearts and lives. God makes all things new—even the old, old story becomes fresh. You are forgiven, loved, and restored. Go and share the Good News. Amen.

Loving Spirit, fill us and stir in us Your love for the earth, for all of creation and for all Your people. May we sing like Mary—may her love inspire us to fill the hungry with good things and to lift up the lowly. May her call for justice inspire us to work for rebalancing power and wealth in our society. May her joy in You as our Savior remind us to be joyful, knowing You always will have the last and final word, not what the world dictates to us, not what evil and oppression have done. Love always wins. May Your love be born anew in us this Christmas. Amen.

Worship Resources for December 12th, 2021—Third Sunday of Advent

Revised Common Lectionary: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

Narrative Lectionary: Word Accomplishes God’s Purpose, Isaiah 55:1-13 (John 4:13-14)

The prophet Zephaniah calls for a song of praise in 3:14-20. The prophet praised God and called the people to rejoice for what God would do for them, bringing them out of exile. God removed the judgment against them and turned their enemies away. God will gather the outcast and those who are disabled, who were prevented from participating in society, and change shame into praise. God will gather the people, bring them home, and they will be praised among the nations. What was taken from them will be restored.

Isaiah 12:2-6 is also a song of praise to God. Both the Zephaniah passage and Isaiah passage are similar to the psalms and can be considered psalms in themselves. Isaiah sings of God as the water of salvation, and the people are called to draw upon that water with joy. God is among the people, and they are called to sing praise and shout for joy.

Philippians 4:4-7 contains Paul’s exhortation to the church in Philippi to continue to rejoice and pray without ceasing. The church is not to worry but to know God is near, and to pray to God for their needs in thanksgiving. God’s peace is made known to them through Jesus, and will guard their hearts and minds.

Luke 3:7-18 continues from last week’s passage about John the Baptizer. In Luke’s account, people from all walks of life—even tax collectors and soldiers—come out to be baptized by John, but John warns everyone that this baptism must change their lives and their heart. He calls them a brood of vipers—snakes looking for an opportunity to strike and to play a social game rather than making the necessary changes in their lives. John warned them against claiming their ancestry as enough, because it doesn’t matter where one came from but how one lived their lives. So when asked, John gave some examples: share what you have with those who have nothing. Don’t take more than you need. For tax collectors and soldiers, he called upon them to do their job but not take advantage of others because of their position. John told the crowds that one was coming after him who was more powerful, like one with a winnowing fork on the threshing floor, separating wheat from chaff. Wheat and chaff grow together in the stalk, and the chaff must be removed. So it is when one transforms their life for God—what is useless must be removed.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the word that comes forth from God in Isaiah 55:1-13. God has sent forth the word, spoken to the people to call them into God’s ways. The prophet calls the people to listen to God’s word, to take that as food that satisfies and nourishes rather than what the world offers. Those who turn back to God will be forgiven. God’s word nourishes the world the way the rain and the snow does. In many of the psalms, the waters and mountains and trees praise God in creation, but in this passage, they celebrate the people, and their return from exile.

In John 4, Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman at a well, and spoke to her about himself as living water, a water that satisfies and nourishes. This water becomes a wellspring of eternal life.

On this third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday, we rejoice. Many of the scriptures for today focus on the theme of rejoicing at what God has done, rejoicing in God’s word and instruction, and rejoicing in God’s covenant. We also hear the word of John the Baptist, calling us into repentance and transformation. While “you brood of vipers” may not sound so joyful, it is the call into God’s ways, preparing ourselves for Christ that gives us joy. Shedding the ways we human beings often turn religion into social status and performance rather than transforming our hearts and lives. For the prophets remind us that when we turn back to God, there is rejoicing and forgiveness. New life can flourish in our hearts and in our world when we listen to the wisdom of God and find it in the commandments, in the rushing rivers, in the stories of our ancestors, and in the traditions of this season that remind us that God is still doing something new.

Call to Worship (from Isaiah 12:2, 5-6)
Surely God is our salvation.
We will trust and will not be afraid.
God is our strength and our might,
God has become our salvation.
Sing praise for God’s glory,
Let it be known in all the earth!
Shout aloud and sing for joy,
The Holy One is among us.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God who called both John and Mary, You put words of revolution into their mouths. Mary rejoiced that You are changing the world; John called us to change our hearts and lives. We have failed to listen. We’ve paid attention for a season and then forgotten their challenge. We’ve turned back to the ways of this world, seeking wealth and worldly measures of success. We have forgotten the radical transformation that Mary sang of, and that John called us to pursue. Forgive us for paying lip service to Your covenant. Forgive us for failing to turn to Your ways. Forgive us for falling, once again, for the comforts and pleasures of this world while others suffer. Call us into repentance and true transformation. In the name of Christ, who continues to work in our hearts and lives, we pray. Amen.

The prophet Isaiah long ago declared that “with joy you will draw from the water of salvation.” The well runs deep, and whenever we turn back to God, we will find that the wellspring of life is everlasting and overflowing with God’s love for us. Rejoice! God is very near. Turn back to God’s ways, and may the peace of Christ be with you. Go and share the Good News.

Eternally Rejoicing God, we rejoice with You! You created a beautiful, wondrous expanding universe, swirling galaxies, exploding stars, and You made us out of the dust of the stars. Like a magnificent painting, we emerged in the work, and You delight in us as Your children. In times of deep despair, in the murkiness of our world’s struggles, in the muck of daily life, may we remember You are still creating and rejoicing. Help us to laugh when we have forgotten how. Remind us to find pleasure in life when the world presses down. Guide us to seek help when in all seems futile, for You desire for us to rejoice. Help us to seek, find, and keep joy in our lives. Amen.

Worship Resources for December 5th, 2021—Second Sunday of Advent

Revised Common Lectionary: Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 1:68-79; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6

Narrative Lectionary: Ezekiel: Valley of Dry Bone, 37:1-14 (John 11:25-26)

The prophet Malachi spoke of a messenger being sent ahead of God in 3:1-4. The prophet was concerned about abuse of temple worship and corruption. Malachi declared the messenger of the covenant was coming. God’s presence would suddenly be known in temple. The messenger to come would purify, like refiner’s fire and soap, those who served God in the temple, so that sacrifices and offerings would once again be acceptable.

Zechariah sings praise to God for raising up a mighty savior in Luke 1:68-79. Upon the birth of his son, John, who would later be known as John the Baptizer, Zechariah sang this song. God remembered the covenant made with their ancestors, and the words spoken through the prophets long ago. Zechariah also sings for his son, who will be called the prophet of the Most High and will prepare the way. Zechariah concludes with a blessing that light will break upon those who are in the shadow of death, and they will be guided into the way of peace.

Paul thanks God for the church in Philippi in Philippians 1:3-11. Paul is especially grateful for the way the Philippians have not forgotten him while he was in prison and have cared for him. Paul prays that they would continue to know the overflowing love of God and all the knowledge and insight, so they may be authentic in their conveyance of the Gospel and in judgment before Christ.

Luke 3:1-6 contains Luke’s account of John the Baptizer emerging from the wilderness. Luke firmly places John the Baptist as one prophesied to come before the Messiah in the time of Emperor Tiberius. Like the other Gospel accounts, the writer of Luke quotes Isaiah and links the voice of the one crying out of the wilderness with John the Baptist. While the writer of Isaiah was addressing the people coming out of exile and returning home, Luke links John the Baptizer with the work of justice and restoration, preparing for the work of Christ.

The Narrative Lectionary focuses on Ezekiel’s Valley of Dry Bones in 37:1-14. The prophet had experienced the first exile into Babylon and knew the fall of Jerusalem was coming. Yet, the prophet beholds a vision of God restoring Israel, raising up the bones from a battlefield, growing sinews and muscles. God will open the graves and breath the Spirit upon them. Those who live again, who survive the exile, will know that God is with them, and they will thrive. What seems dead is waiting to rise.

In John 11:25-26, John declares to Martha after the death of her brother Lazarus that he is the resurrection and the life. Those who believe, even though they die, will live. Those who live and believe in him will never die, for death will have no hold on them.

Prepare the way! Sweep clean! Purify yourselves. Be ready. Advent is a season of preparation. While the traditional theme of the day is peace (though no one knows where those traditions of hope, peace, joy, and love came from), peace is part of preparation. Resisting the worry of the world, resisting the news that causes us to fear. Peace prepares us for God’s presence to take root. It doesn’t mean we won’t still have anxiety or fear, but that in preparation for Christ to enter our world and lives in a new way, we do what we can to let go and remember that we are children of God, and that God is with us, now.

Call to Worship (Luke 1:69-70, 72, 78-79)
“God raised up a mighty savior for us,
As God spoke through the prophets,
God showed mercy promised to our ancestors;
God remembered the holy covenant.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
To give light to those in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Eternal God, we confess that we’re still not ready. We haven’t done all we can to be ready for Your reign on earth as it is in heaven. We have procrastinated and delayed, and at other times simply forgot who we are and who You are in our lives. Call us into noticing this moment, this time of Advent, this season of preparation. Help us to recall that You are Eternal and always with us, and remind us to set aside a moment and prepare our hearts and minds for You. We can make the time to allow Your peace to enter in and reign in our hearts. We can find the way. Eternal One, guide us in this season of Advent, of watching and waiting, signs that You are doing something new in our world and in our lives, right now. Amen.

God calls out to us from the wilderness of our lives, from the places that are tangled and full of shadows. God calls out to us and leads us in the way of peace. Listen to God call your name, and know that you are loved. Listen to God’s voice, and know that you are forgiven. Listen to God’s proclamation, and know there is new life, restored life, now. Go and live into the Good News. Amen.

Singer of Dreams, You sang into Hannah’s heart long ago when she longed for a child, and brought forth the prophet Samuel. You sang into Zechariah’s heart long ago when he longed for a child, and brought forth John the Baptizer. You sang into Mary’s heart, though she was so young, and sang a song of revolution to bear Your Son. Sing into our hearts, sing into our dreams, Singer of Songs. Sing into us the melodies of liberation and the harmonies of righteousness. Sing into us Your song, a new song, so that we might be ready for You, Singer of Life, as we sing the song of resurrection. Amen.

Worship Resources for November 28th, 2021—First Sunday of Advent

Revised Common Lectionary: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

Narrative Lectionary: Jeremiah’s Letter to the Exiles, 29:1, 4-14 (John 14:27)

Happy New Year! We have come full circle and a new year has begun in the Revised Common Lectionary, year C.

We begin with the promise of God as told by the prophet Jeremiah, a promise that will be fulfilled to Israel and Judah. God will cause “a righteous branch to spring up for David,” a fulfilment of the promise that David’s reign would endure forever. The rest of this passage includes a promise for Judah and Jerusalem, the safety of the great city. Jeremiah witnessed its destruction, but also declared God’s promise of hope and restoration.

Psalm 25:1-10 is a prayer of trust in God. The psalmist calls upon God to make known God’s ways, to lead them away from the path of sin. The psalmist prays that their enemies and those who are astray from God’s ways would know shame, but not for those faithful to God. Instead, the psalmist prays for wise instruction from God, that their own sins from their youth would be forgotten. God teaches in humility, and God is faithful to those who keep God’s ways.

Paul prays a blessing and thanksgiving upon the church in Thessalonica in preparation for Christ’s return in 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13. Paul prays that they would be strengthened in their faith, in their love for one another, and in their hearts, as they prepare to be in the presence of Christ when he comes again.

Jesus’ final words to his disciples before he celebrated the Passover were about the signs of the times before Jesus’ return. We must remember that the Gospel According to Luke was written after the destruction of the temple, so some of the words of Jesus had already taken place by the time this Gospel was shared. In 21:25-36, Jesus follows a pattern of other writers and prophets, declaring that there will be visible signs of disturbance in the skies and on earth, but the disciples (and the readers/listeners) are to be ready. Jesus uses the example of a fig tree, how it grows leaves at the appropriate time of the year and people understand what season it is by the leaves on the tree. For those who believe, they will understand that God’s reign has drawn near by the signs they see in the world. Believers are called to be alert and ready, not weighed down by the worries and participation in day-to-day worldly living. Instead, pray for the strength to withstand, and be ready for the day of judgment with Christ.

The Narrative Lectionary also focuses on Jeremiah, but a few chapters earlier. In chapter 29, Jeremiah wrote a letter to those from Jerusalem were taken in the first exile to Babylon, before the destruction of the temple and the fall of their city. To these exiles, who may have contemplated rebelling against their captors, Jeremiah encourages them instead to go on with their lives in exile. The prophet urges them to build houses, plant gardens, marry and have children and grandchildren. Jeremiah asks the exiles to pray. Though there are some who desire to return home, the prophet knows that it will be generations before they will—yet God has plans for a future with hope. The people are called to seek God right where they are in exile, not longing for a dream of what once was.

In John 14:27, Jesus reminds the disciples that his peace is not the same as the world’s peace. Jesus encourages the disciples to not be troubled or afraid. Paired with the passage from Jeremiah, this continues a theme of encouragement in the midst of the world’s troubles.

A tradition of Advent, that no one is sure when it began or where it came from, is that each Sunday the candles symbolize hope, peace, joy, and love. There’s nothing that says we have to use that tradition, but hope is a theme we often look to in this time of year. Advent is the season of watching and waiting for signs of Christ’s return in our world and our lives in a new way. We practice traditions in the hope that something new will happen, rather than clinging to something old. Jeremiah reminds us that we can look to the past, but we can’t be beholden to it. Jesus reminds us in Luke’s account of the Gospel that the signs are all around us that God is doing something new, even when the world is falling apart. Be encouraged! Something new and wonderful is at hand.

Call to Worship (from Luke 1:28, 30, 37-28)
The angel said to Mary,
“The Lord is with you.
“Do not be afraid,
“For nothing is impossible with God.”
Mary said to the angel,
“Here I am, the servant of God,
“May it be with me,
According to the word of God.”

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
God of the Hopeless, we confess that closing in on two years of living in a Covid world we have lost hope that things will return to normal. We are reminded, like Jeremiah reminded the exiles, that we cannot go back to the way things were. Instead, we must build in a new way, knowing that You are with us now. As we build a new way of being church, of being faithful in the world around us, of following You, remind us of the assurance that You are always doing something new, and always preparing for us a future with hope. In our despair and dejection, renew and restore our hearts. In the name of Christ, who is returning to us, we pray. Amen.

Jeremiah told the people that a shoot would rise from the stump of Jesse. Jesus taught us that something new rises out of what must die. God continues to teach us that all things are made new. There is hope to be found in this world, if we seek it, and if we be it. May we be living hope to one another, forgiving and loving one another, restoring and repairing the world. Go, and live into the Good News, and be good news for each other. Amen.

God of Advent, Coming into View, You are like the sun just before dawn, when twilight is fading. You are like the first star at night before all the stars blaze into glory. You are the moon rising, and the new moon, about to be born. We see everything differently by Your light and Your darkness. May the wonder and surprise of this season take root in us, though we know the old story. May we be caught up in the excitement and joy even when we repeat old traditions. May we be inspired by You, O God, even as the seasons turn as they always do—for they turn in a new way in this new year. Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Amen.

Dear Christians: We have Advent, NOT Hanukkah

Dear Christians,

The days are growing shorter, the nights are long and dark. As we near winter solstice and Christmas, we will begin putting up lights and lighting candles and singing songs.

Because Hanukkah falls in the same season, it has come to my attention that some Christians are now attempting to observe Hanukkah, claiming that because Jesus celebrated it, so can we. There’s even a book out there promoting this idea.[i]

No. Just, no.

Yes, Jesus was Jewish. So were the disciples. So were the early converts that made up the first churches. All the Jewish observances named in the Christian scriptures (New Testament) were observed by Jews, not by Gentiles. They all observed Jewish festivals because they were Jewish.[ii]

But when Christianity moved from being a small Jewish group of followers of the rabbi Jesus into a separate movement of mostly Gentile believers, we gave up any claim on those traditions. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, Christianity developed its own practices, separate from those associated with Judaism. As Robert Frost once quipped, “I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence, two roads diverged in a wood …”[iii] Indeed, Christianity and Judaism have been two different roads for almost two thousand years now.

So, back to Hanukkah. I get it. It’s dark (in the northern hemisphere, mind you, lest we forget our southern hemisphere family), and for whatever reason Christmas lights are just not doing it for you.

But remember! We have our own tradition of lighting candles in darkness! It’s called Advent!

Advent is the season that begins four Sundays before Christmas (older traditions have it starting seven Sundays before). Originally, it was a season of fasting and prayer, mirroring Lent. In later years, Advent turned into a more cozy preparation time. It’s a time to ready your home for an anticipated guest. It even has its own carols, separate from Christmas[iv], and newer Advent carols have been written in recent years.

This is also the time of year to BAKE! While Advent began as a time of fasting, in the year 1490, Pope Innocent VIII granted the residents of Dresden, Germany the right to use butter during Advent.[v] I first learned this fact not in seminary but from the Great British Baking Show. This is why we have such rich traditions of breads and cookies and all sorts of yummy treats. If we want to share traditions, offer to trade with Jewish friends, who have their own rich tradition of fried foods during their holiday of Hanukkah!

Other ways of observing Advent include Advent calendars. However, the point isn’t to hurry through Advent to get to Christmas. It’s the exact opposite: Advent is the time to get cozy in your waiting and let the world slow down around you.

So back to Hanukkah, and back to candles! Each night of Hanukkah is special, with a prayer specific to the observance, each candle representing a night of survival and hope for the Jewish people. It is specifically about their own faith and beliefs.

Christians have our own traditions. Each Sunday we light a candle in an Advent wreath. Purple is the liturgical color of this season (not red and green!). There are three purple candles and one pink candle in the wreath. The pink candle is for the third Sunday, called Gaudete Sunday, which means “rejoice” in Latin. It was a way of breaking up the fasting in Advent—on Gaudete Sunday, you could have your butter and sugar and all your yummies. It also reminded us that Christmas was drawing near.

Some wreaths also have a fifth, white candle, which is the Christ candle, lit on Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve is the end of Advent, and has always been my favorite day. Before the explosion of presents. Before all the decadence. It is a holy, special night, when all the candles are lit, when everything is ready.

Because that’s what Advent is about theologically—it is the season of preparation, waiting for Christ to enter our world and our lives in a new way. While we re-enact the Nativity story at Christmas every year, Advent reminds us that the world is still changing, that God is still doing something new in us and around us—and we are to be ready.

And practically, Advent practices developed and took hold in northern Europe, because it’s really cold and dark this time of year. Pagan traditions were also incorporated, such as holly boughs and evergreen trees for decorations, warm drinks and good food.

Isn’t that amazing, and enough?

So why do some Christians want Hanukkah, too?

Hanukkah is its own special, amazing festival of lights. It’s not about gift-giving. It’s about remembering a time when an empire, at its very worst, appropriated, took over, and desecrated the temple in Jerusalem. When the lamp of God was relit, there was only enough oil for one night, but miraculously, it lasted the eight nights needed for more to arrive. It is about surviving genocide (as, many of my Jewish friends joke, are most Jewish holidays—“they tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat”—or in this case, light candles).

So with that knowledge, DO YOU UNDERSTAND how AWFUL it is when Christians try to appropriate Hanukkah? It’s the very thing this holiday is against!

However, there is another way to co-celebrate.

This year, November 28th, is the first Sunday of Advent. It also happens to be the first night of Hanukkah. That means on December 5th, when we light our second candle, our Jewish neighbors will light their last candle. The entire first week of Advent, we are sharing light as neighbors with roots. We are lighting candles in the darkest time of the year. I know many of my Jewish friends have a practice of using no technology while the candles are lit, and some of my Christian friends have taken on a similar practice when lighting the Advent candles, to enjoy the beauty of the light itself.

We all enjoy sharing food with each other. My Jewish friends love to have people over (when it’s non-Covid times, of course) to celebrate as they light the candles. There are public menorah lightings by synagogues and those are wonderful ways to celebrate with your Jewish neighbors. You can invite your non-Christian friends over when you light your Advent candle (and while we light them on Sunday in our worship services, you can continue to light your own Advent candles at home during the week). Those are some of the ways that we can share in these seasons together. Sharing our traditions together is wonderful. Co-opting another’s tradition Is not. Our Jewish neighbors love to share just as much as we do.

Appreciate, don’t appropriate, and may you find meaning and joy in your season.


Many thanks to Laura Anne Gilman for her clarifications on Hanukkah. Any errors are my own.


[i] Purposefully not linking the book.

[ii] From Time, Calendar, and Festivals by Sacha Stern, in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, Second Edition, edited by Amy-Jill Levine. Oxford University Press, 2017 (New York) pg. 671

[iii] Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken,” 1916.

[iv] Alas, a warning: some of the old favorite Advent carols are very supersessionist—supporting the idea that Jesus completes or replaces the scriptures of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). Think of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, who mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.” Yikes. It’s a beautiful tune, but you can’t sing that first verse (not to mention the chorus) without understanding how harmful it can be.

[v] https://whatscookingamerica.net/history/cakes/stollen.htm Note that there are other sites stating this happened in 1650 under Pope Urban VIII, but Pope Urban died in 1644 and Germany was Protestant by then.

Worship Resources for November 21st, 2021—Reign of Christ Sunday, Thanksgiving Sunday (U.S.)

Revised Common Lectionary:
Reign of Christ Sunday: 2 Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 132: 1-12 (13-18); Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37
Thanksgiving Sunday: Joel 2:21-27; Psalm 126; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Matthew 6:25-33

Narrative Lectionary: Isaiah: A Child is Born, 9:1-7 (John 8:12)

We have come to the end of this season after Pentecost, and our first selection from the Hebrew scriptures is a psalm, titled David’s last words. Last week’s reading was the Song of Hannah, so the story of David, from the birth of the prophet Samuel to the last breath of King David, begin and end with songs of prophecy. David, anointed by God, spoke to the people that God made an everlasting covenant with him and called him to rule with justice over Israel. David hoped his kingdom mirrored the way God reigned over him. The king warned against those who did not follow God’s ways, and to be cautious in dealing with them.

Psalm 132 is a pilgrimage song for journeying to Jerusalem and worshiping at the temple. The psalmist recalls King David and his faithfulness to God by his desire to build a temple. Now, the people desire to worship as David hoped to, in the temple of God, with all the elements of temple worship. God has chosen to be among the people and has chosen to dwell in the temple in Jerusalem. This is where God will make the people thrive, and David’s reign everlasting.

The second selection of the Hebrew scriptures focuses again on Daniel, this time the vision of the heavenly courtroom in 7:9-10, 13-14. God is described as the Ancient One, dressed all in white and with white hair, sitting upon a throne of flames. The courtroom is in session, thousands are present, and the books are opened. In this vision, one like a human being is presented before the Ancient One and given all power and dominion and authority. This figure in Jewish tradition has often been understood as the people of Israel personified. Some traditions linked this with a Messiah figure, one who would come at the last days. Christians later interpreted this person to be the Christ.

Psalm 93 is a song of praise to God, the creator of the earth and the one who reigns on high. The psalmist describes God as robed like a king upon the throne. The waters on the earth lift up their voice in a roar, but God is the one who reigns over the earth, and God is more majestic than all of creation. God rules as the ultimate king, and God’s law is faithful and true.

The Epistle reading for Reign of Christ Sunday comes from Revelation 1:4b-8. This portion is part of the introduction by John of Patmos in his letter to the seven churches of the Roman province of Asia. This opening blessing acknowledges the one who reigns on the throne, and the one who is coming with the clouds, as mentioned by Jesus in the Gospels. God is the Beginning and the Ending, the Almighty who reigns on high, and who made the faithful into a kingdom of priests who serve God on earth.

The Gospel lesson from John is a troubling one. Jesus’ response to Pilate, who asked if he was the King of the Jews, is to ask Pilate who put him up to asking that question. Jesus told Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world, though he was born to reign. However, Jesus, in this account, also told Pilate that if his kingdom was of this world, his followers would not allow him to be handed over to the Jewish people. This passage is dangerous to read without questioning the motive of the author, as it places blame on the Jewish community and religious leaders, though it was Pilate who handed him over to be crucified. The emphasis needs to be on the reign of Christ not being of this world; however, we must also acknowledge the antisemitism in this text, regardless of whether the writer of John was Jewish or not.

For Thanksgiving in the U.S., the selection from the Hebrew scriptures comes from the prophet Joel. In his vision, probably after the exile and return from Babylon, God will restore the land. Everything will be green again, trees bearing fruit and vineyards full. God will provide abundant rain for the people, and the threshing floors and vats are overflowing with produce. God will restore what was taken from the people. The people will know that God is with them, and the people will never again be put to shame.

Psalm 126 is a song of restoration, another pilgrimage song, reminding the people of God’s faithfulness as they returned from exile. Other nations declared that God had done wonderful things for the people. Those who were mourning are now joyful. Those who went out with nothing but seeds have returned, carrying the full harvest.

The writer of First Timothy (purporting to be Paul) calls upon the reader (supposedly Timothy in Ephesus) to be in prayer and thanksgiving for everyone, including the rulers of the land in which the church resides. The author declares this is what God desires, so that the faithful of Christ may have the goodwill of the people around them. For there is only one God, and one Christ, who is the mediator between humanity and God.

The Gospel lesson for Thanksgiving Sunday is Jesus’ declaration to the disciples not to worry in Matthew 6:25-33. Jesus tells the disciples not to worry about their basic needs, for God has provided an abundance on earth. Instead, when we work for the reign of God and lift up one another’s needs, our own needs are met. Worrying doesn’t help us. Worrying raises our anxiety, causing us to spiral in our concerns, instead of remembering that when we are the body of Christ, we have one another. We can lift up one another and meet each other’s needs.

The Narrative Lectionary turns to Isaiah 9:1-7. The prophet is speaking a word of hope to the people of Judah, who witnessed the northern kingdom of Israel go into exile. This hope is a great light in a time of darkness. A new king has been born (most likely the king Hezekiah), whom Isaiah hoped would lead the people into God’s ways as a descendant of David and establish peace. Though the people have been without hope, experiencing the destruction of the northern kingdom and the attack of Assyria on Jerusalem, they have withstood the conquest and have survived, and the prophet has hope for the new king.

In John 8:12, Jesus speaks of himself as the light of the world. Whoever follows Jesus will never be in darkness but will have the light of life.

We have come to the end of the liturgical year, a day of gratitude, a day of recalling that Christ is the one who truly reigns. As we prepare to enter Advent, a season of watching and waiting for signs of Christ’s return in our world and our lives in a new way, we remember that Christ reigns eternally. The One Who Was, and Who Is, and Who Is To Come, the Almighty. God has given us this wonderful earth, full of the abundance of creation. There is enough for all, yet the powerful and wealthy have hoarded so much from others. Tens of thousands die in our world of starvation every day. Millions live in poverty. A handful—a few hundred out of seven billion people—are billionaires. When we put our trust in worldly princes, as the psalmist said long ago, they will fail us. Instead, we must look to the reign of God and work to serve one another. We must dismantle the systems and structures that build up wealth instead of meeting the needs of one another. This isn’t easy work. But on this Sunday, may we remember that our calling is not simply to live in God’s reign after we die—it is to remember that God’s reign is not of this world that we have made. The world we human beings have made needs to be dismantled and destroyed, so that what is eternal will live in us forever. Where the reign of God can flourish here and now.

Call to Worship
With grateful hearts, we gather to worship,
We give God thanks and praise.
With open minds, we listen to the needs of others,
We give God thanks and praise.
With outstretched hands, we serve one another,
We give God thanks and praise.
With all our being, we follow Jesus Christ,
And we give God thanks and praise.

Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Alpha and Omega, Beginning and Ending, we confess that we are far too often focused solely on what is in front of us. We miss out on what You are doing in the world. We can only perceive our own struggles and difficulties, and ignore the cries of the oppressed, marginalized, and disenfranchised. Forgive us. Call us to lift our gaze. Guide us to open our minds and hearts to one another. Remind us that You are the Almighty, the Holy One, who made all of creation and made us, who knows our hearts and calls us by name. Remind us that there is much more than what we think we know. Keep us to Your ways, and lead us into the work of love, justice, restoration, and peace. Amen.

Blessing/Assurance (from Philippians 4:7)
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. May you know Christ’s peace. May you know you are forgiven, loved, and restored. For God knows your name, and knows the hairs on your head. God loves you madly, and is so glad you have returned. Go forth, sharing the good news of forgiveness and love and join in the work of justice and restoration. Amen.

God of Abundant Love and Grace, in this season we praise You for the fruits of the earth, for springtime and harvest. As the seasons turn, we know that You are with us through all of life’s challenges and changes. In times of scarcity, may we find a double-portion of Your grace made known to us. In times of hardship, may we find a double-portion of forgiveness and love. In times of struggle, may we find a double-portion of hope and justice. Abundant God, shower us with Your grace, peace, and joy. Amen.