Advent ‘reorients us to the radical hope of the gospel’

PC(USA) resources help worshipers enter a time of yearning

By Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

Advent asks Christians: What are you really waiting and hoping for?

 

LOUISVILLE — The season of Advent, which begins on Sunday, Dec. 2, is often misunderstood. Before Thanksgiving is even finished, people are inundated with the sights and sounds of Christmas.  Within this consumer culture, it’s easy to confuse the season of Advent with the number of shopping days until December 25.

“In Christian tradition, Advent challenges us to think about time in a much deeper way,” said the Rev. Dr. David Gambrell, in the Office of Theology and Worship of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) “Advent asks us: What are we really waiting and hoping for? How long will evil, injustice and violence continue? What is God doing in the world? How can we in the church prepare for the coming of God’s righteousness, justice and peace?”

Gambrell says Advent has a double focus which “reorients us to the radical hope of the gospel.”

The season begins with the church crying out with prophets and apostles, praying for God’s holy realm to come quickly.  As the days of Advent draw to a close, the church rejoices with the gospel writers, celebrating the one who has already come into the world to save us.

“Jesus Christ has come to transform the world — and is coming again to complete the work of God’s new creation,” he says. “So, we begin the Christian year by looking ahead to the end of the story, the time when God will wipe away every tear.”

For the Rev. Dr. Kimberly Bracken Long, editor of Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Call to Worship, this is the hope on which Christians stake their lives.

“While many in the church are familiar with the idea of Advent as a season of waiting, counting the days until we celebrate the birth of Jesus,” she explains, “there is a much deeper waiting and deeper yearning — of watching in expectation for Christ to come again.”

“God’s justice is coming,” says Long, “and with it, God’s peace.”

The PC(USA) provides a variety of resources to help worshipers enter into the real spirit of the Advent season.

The journal “Call to Worship provides worship and music suggestions rooted in the Scriptures of the “Revised Common Lectionary,” which emphasize the deeper themes of Advent waiting. A free sample of the 2018 Advent resources is available on the “Call to Worship” website. Resources from “Call to Worship” include candle lighting litanies, opening sentences, prayers of confession, hymns and songs for the Advent season, psalm or canticle settings, anthems for youth and children’s choirs, handbell music, organ music and other instrumental music.

The 2018 “Book of Common Worship,” edited by Gambrell and Long, introduces new theological and pastoral commentary on major events of the Christian year, as well as expanded resources for Advent (pp. 163–175) and other seasons. New materials for Advent include the thanksgiving for baptism, call to confession, declaration of forgiveness, prayer for illumination, prayers of intercession, invitations to the offering, eucharistic prayers, prayers after communion, blessings and charges.

The 2013 hymnal, “Glory to God,” addresses the full range of theological themes in this season by placing familiar Advent hymns in two sections: “Jesus Christ: Advent” (nos. 82–107) and “Christ’s Return and Judgment” (nos. 347–369). In the former section, worshipers find “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” (82), “Comfort, Comfort Now My People” (87), and “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (88); in the latter, “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” (347), “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning” (350), and “We Fall Down” (368).

Many other ideas and resources for Advent can be found at the PC(USA) worship website.  A number of Bible studies and devotionals for Advent are also available through the PC(USA) Church Store:

  • N. T. Wright’s devotional “Advent for Everyone: Luke” focuses on the gospel that is featured in the upcoming lectionary cycle, Year C.
  • Luke A. Powery’s reflections on African American spirituals, “Rise Up, Shepherd!,” highlights the strong Advent theme of liberation from oppression.
  • Don McKim’s “Being Reformed” study, “Illuminating Advent,” examines the theology, history, and practice of Advent in Christian tradition.

Presbyterian pastor, author and speaker Carol Howard Merritt has a daily devotional for Advent called “I Am Mary,” which explores the season from the perspective of Jesus’ mother.

“In many of these resources are Scriptures, songs and prayers of the season of Advent that stir up a longing in us for the fulfillment of God’s promises at the consummation of all things,” says Gambrell. “Fittingly, then, the ultimate Advent prayer comes from the final words of Revelation: ‘Come, Lord Jesus!’” (Rev. 22:20).


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