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.

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