This seven-week series for the beginning of Advent through Epiphany Sunday is based on the Gospel readings from Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary, and emphasizes themes of watchfulness, looking backwards and forwards in time (at the same time), joyful repentance, trust, and hope.
Advent is a season of anticipation as we spend a lot of time with prophecy from Christ and John the Baptist, so when it comes to building up the Christmas theme in hymns and preaching - pace yourself. Remember, Advent is a season of past and future collision in the present ... A time of already here (as in Christ did come and is here) and not yet (Christ will come again). If you focus on Christmas too early, you miss the point of the season.
See the weekly summaries below and download the free document at the end of this article for prayers, calls to worship, and candle lighting liturgies to accompany each week's service.
“Managing Un-expectations” Matt. 24:36-44
Key verse: Matt 24:44 - “[Jesus says] Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Key words: prophecy (Jesus prophesies his own arrival!!), watchfulness, readiness
Theme: Jesus, close to the end of his earthly life, prophesies another beginning. Jesus, the Messiah, tells the people to watch out for the Messiah. Jesus goes meta. An excellent introduction to the Advent theme of past and future colliding in the present and the difficulty of living in expectation while not being quite sure what to expect.
“We Work While We Wait” Matthew 3:1-12
Key verse: Matt 3:2 - "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."
Key words: Promise, strength, hope, readiness, repentance
Theme: We journey backwards to before Jesus’ baptism, to John the Baptist prophesying the Messiah’s coming – a Messiah already here. Now is the time to get right with God, to prepare ourselves for the kingdom that is coming, the kingdom already here.
“Hope in the King” Matthew 11:2-11
Key verse: Matt 11:3 - [John in prison asks] "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"
Key words: Joyful repentance, fulfillment, hope
Theme: The ministry of John the Baptist is validated in Christ. The hopes in John’s heart are fulfilled in the statements of Jesus, the one the world had been waiting for – who was, who is, who is to come. Our hearts quicken and expectations rise as the time of Christ’s appearance draws closer.
“A Surprise Adoption” Matthew 1:18-25
Key Verse: Matt 1:20 - "But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit."
Key words: Trust, Faith, Christmas
Theme: What about Joseph? Here we have the more rarely-read birth narrative from Matthew, focused on the choices of Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph. What can his awkward circumstance tell us about keeping the faith, trusting even when we do not understand?
“Hope Has Arrived” Luke 2:1-20
Key verse: Luke 2:10-11 - “But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
Key words: Christmas, watchfulness, peace, love, hope, joy
Theme: The shepherds were awake to receive the good news, while the rest of the world was asleep. Let us open our eyes to the truth of God with us, seeing and living in that hope, even when others do not.
“We Are Family” Hebrews 2:10-18
Key verse: Hebrews 2:17 - “Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.”
Key words: Family, Christmas
Theme: In Paul’s writings, he looks at Christ’s life, Christ who called us brother and sister with him as we are children of the Father. Christ our teacher also called us family. Immanuel is even more real to us as we experience God with us in the form of a Christ who is like us and walks the human road along with us.
January 5 [Epiphany Sunday]:
“What gift did God bring?” John 1:1-18
Key verse: John 1:16 – “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”
Key words: Giving, New Year, Beginnings
Theme: Since the beginning of all things, God has been giving to us. And God hasn't stopped giving to us. God’s grace is made new every day, filling us with hope to live each day in the promises of God.