The First Week of Advent
Master of both the light and the darkness,
send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear
Your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things look forward to
Your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete
joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of Your presence.
We are Your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.
To You we say, ‘Come Lord Jesus!’
Amen. (by Henri Nouwen)
Scripture Reading from the Old Testament:
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem,
“Fear not, O Zion; your hands shall not hang limp.
Yahweh your God is in your midst; a mighty warrior who saves.
He shall rejoice over you with joy; he renews you in his love; he will exult over you with singing.” (Zep 3:16–17)
The first week of the Advent season focuses on the theme of Hope. For many of us, hope is a fuzzy concept that often gets mistaken with a fleeting wish or casual desire. Phrases like, “I hope you have a great day!” or “I hope this works!”, commonly appear in our everyday conversations. This week we are going to look at the theme of Hope in its biblical context, especially in the lives of the Jewish people in the first century.
For the Jewish people, hope was something that was all but smothered by the oppression they faced from the Roman government. They were a conquered people who were severely limited in their freedom and considered one of the lowest ranked people groups in their society.
Any hope of freedom from their oppressors was based on prophetic words written generations ago. The stories of a coming King hadn’t panned out yet. Popular fiction and a few revolts led by men claiming to be God’s chosen Messiah served to spark momentary glimpses of hope, hope that the faithful God of generations past would be true to his word and deliver his people. But, as time dragged on, revolutions were squashed, potential messiahs were executed, and the spark of hope was quickly smothered leaving them spiritually numb. They were stuck in their situation and most of their hope had withered away. These were truly dark times for God’s people, times foreseen by the prophet Jeremiah when he said,
“I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day long….My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.” (Lam. 3:1–3, 17-18 ESV)
It was during this time; a time where hope was scarce; a time when darkness reigned; a time that seemed to stretch on and on with no end in sight, that God spoke. Zechariah, a visiting priest from the outskirts of Jerusalem, was told (by the angel Gabriel) that despite his advanced years, he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son. This boy would be The Herald (The Announcer) of a message of hope that would change the course of history.
True to the spiritual numbness of his people, Zechariah doubted. This priest, a man who was supposed to lead others in the worship of God and constantly remind the Jewish people that God was true to his promises, didn’t believe God could or would do something so spectacular. As a result, he was rendered unable to speak until his son was born.
The first words Zechariah uttered, after his speech was restored, are recorded in Luke 1:67-79. They form a beautiful poem that recalls God’s past faithfulness to the people of Israel, recognizes that he is currently at work on their behalf, and looks to the future with anticipation. Through this poem, we can see that Zechariah was beginning to understand what the concept of hope was really all about.
Scripture Reading from the New Testament:
Read Luke 1:67-79
In Zechariah’s poem, we can see that hope finds its meaning in God’s character. It’s a confidence that, despite the situation, God is acting on behalf of his people. Hope acknowledges the present circumstances and views them through the filter of God’s past faithfulness. Even when his action is not evident, when we don’t know how he is working things out for our good, we can look into our past and remember how he has lovingly comforted, rescued, and guided us along the way. Reflecting on these times is an act of worship. It provides us with a foundation of hope that God is present, here and now, working on our behalf. And, if God has been faithful in the past, is faithful here and now, we can trust that he will also be powerfully at work in the years to come.
Recalling the Past:
- What images does Zechariah use to vividly remind his listeners of God’s past faithful actions on behalf of the Jewish people?
- How does Zechariah’s Song remind us that we are part of a larger story, a story of God’s faithfulness that impacts us today and will continue on after us?
Recognizing the Present
- What relational attributes of God are highlighted in Zechariah’s poem? (i.e. savior, deliverer, etc.) Create a list in the space below. (It’s perfectly fine to list other attributes of God that come to mind as you are reading the passage that aren’t explicitly mentioned.)
- In your list, circle the relational attributes of God that you have personally experienced over the past few months. Share a story with your family or group relating to your experience. As you listen to other’s stories, feel free to add things to your own list.
Anticipating the Future:
Take a few moments (at least 5-10 minutes) to sit in silent reflection. Look through your list, prayerfully asking the Holy Spirit to help you with the following questions. Use this prayer to settle your heart and mind:
Holy Spirit, revealer of truth, search my heart and show me areas where you desire me to grow. Shine the light of Jesus into the darkness and let the grace and mercy of the Father be my strength.
- Are there any relational attributes of God that I am not experiencing in this season of my life? (Put a star next to these attributes on your list.)
- Is there anything holding me back from experiencing this aspect of God’s relational character? (i.e. doubt, fear, anxiety, a specific sin). Take a few moments to silently confess these things to God, asking for his forgiveness and grace.
- Following this, prayerfully choose one of the starred relational attributes from your list. Ask God to use this Advent season to help you begin to understand this attribute better as you grow in your relationship with him. (Revisit your list this week and prepared to be surprised, God may show up in an unexpected way!)
- After this time of silent reflection, share with your family or group the attribute you have chosen and, depending on your comfort level, why you chose this specific attribute.
Prayer and Response (*Leader reads- People Respond):
*We have waited long for You.
Deep has been the darkness.
*We long for You to shine
right here among us where we are.
*We will not fear the shadows that surround us
if only You will come among us!
*We await the sound of a cry in the night, the joy that follows pain,
the coming of hope.
This is the path that God marked,
who said at the beginning, ‘Let there be light.’
And there was light;
and God saw that the light was good.
For people walking in darkness a great light of Hope dawns.
The true light, Jesus Christ,
is coming into the world.
The light shines in the darkness,
A light of Hope that the darkness cannot put out.
May God bless you and keep you this week
May you continue to be refreshed by the Hope you have in Christ
May His light shine bright in your life
As you draw others to Him
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit
(Optional: Lighting of the Hope Candle)