Offering hope, comfort, and healing this Advent

November 28th, 2021

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”  Isaiah 9:2 

Years ago our Advent series was entitled, “It was NOT a Silent Night.” At the time we were trying to address the felt needs and the collective pain experienced from the Great Recession that had come upon us earlier that fall. That financial crisis reminded some of other epochal and painful periods such as the civil war, the world wars, the great depression, the civil rights movement of the 1960s, eras that left people forever changed. 

The disrupted COVID years in 2020 and 2021 have created more collective trauma, compounded grief, and exhaustive fears than we could have imagined. During this worldwide pandemic, we have endured loss of life, economic challenges, climate changes, political unrest, loss of rituals or habits, and relational unknowns. All of us have been navigating unfamiliar territory, and we are a changed people.  At this point we are trying to reconstruct our world. As much as we’d like to return to our old Advent ways—flinging open the church doors and waiting for people to arrive, ready for spiritual uplift, we must approach Advent differently this year. We have to be more nimble, thoughtful, compassionate, and responsive than perhaps we’ve ever been.  

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Congregants who pre-COVID were in their seats three out of four Sundays of the month have been displaced for more than eighteen months, many worshipping in front of their computers. Many have settled in there, trying to stay safe. Church leaders everywhere are holding out hope for safe, in-person gatherings of more and more people in the months ahead, while continuing to engage their communities remotely and in a variety of other ways. But while we are sorting out the logistical and technical possibilities, we must also consider the unusual theological and social concerns of Advent 2021.

What if you looked at this season as an opportunity to embody the “good shepherd” for your community? A wide-open door through which you can help people begin to process this valley of deep darkness. A perfect chance to lead people in addressing the trauma we’ve all endured, and to work together toward healing in the Light of Christ? 

This Advent is also a chance to awaken the institutional memory of your community after so much time away, not just physically but mentally and emotionally. And consider the possibility that your church might attract people who were uninterested in religion before COVID, but who are curious or even actively interested in pursuing a spiritual life now.      

Before we can proclaim joy, we must acknowledge the pain.

Seeking the Weary, Offering the Light of Christ

Many churches have a long-standing tradition of offering a service for healing during Advent. This year, as Good Shepherds, how can we create a gathering (both virtual and in person) that will address the pain, loss, fear, grief, and anger so many people are feeling? How can we include people in our communities who are not part of a church?  

Consider the ways you might intentionally invite people to a special service of hope and healing. I would encourage you to enlist your care volunteers (Congregational Care Ministers, Prayer team members, Hospital visit volunteers, and so forth) to help you! 

  • Together with your care volunteers, make a list of folks in your community who have suffered greatly. Many have suffered the death of a loved one, but others have suffered economically, physically, relationally, mentally, etc. Include people who are officially members of your church and people who are not. Be careful to consider confidentiality in all cases.
  • Create a small package that you can leave at people’s doors or perhaps send through the mail. It might include a small votive candle, a handwritten note, a verse of scripture about finding light in the darkness (Isaiah 9:2), and a prayer that acknowledges the trauma, past and present. Offer assurance that you recognize their pain and want to offer a way through the advent season that passes through the deep waters as necessary.
  • The key component of the gift package is an invitation to your service of hope and healing. Be sure to include all the information a person unfamiliar with your church might need, such as directions to the location and to the worship space. 
  • This invitation should be followed up by notices in church emails and newsletters, announcements from the pulpit, and personal phone calls to those who may need extra TLC.  

Ideas for the Service of Hope and Healing

  1. Include liturgy and music that offers stabilizing rituals for people in your community.  COVID leaves us off balance, and familiar rituals and words of scripture can help us regain our footing.
  2. Ask one or two people to give their witness of how the last year and a half has taken them through a traumatic time. Perhaps they can share how their faith was tested.  Whoever your speakers are, encourage them to be vulnerable so others will realize there is a shared experience, even though they may have felt very alone and isolated in the past many months.
  3. After the witnesses have shared, continue with statements of assurance and a remembrance of the challenges of Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds.
  4. Conclude with elements such as candle lighting, communion (as safely as possible) and praying with CCMs placed strategically around the room. If people are worshipping online, offer ways for them to experience these additional elements.
  5. Choose music that is meaningful and offers healing. Suggestions include “In the Bleak Mid-Winter,” “Mary, Did You Know,” “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming, and “There is a Balm in Gilead.”

Find many more ideas for music, liturgy, scripture, and prayers in the following resources from Abingdon Press, available in print and e-book form, and by subscription. Be sure to check the thematic and scripture indexes:

The United Methodist Music & Worship Planner (available in CEB and NRSV versions)

Prepare! An Ecumenical Music & Worship Planner (available in CEB and NRSV versions)

The Abingdon Worship Annual

Liturgies from Below: Praying with People at the Ends of the World

Friends, as the church’s leaders, we must acknowledge the darkness that has shrouded the world for the last two years. This must be our prelude before we share the marvelous, healing Light of Christ. What a privilege and responsibility we have, to represent the ministry of Jesus every Advent season. This year especially, let it be so.

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