Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B: Luke 1:26-38: Mary the Willing Servant

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Luke.

Today’s Advent reading is the very start of the Christmas story–the angel Gabriel comes to young Mary in Nazareth. Gabriel tells Mary she is very special to God. She is surprised and confused. I mean, who wouldn’t be?

The angel tells her not to be afraid, because God is pleased with you. He tells her she will be pregnant and have a baby boy, whom she will name Jesus. I love this part because my middle son has played Gabriel twice in our church’s Christmas pageant, and he does an almost British accent and rolls the R when he says grandly, He will be grrrrreat and will be called the Son of the Most High; and of his kingdom there will be no end!

Mary asks how it will happen since she is still a virgin and the angel tells her the power of God will cover her. The baby will be called the Son of God. He also tells her that her cousin Elizabeth, considered too old to bear a child, is also pregnant, because God can do anything.

 

Mary says, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let this thing you have said happen to me!” Then Gabriel leaves her.

I love this story. It’s supernatural but also very human. A young woman having an out-of-this-world experience. She’s shocked but she’s also accepting. I hope that in every encounter with God we can also be so willing to be servants. Cherish the mystery but be willing to say yes to it, too.

 

Third Sunday of Advent, Year B: John 1:6-8,19-28: Pointing to Jesus

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Third Sunday of Advent, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

This week will be a little different, because on this week I did the homily for our church’s family service. I am going to put most of that homily here, but I’m also going to link to the source of the ideas for that homily, which is a really wonderful blog called Worshiping With Children. It is great advice for how to lead a service like the one I was speaking in, which is full of young families. I relied so heavily on it because I found out I needed to preach at 11pm the night before, because our rector was ill.  I figured the blog is meant for such use, so hopefully the cribbing in that instance is ok. These are my notes for the homily (which I then broke down more simply on to a few notecards and ad libbed a bit more from those).

What do we know about John the Baptist?

  • John was Jesus’ cousin
  • John’s clothes and food–wearing clothes of camel’s hair, living on locusts and wild honey
  • John told his followers they were doing wrong and needed to change
  • John baptized people who came to hear him and wanted to change
  • John promised that someone important was coming from God and he was just pointing toward him
  • John baptized Jesus

John the Baptist was the first to point people to Jesus.   

I need two volunteers to help illustrate John and Jesus. (I had two little girls who volunteered.)

  • Pose the baptism of Jesus first. 
  • Then, pose John pointing to Jesus.
  • He was the first to point to Jesus, but many others did, too. The shepherds who saw the baby Jesus in the stable on Christmas, the Samaritan woman at the well, people he healed, the women who saw the empty tomb. (As I was speaking this part I had an awkward moment as it hit me that the shepherds actually pointed to Jesus before John–this is what happens when you have little prep time.)
  • We can point to Jesus, too.

John knew who he was and who he was not.

  • He wasn’t the Messiah or Elijah (people asked him if he was both of those).
  • He was simply to prepare people for Jesus.
  • Part of our job in life is to figure out who we are and who we are not.
  • When one of my sons says, “All the other kids are…” I tell them he isn’t all the other kids. He is his own wonderful self. He is a child of God. As are you.

 

Second Sunday of Advent, Year B: Mark 1:1-8: Baptizing in Water

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Today’s passage is from the beginning of the Gospel of Mark. It starts with quotes from both Isaiah and Malachi (though only Isaiah is credited in this passage) about a messenger preparing the way for the Lord. Then he goes on to talk about John the Baptist, who indeed prepares the way for Jesus. John was out in the wilderness preaching and baptizing people in the Jordan River–calling them to repent of their sins and change.

Baptism was probably not a new thing at the time. The Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible mentions that Many Jewish people were also familiar with a sort of baptism associated with conversion, a once-for-all kind of turning.” It likely relates to other Jewish purification rituals. For John, baptism preceded repentance and turning your life around to follow God.

John emphasizes also that he was only the precursor to someone greater. He baptizes with water, but the one who is coming will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

He prepares the people for Jesus who will soon come after, and puts people in the right frame of mind to accept what Jesus will bring them.

First Sunday of Advent, Year B: Mark 13:24-37: Be Ready

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You can see all the lectionary readings for the First Sunday of Advent, Year B by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Mark was written around 70 C.E., which is the year that the Romans destroyed the Jewish temple while crushing the Jewish revolt. Mark therefore, was written during a time of war and trouble, and this is probably why it has an apocalyptic theme to a lot of it. That’s true of this passage. It’s good to keep in mind the setting in which it was written as we read some of its dark portents.

Jesus starts in this passage by quoting an apocalyptic passage from Isaiah:

“During the days following that time of trouble,

‘The sun will become dark,
    and the moon will not give light.
The stars will fall from the sky,
    and everything in the sky will be changed.’[a]

“Then people will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. He will send his angels all around the earth. They will gather his chosen people from every part of the earth.

Mark 13: 24-27 (Easy-to-Read Version)

Then he tells a metaphor about a fig tree–we can tell summer is near by the green and soft branches–and so also will people know when the end of time is near. But on the other hand, he also says no one knows when exactly that time will be. Only God the Father knows, so we must always be ready.

He reiterates with a story of a man leaving his home and giving his servants each special jobs to do. He tells them to be ready at any time for his return. In the same way, the followers of Jesus must also always be ready.

I admit that I find apocalyptic scripture difficult to read and write about. I don’t always know what to make of it. I know what I was taught growing up in various evangelical churches, but not what to make of it now as an adult. So I just focus on the “be ready” part. We can always be ready to meet Jesus, whether that’s in some glorious return or in our day-to-day where we should be ready to meet Jesus in our fellow human beings–doing good and being a light to the world. As this passage is for the First Sunday of Advent, it is appropriate to be ready to meet Christ, who is coming at Christmas.