December lectionary preview: Advent
October 18, 2018 by Greg Allen-Pickett
It is late November. You have made it through stewardship season. The pledge cards have come in. The budget is set for the following year. You breathe a sigh of relief and are grateful that you don’t have to talk about money or budgets for the next few months. And you are already busy gearing up for Advent and Christmas Eve.
I would encourage you to pause, take a deep breath, and explore the opportunities that the Season of Advent provides to reflect on giving.
Advent and Christmas are about the ultimate gift, wrapped in flesh and shared with all of humanity. This season of preparation and celebration for the incarnation provides us the opportunity to reflect on God’s gift of Godself to the world, and gives us a chance to think and preach about what it might mean for us to live into that model of self-giving.
The notion of gift-giving during this season has become so distorted with consumerism, that the seasons of Advent and Christmas offer the church the opportunity to provide a powerful and counter-cultural witness.
The Lectionary provides an opportunity to reflect on all of this. More often than not, I am usually drawn to the gospel passages during the season of Advent that tell the story of the preparation for Jesus’ coming, or to the Old Testament passages that provide the prophetic witness to the coming of the Messiah. This year I spent some time looking at the New Testament epistles that the lectionary offers us for the season of Advent, and found a treasure trove of messages that can link both to the Advent narrative, and also to the theme of self-giving generosity.
Week 1 of Advent. Theme: Hope – Reading: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
This passage invokes gratitude. “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we feel… And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all.” Advent starts us in a place of hope and gratitude for what we have already received, and in anticipation for what is to come. If we ground ourselves in hope and gratitude, our lives will be lived as a joyful response. Generosity naturally springs forth from gratitude. So this first Sunday of Advent, in addition to reflecting on the messianic prophecies in the Old Testament and Gospel passages, the preacher can focus on the themes of hope, gratitude and generosity present in the epistle.
Week 2 of Advent. Theme: Peace – Reading: Philippians 1:3-11
This is one of the classic openings of a Pauline letter that invokes gratitude for God and for the community, is grounded in joy and prayer, and highlights the sense of peace that is present in the community of faith. “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you… It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God's grace with me…” What a fitting way to reflect on the second week of Advent. All of us share in God’s grace, and during this second week of Advent, we are called to respond to that reality in gratitude, with peace in our hearts. This ties into the prophecies found in Malachi and in Luke, setting us up for anticipation of a life of faith that in abounding in joy and prayer because of the coming gift of God’s love and grace. This passage closes with this beautiful note, “And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.”
Week 3 of Advent. Theme: Joy – Reading: Philippians 4:4-7
This passage begins: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” This epistle reading is firmly grounded in joy! But Paul goes on to write that we are to worry about nothing, that God is near to us, and that God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds. With this reassurance from Paul about God’s steadfast presence with us, both during the season of Advent and throughout the year, we are free to live our lives embodying generosity, keeping in mind God’s overwhelmingly generous gift to us of Godself during this season of Advent and Christmas. We are called to rejoice, to give thanks, and to live our lives free from worry. That opens up opportunities to live and give generously of ourselves, if we can be assured of God’s steadfast presence and peace.
Week 4 of Advent. Theme: Love – Reading: Luke 1:39-55
I switch from the Epistles to the gospel lesson from Luke, Mary’s Magnificat. This reading provides one of the most stunning expressions of Mary’s love for God and God’s love for Mary and God’s people. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” What if all of us had the depth of faith to sing this love song to God, and to trust in God’s steadfast love for us in return? Mary shows us a way of gratitude and generosity grounded in love that should inspire all of us in this season of Advent.
Rev. Greg Allen-Pickett is Pastor and Head of Staff of First Presbyterian Church in Hastings, Nebraska. He is a native of Flagstaff, Arizona, where he was an active member of Federated Community Church. Greg is a graduate of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, and he also holds an Master of Divinity degree from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Greg has worked in small, medium, and large churches and also worked at the PC(USA) denominational offices in Louisville as the general manager of Presbyterian World Mission.