Recovering the Wonder of Advent: Four pathways for preaching in Advent

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I had the privilege to write an article on preaching in Advent for Preaching Today, which was just recently released. You can read the entire article, “Recovering the Wonder of Advent: Four pathways for preaching in Advent,” at Preaching Today, but here’s a taste of what you will find there.

In my childhood, one of the greatest moments of anticipation was Christmas. I couldn’t wait for the chance to decorate, eat Christmas cookies, and, of course, open presents on Christmas Day. Every Christmas Eve I struggled to go to bed, and was usually the first one up to see what was waiting under the tree. The anticipation and wonder were like adrenaline coursing through my body.

As we grow older, most of us lose some of our wonder. The novelty of Christmas starts to wear off, at least a little bit. Along with that, our anticipation gets trampled down under the weight of responsibilities, the rush of preparations, and, at times, the heaviness that comes on those of us for whom the holidays bring sadness.

There is a remedy for lost wonder and trampled anticipation. That remedy is not getting more expensive presents, having flashier decorations, or inviting the right people to our parties. The remedy is stepping back enough to realize what we have lost it, and then going through a journey of recovery. Like a relationship that has lost its spark or a hobby that has lost our interest, we need to take time and effort to see what’s right in front of us with fresh eyes.

The church has a recovery program of sorts for lost wonder and trampled anticipation leading toward Christmas. That recovery program is called Advent, which means “appearing,” coming from the Latin word adventus. Advent looks back with wonder at Jesus’ birth over two-thousand years ago, while also looking forward with anticipation to his future return at the end of human history.

As preachers, we have a unique opportunity to help our congregations enter into that recovery of anticipation and wonder. My hope in this article is to offer four pathways for preaching in Advent so that our congregations both taste the longing that leads us to cry out, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” and savor the joy that sings, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.”

The Weekend Wanderer: 18 May 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

 

Equiano“Olaudah Equiano’s Argument Against Slavery Was His Life Experience” – Last summer I had the chance to participate in a study group with Dr. Willie James Jennings, walking through his book The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race. It was a once in a lifetime experience, and it changed me in many ways. One of the key voices in Jennings’ work is Olaudah Equiano, a freed slave who wrote of his life experiences in The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. Eric Washington recounts the life of Equiano in this biographical feature at Christianity Today. If you want to dig even deeper, read Jennings’ pivotal book.

 

Day at the River“Preserving Real-Life Childhood”Naomi Schaefer Riley reflects on the need for disconnection with childhood, but also the near impossibility of it in today’s world. “There is no doubt we have given away a lot more than privacy in the name of connecting people around the world. We’ve abandoned civility, trust, any sense of perspective, and we have lost a lot of sleep as well. In an effort to save their own hides, some social media heads have proposed technological and policy solutions to these problems….The only way around these problems is to remind ourselves continually of the tastes and temperaments that make real life enjoyable and meaningful, and to foster these experiences in our children, who would otherwise grow up with little memory of life off-screen. We can’t hope to improve our digital habits, including the way we talk online, if we don’t strengthen our capacity for non-digital interaction with the world around us. And if we don’t develop this capacity in childhood, perhaps we never will.”

 

students mental health“Students are increasingly turning to religious leaders for mental health support” – “High rates of mental ill health among students, including some tragic cases of suicide, have highlighted the vulnerability of many young people facing the pressures of higher education while away from home for the first time. University leaders have affirmed their commitment to strengthening student support, and counselling services are busier than ever. But one resource is often overlooked: chaplaincy. Chaplains are representatives of religion or belief organisations who work within universities to support the religious and pastoral needs of the communities.”

 

Burkina Faso“Another Sunday Church Attack in Burkina Faso Kills Six” – From last week: “For the second time since Easter, a church in Burkina Faso has suffered a terrorism attack during Sunday services. This time, the target was a Catholic church in Dablo, where the priest and five worshipers were killed. This prompted a series of déjà vu headlines among global media outlets as the death toll matches last month’s attack on an Assemblies of God church in Sirgadji, where the pastor and five worshipers were killed.”

 

190520_r34349“If God Is Dead, Your Time Is Everything” – James Wood reviews Martin Hägglund’s This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom as a valuable critique of religious faith and belief in eternity. It is worth knowing the arguments against our faith and being prepared to intelligently respond. “At a recent conference on belief and unbelief hosted by the journal Salmagundi, the novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson confessed to knowing some good people who are atheists, but lamented that she has yet to hear ‘the good Atheist position articulated.’ She explained, ‘I cannot engage with an atheism that does not express itself.’ She who hath ears to hear, let her hear. One of the most beautifully succinct expressions of secular faith in our bounded life on earth was provided not long after Christ supposedly conquered death, by Pliny the Elder, who called down ‘a plague on this mad idea that life is renewed by death!'”

 

NAMM Fly-In For Music Education Briefing With David Brooks On 2017 National Political And Election Outlook“David Brooks’s Journey Toward Faith” – Of course, not everyone thinks about this like Hägglund, Wood, or Pliny, so perhaps it’s worth reading about New York Times columnist, David Brooks, journey to faith. His column writing is exceeded in value by his recent full-length book efforts, first in The Road to Character and now in The Second Mountain. In The Atlantic, Peter Wehner tracks Brooks’ journey toward faith, which is well worth the read.

 

theology matters“Theology Matters” – All of this should help us see why Tozer’s famous statement is so true: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Here is an interesting dialogue between Christian theologian Gerald McDermott and Jewish theologian Yitzchock Alderstein about why theology matters. “In all of this the formal intellectual work of theology can seem remote, even counterproductive. Until it matters. Perhaps good theology is a superadded benefit that true piety can do without. But bad theology surely matters, for it can have toxic effects.

 

Gordon College“Liberal Arts Cuts, Evangelical Edition” – “Gordon College, an evangelical Christian college outside Boston, announced that it will eliminate 36 faculty and staff positions and consolidate and cut a number of majors in a budget-cutting move. Among the changes, Gordon is eliminating stand-alone majors in chemistry; French; physics; middle school and secondary education; recreation, sport and wellness; Spanish; and social work, and it is merging political science, history and philosophy into a single department.”

 

christian burial“This Could Be England’s Earliest Known Christian Burial” – “Live Science reports that researchers have now identified what they believe to be England’s earliest known Christian burial, at a tomb near Prittlewell in Essex. The tomb was first discovered in 2003, but it was mired in more than a millennium’s worth of earthen crust, which blocked researchers from performing a properly detailed assessment. In this absence of evidence, there was even some speculation that the tomb may have been Saeberht’s own, but now we know better: It predates his death by anywhere from about 10 to 35 years, with researchers dating the tomb to between the years 580 and 605.”

 

Music: Vulfpeck, “Dean Town,” from the album The Beautiful Game.

 

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Word and Deed (discussion questions)

appearing-series-gfx_app-squareHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “Word and Deed,” from this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. This is part of our series, “Appearing.” The text for this week is Luke 4:31-44.

Discussion Questions:

  1. As we continue our “Appearing” series on Jesus’ beginnings in ministry, this week we will study Luke 4:31-44. Begin your time asking God to speak to you from His Word, and then read that passage aloud.
  2. What do the crowds notice about Jesus’ teaching according to Luke 4:31-32?
  3. What do you think it means for someone to speak with authority? How would this apply to Jesus?
  4. Next, in 4:33-37, Jesus works a miracle on the Sabbath as fulfillment of His earlier quotation of Isaiah 61 (Luke 4:18-19). What does this miraculous deliverance tell you about Jesus’ identity and authority?
  5. If you were there in the crowd for this event, how would you have responded?
  6. Jesus’ healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (4:38-39) leads us into another section of Jesus healing and delivering many people (4:40-41). What do you notice about Jesus in this section?
  7. Why does Jesus decide to leave the area where so many good things are happening according to 4:42-44? Why do you think this is important?
  8. What is one way God is calling you into a deeper life with Him through this study? If you are with a small group, discuss that with one another and pray for one another. If you are studying on your own, write it down and share it with someone.

 


Daily Reading Plan

To encourage us together in our growth with God, we are arranging a weekday reading plan through this entire series with the Gospel of Luke. As you read each day, ask God to speak to you from His word.

Follow along with the reading plan below, through the Eastbrook app, or on social media.

Dec. 19     Luke 4:31-37; Matt. 4:13-16
Dec. 20    Luke 4:38-41; Mark 1:29-34
Dec. 21    Matthew 8:14-17; Isaiah 53:1-6
Dec. 22    Luke 4:42-44; Mark 1:35-39
Dec. 23    Matthew 4:23-25

||40days|| week four: listen in Creation

Our ||40days|| journey through Lent continues this fourth week with attention to our theme: ‘listen’. In previous weeks, we have looked at the journey of Lent, the need to acknowledge things in our lives, and then to turn from them.

Today, with the focus on listening to God, we look at listening to God in Creation. One of my favorite verses is Psalm 19:1:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

The psalmist tells us that skies actually speak of God’s glory. Look out the window right now, if you have the chance. Take a look at the endless blue that stretches over your head. If there are clouds, consider the intricacies of light and shadow that are merely a conglomeration of condensed moisture floating on the air currents. See the tops of trees that scratch the skies with their outstretched limbs. Each of these elements of nature speak forth God’s power and creativity. Read More »

Lost in Wonder

Have you stopped recently to look at the little things of God’s Creation?

I was walking around the neighborhood yesterday morning with my 4-month-old baby, David, in a baby carrier. A light morning mist was falling but it was that slightly warm, humid air that makes you comfortable even when a bit wet.

David held onto my fingers and I looked at the tiny fingers that were constantly moving: rubbing, gripping, grabbing, reaching. The tiny parts of each finger: dimpled knuckles, tender baby skin, raindrop-sized fingernails. All the wonders of these small fingers planned, designed, and put together by God.

I felt the mist against my cheeks, and heard the song of a robin on a tree nearby. I thought about these little things that I so often do not notice. And I thought about how these wonders (how does rain fall in bigger or smaller drops?, why does a bird even make such interesting noises?) are all made by the creative hand of God.

Reflecting on it now, I think of one of my favorite statements in the Bible: “Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was excellent in every way” (Genesis 1:31).

Even in the busyness of life – whether work or school or relationships – it is good to stop in wonder before God’s creation.

When was the last time you took time to be lost in wonder before all the little things that God has so excellently made?