First Sunday in Advent

November 29, 2020

Happy New Year! Join our virtual worship, live-streamed on our Youtube channel:

The bulletin and hymn sheet are available here:

As we begin a new liturgical year on the church calendar, we find ourselves once again in Advent. I know that many folks are feeling the weight of the season of waiting, particularly this year. One of the creative ways that generations of the church have given voice to deep longings is through music, and so I thought we’d take a closer look at some of the “Songs of the Season” that we find in scripture. We begin with the Song of the Prophet:

Isaiah 40:1-11

  • Because most of us receive the scripture as written texts on a page, we sometimes forget that the poetry, particularly of the psalms and prophets, were originally songs. These holy words would have been sung to the people as part of their worship and community life. What do you imagine the original tune of this text sounded like? Was it fast or slow? In a major or minor key? What kinds of instruments would you choose to accompany it?
  • This text has been set to music many times in the thousands of years since it was written, in hymns and cantatas and oratorios. Is there a particular setting that comes to mind for you? What effect does the music have in how you hear and understand the prophet’s words? How is singing a text different than just reading it?
  • Most of us are used to hearing judgement and wrath in passages from the prophets, but here Isaiah is offering the people comfort and hope. Rabbi Abraham Heschel would remind us that both messages come from God’s love for the people, that we need both discipline and consolation. How has that balance played out in your faith life? Do you experience God giving more of one or the other? Which do you think God is inviting you to lean into this season?
  • Isaiah is speaking at the end of the Exile. The people are coming home, back to Jerusalem and the Promised Land. But unlike the Exodus, there won’t be 40 years of wandering; they will cross the wilderness on a great highway. The path will be straight and level, easy to travel. Compare Isaiah 40 and Isaiah 35. Why do you think both of these passages are used in Advent? What details do they both bring to your image of the ‘way in the wilderness’? What do you hear the Spirit saying to you in them?
  • The life of faith is often called a journey or pilgrimage; what sort of path are you traveling right now? What is the condition of the road? Is it a winding mountain route or an interstate? What does God have to teach you in whatever way you’re going?
  • The Lord is leading the people home on this wilderness highway. The language here portrays God as both a Conquering King leading a parade and as a Humble Shepherd gently leading a flock. Which of these images brings you the most ‘comfort’ as you anticipate Christ’s coming this Advent?

As we are decorating our homes this holiday season, let us also be preparing our hearts to welcome our Lord, singing glad songs! Let us encourage and comfort one another, and trust in God’s promises, remembering “the word of our God shall stand forever” (verse 8).

Grace and Peace to you all!

Pastor Maggie Rust

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