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The themes of Advent are explored during the Synod of the Covenant’s Equipping Preachers workshop

One pastor says that beginning on Christmas Eve, she must take on the roles of Billy Graham, Martha Stewart and Santa Claus

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by KaLisa Veer via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — For clergy and others called on to proclaim God’s word and organize meaningful worship during Advent and into Christmas Day — which falls on a Sunday this year — it may feel like Emmanuel can’t come soon enough.

The Rev. Dr. Chip Hardwick, the executive at the Synod of the Covenant, which puts on monthly Equipping Preachers workshops, said during Wednesday’s workshop, “Exploring the Themes of Advent,” that he has a clergywoman friend who once told him that beginning on Christmas Eve, she had to be Billy Graham, Martha Stewart and Santa Claus — all in the span of 24 hours.

Hardwick asked the 20 or so participants to name the challenges they typically face preaching during Advent, which this year begins on Nov. 27. “These are texts everyone has heard before,” said one participant. “‘Glory to God’ has a huge Advent section, and still people ask for Christmas music during Advent,” said another.

“I was at a small church where people wanted to go to Bethlehem before Christmas,” said a third. “I often preached to the candles,” using a thematic approach to the four Sundays in Advent as well as Christmas Eve, this preacher said.

“Let’s say that we’re accepting these challenges,” Hardwick said, diving into the heart of the 90-minute workshop. Watch it here.

While many Christians identify the season’s highlight as the arrival of Baby Jesus, “more precisely, it’s God breaking into the world to make all things new and just,” according to Hardwick. “We want to focus on the coming of Christ, but we also want to think about Christ’s Second Coming, when everything will look like God wants it to look.”

It’s a from/to journey, Hardwick said: from despair to joy, from darkness to light, and from yearning to deliverance, “the very manifestation of God’s coming in judgment and life-giving solidarity with humanity.”

Thematically, Advent can be viewed as God’s Return during Week 1, Repentance for Week 2, Messiah and Lord in Week 3, Incarnational Surprise as the Week 4 theme and, for Week 5, God Breaks into our World!

Lectionary readings this Advent are, for Week 1, Isaiah 2:1-5 and Matthew 24:36-44; Week 2, Isaiah 11:1-10 and Matthew 3:1-12; Week 3, Isaiah 35:1-10 and Matthew 11:2-11; Week 4, Isaiah 7:10-16 and Matthew 1:18-25; and for Christmas Eve, Isaiah 9:2-7 and Luke 2:1-14 (15-20).

In two groups, workshop participants discussed what approaches they might take for the Old Testament and New Testament texts. One preacher told the New Testament group he might preach on the setting for each of the gospel texts, which are, in order, the ark, the wilderness, prison, a bedroom and the nativity scene.

One workshop participant said Advent “is the ideal time to do a first-person sermon” by the preacher donning a costume and becoming, say, a shepherd. “It engages people,” this participant said. “It takes more preparation, but it can be fun.”

The Rev. Dr. Chip Hardwick

Hardwick pointed to several resources preachers have turned to during Advent, including Cynthia Campbell’s “Christmas in the Four Gospel Homes,” Cheryl Kirk-Duggan and Marilyn E. Thornton’s “Mary Had a Baby: An Advent Bible Study Based on African American Spirituals,” Daniel Darling’s “The Characters of Christmas,” Sheila Atchley’s “The Women of Advent,” and the Bible Project’s Word Studies, which are brief videos. Hardwick called them “engaging to watch, and they don’t betray conservative or progressive theology.”

One participant recommended Albert Holtz’s “From Holidays to Holy Days: A Benedictine Walk through Advent.”

Another had a colorful Advent tale to tell.

“I’ve found many Christians don’t know why we have the pink candle in Advent, so I’ve made a big thing of Gaudet Sunday (the third Sunday in Advent) and finding joy in Advent,” this participant said. “We all wear pink, and the Communion Table is covered with pink roses.” After worship, “we have a fun wassail reception.”

As the workshop drew to a close, one participant remarked, “We have Advent resources for years to come.”

“It’s always fun to brainstorm about preaching,” Hardwick said.

A participant offered a prayer to close the time together, a prayer that thanked God “for the promise of Christ who broke into the world so many years ago and is coming again. Keep us mindful of all the needs in our congregations and communities. Help us not be distracted by all the varying messages. Keep our creative juices rolling and help us share the vision of what it means to be in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Give us full shalom, peace that will last.”

Equipping Preachers is an online workshop available to preachers both inside and outside the Synod of the Covenant. The November guest is the Rev. Dr. Luke A. Powery, Dean of the Duke University Chapel and Associate Professor of Homiletics at Duke Divinity School. Powery is set to speak on “Preaching in the Valley of Dry Bones” beginning at 10 a.m. Eastern Time on Nov. 2. Learn more here. Register here.

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