By Rev. Cathy Hoop
“My whole being hopes, and I wait for God’s promise.” (Psalm 130b, CEB) As we turn to Advent’s hope, the promise of God’s gift of incarnation, the words of the prophets harmonize with the psalmist’s cry. God has promised to “execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jeremiah 33:15). God is sending the “messenger of the covenant in whom we delight!” (Malachi 3:1) God has promised that we will “draw water with joy from the springs of salvation.” (Isaiah 12:3) These are just a few of the comforting images that wait for us in this year’s Advent texts. We shall be fed, we shall be sheltered, we shall be welcomed home.
We need to lift up and celebrate God’s promises, to offer reminders to one another that the God who made these promises so long ago will be faithful in keeping them. The covenant will be born in the guise of an infant, vulnerable and innocent.
If we read through the words of the prophets in this year’s lectionary texts, we find that waiting is not passive, but active. We get up. We watch. We pay attention. How might we invite our congregations to take part in this active waiting?
While we may be weary of virtual gatherings, we have also discovered the creativity and possibility they offer. During the season when darkness arrives earlier, and older members are hesitant to be on the road, consider a midweek Zoom or Facebook Live Advent centering prayer or intercessory prayer time. Encourage members to prepare an Advent wreath to use at home. (Deliver kits to members –four purple and one white votive candles, with a meditation guide.)
If your congregation is more adventurous and the weather is cooperative, gather weekly for a brief time of worship around a fire pit (Purchase at hardware or big box stores, or borrow from a member!). Invite neighbors to join you as you read the words of the prophets together, imagining how you might participate in prophetic work in your own community. In Luke we hear of signs in the sun, moon and stars. A little star gazing might be in order. Can you imagine the hopes of those who looked upon those same stars and awaited a Messiah? How are our hopes the same today? Where does God need us to be co-creators in God’s work of peace and justice?
Maybe your congregation is deeply committed to social justice, if so, this is your season to be reenergized! How can you engage (or re-engage) in the work of justice and peace in your neighborhood? In your church’s backyard? Is there unused land that could be transformed into a community garden? This would be a great season for dreaming and planning for spring. A garden shouts hope! Are you a politically active congregation? Host a letter writing event before or after worship to help people see how easy it is to contact city or state representatives. You could even practice sample phone calls to give people the confidence they need to do this on their own. Advent and justice work go hand in hand.
Or perhaps your congregation would want to tap into the skills of the various members to create something visible, a symbol of hope and welcome to your neighbors. We offer hope in God’s name to a world that is in desperate need, as the pandemic has worn us out, splintered us apart, deepened the sense of isolation and loneliness.
Creative congregations have constructed giant Advent “wreaths” from PVC pipe or lawn sized nativity scenes. People of all ages could create outdoor banners. A Sanctified Art (sanctifiedart.org) has a variety of banner patterns and Illustrated Ministry (illustratedministry.com) carries giant coloring pages that could easily be transformed into banners. How might people of various ages be included in creating a “gift” of hope for the community? Or individuals and families could be given a set of designs to color and share with their neighbors, perhaps with an invitation to the Christmas eve service.
What if members created signs, with phrases as basic as “Peace be with you!” Or “God loves you!” or “God welcomes all!” and volunteered to stand where passing cars could see them at heavy traffic times? If your church is located in a pedestrian area, could musicians among the congregation donate time to provide live music as people pass? (Or perhaps there are street musicians looking for a place to perform?) These are simple actions that could have lasting impact, and would serve as a strong counterpoint to all the angry signs we have seen in the news.
In simple and inexpensive ways, we can live out the Advent hope, both within and beyond the walls of our churches. May God bless you with energy and vision as you approach this season of transformation.
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