I have been composing weekly Advent Devotionals for Peace Fellowship Church and thought I would share them here. They are meant as responsive/collaborative readings. Each was composed with a specific number of people in mind, but could be re-distributed.
The Scripture passages are taken from the lectionary reading for each week.
Week 1 Reading
Reader 1: A reading from the prophet Jeremiah, chapter 33:14-16.
The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”
The word “advent” means “the coming,” and it is the time in the Christian calendar when we wait expectantly. We celebrate the coming of the Christ child, what God has already done, and we wait for the full coming of God’s reign on earth and the return of Christ, what God will yet do.
Reader 1 (or 3) Advent is often marked with purple, signifying royalty. In earlier times, purple often marked the coming of the king or Caesar, and only royalty or their family were allowed to wear it. Many Christians celebrate advent by lighting a purple candle each week for the four weeks of Advent leading up to Christmas, and then lighting a “Christ candle” on Christmas Eve.
Reader 2 (or 4) This week, we light the candle of Hope, to remember that our only hope is in Christ. In a world where darkness and fear seem to prevail, our hope is that the light of Christ will come to be ever-present in our midst.
(A purple candle is lit).
Prayer (Whole Church)
This Advent, as the darkness of war, violence, and hatred threaten to overwhelm us, we pray that your kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven. Help us not to live in fear, but to put our trust and hope only in you. We remember your promise to Israel that the righteous Branch, whom we know is Jesus, will bring justice in our land. We pray for that justice to come quickly.
Week 2 Reading
Reader 1: A reading from the Gospel according to Luke, Chapter 3:1-6.
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
Reader 3: When the Israelites were in exile in Babylon, they longed for the day when they would return home, but more importantly, that God himself would return to dwell in their midst in the temple. Yet, in Jesus’ day, though they had returned, it was clear that everything was not as it should be. The temple had been rebuilt by Herod, who everyone knew was not a real king since he did not come from David’s lineage. Even worse, a new oppressive country was now in charge: Rome. The pax Romana, Rome’s Peace, was the dominant force in the world, peace that had come through conquering and might, oppression and coercion.
Reader 4: Jews in Jesus’ day believed that when God’s presence came to reside permanently with them, the whole created order would be ripe with anticipation: valleys filled, mountains leveled, as the prophet Isaiah is quoted. All so that God’s deliverance might be made known. The oppressors would be thrown off, and a new king would be in charge, one whose reign would bring true peace to the whole world.
Reader 5: Our reading today sets the stage for John the Baptist’s proclamation by noting the reign of Pilate, the Roman governor, and Caiaphas, the High Priest: the power of Rome on the one hand, the guardians of the temple on the other. And in between these towering structures of the day, John the Baptist claims that God’s salvation is on its way, and the people had better prepare. It may not look like it, the text is saying, but deliverance is at hand.
Reader 6: Last week, we lit the candle of Hope, remind ourselves that the hope for the world is found in Jesus alone. (A purple candle is lit). This week, we light the candle of Peace, to acknowledge that the world, and often ourselves, wants the peace of Rome, through might and force, but that true peace in Jesus is the way of vulnerability and powerlessness. In the most vulnerable form, a baby, Jesus comes to be the bearer of God’s peace, God’s shalom. Let us pray.
God of peace,
We acknowledge our own temptation towards trusting in the peace the world offers. We confess our lack of faith in the ways of powerlessness. Teach us to pray and work for your kind of peace here on earth. This Advent, let every mountain be made low, and every crooked path straight, that the world might clearly see your deliverance in Jesus.
Reader 1: A reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Chapter 4:4-7.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Reader 2: With our modern ears, we can hear a passage like this from Paul and miss some of its subversive meanings. Philippi was a Roman colony in Greece at a time when a common slogan was “Caesar is lord,” and when celebration and rejoicing happened on the birthday of Caesar or other imperial holidays. The Peace of Rome, which we mentioned last week, kept a heavy hand on everyone living there, and in later years, many Christians were fed to lions for sport in Philippi. When Paul claims that Jesus is Lord, he is also saying that Caesar is not. It was this kind of loyalty to a different king that led to martyrdom for Christians in Philippi.
Reader 3: We are not used to thinking of rejoicing as a revolutionary act. But in a world where darkness threatens to overwhelm us, where hatred, violence, and fear demand our allegiance, it is still revolutionary to rejoice. In the midst of this, Paul reminds us that it is God’s peace–not the violent, coercive, and fearful peace of Rome—that guards us. In the true Lord and King Jesus, God has won victory over enemies far more subtle and powerful than Rome. We can hail Jesus as Lord and King and boldly rejoice and share the news of this kingdom.
Reader 4: The first week of Advent, we lit the candle of hope (A candle is lit). Last week, we lit the candle of Peace (A candle is lit). This week, we light the candle of Joy (A candle is lit), and in lighting it we proclaim that in the midst of a dark world, the light of Christ causes us to rejoice. If Christ is Lord, then fear is not. If Christ is Lord, then death is not. And if Christ is Lord, then Caesar is not. Let us pray.
We are surrounded by armies of hatred and violence in our world who keep peace through fear and demand our allegiance. We know that we worship a God whose perfect love drives out all fear, and whose son Jesus has conquered sin and death. We pray this Advent that we would be filled with a revolutionary joy and come to know more fully the peace that passes all of our understanding. May it guard our hearts and minds from the powers and temptations around us.