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Amazing Love: Series for the season, an innovative Advent series based on Hosea, page 1 of 2

In past years Reformed Worship has offered churches a series of Advent resources that have often been based on Scripture lessons outlined by the Revised Common Lectionary. This year the resources take a different, though related, direction. Each year the lectionary follows a different gospel more or less sequentially. The gospels of Matthew and Luke (Years A and C respectively) contain enough narrative about Jesus’ birth or early life to make the direct focus on Jesus every week in Advent preaching natural and relatively easy. Advent 1999—Year B—uses Mark, the gospel that contains nothing from the early years of Jesus’ life, heading directly into the temptation and baptism.

This presents no problem for preaching, since the gospel appears in some form throughout all of the Scriptures. Yet on its own Mark does not make for natural Advent preaching. So for worship planning this year, RW is offering an Advent series that uses preaching texts from the Old Testament prophet Hosea. To a significant extent the suggested services incorporate lectionary sources from Year B for calls to worship, confessions, or praise readings. It is also possible at times throughout Advent to incorporate readings from Year B’s Christmas vigil, particularly if your congregation does not hold a service using those lectionary readings. Such selections would give early exposure to readings pertaining to Christ’s coming in the weeks of Advent. (Non-lectionary suggestions for calls to worship or confession are also included and may or may not be used at the discretion of worship planners.)

The daily HomeLink meditations (see p. 4) offered by CRC Publications for family Advent devotions are also based on the Hosea and lectionary passages used in worship planning. Again, the intention is to encourage families or individuals to focus during the week’s devotions on passages that will figure significantly in Advent worship services.

A Look at Hosea

Hosea is not a Bible book that springs quickly to mind for Advent worship and preaching. Yet when we remember the story of salvation, this book of prophecy becomes more accessible. Because the theme of Hosea is that of a lost people being found, of a people being named and claimed again by God, Hosea is an unusual but fitting Advent preaching text. That theme finds graphic and moving expression in the alternately tragic and hopeful autobiography of Hosea, parts of which form the framework for the entire book.

Historically God “came down” in the person of Jesus. But God first “came down” in partial, anticipatory ways when God’s people were given a future and a land. Later they were warned, encouraged, warned again, punished, forgiven, and freed. Today, while we wait for Christ to “come down” again, God’s salvation happens in partial and anticipatory ways—when God’s creatures realize we are valuable in God’s sight, when people come to know Christ spiritually and personally, when we learn to appreciate and care for each other. When such things occur in human life, then people are living in small but visible and concrete ways that reflect God’s boundless love, grace, and mercy. In other words, God wraps us in perfect goodness, no matter how poorly and imperfectly we wear that marvelous clothing.

The readings for the worship services and sermon themes from the book of Hosea have been selected not in the order of the book’s writings, but by theme. Thus the readings jump around, attempting to capture a thematic rhythm. That rhythm starts with loss of identity and purpose, accompanied by existential agony. Eventually, through God’s persistent intervention, God’s people begin to recover in their personal and communal lives and even show hints of wholeness.

Perhaps a preacher might not resonate to the sermon notes that accompany each week’s suggested worship plan. That doesn’t mean that you can’t use the book of Hosea for Advent. I’ve picked only four passages from Hosea and preached on those. If you are not grabbed by my suggestions, read the entire book, discovering your own themes from Hosea’s gripping words and autobiography.

The suggested preaching passages from Hosea are graphic, showing in experiences of broken human life how God has closely tied himself to humanity. What people do matters to God. God responds. In the writings of Hosea, God responds by inspiring Hosea to live and write, using parts of his own sad family and marital history. There is nothing closer to us than our names, our families—perhaps even more so if we have suffered brokenness in our personal and family relationships.



First Sunday of Advent

God’s Love Rejected

Hosea 1:1-2:1

Call to Worship: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 or Psalm 122:1-2

Call to Confession: Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 or

Advent Litany of Confession: (based on Psalm 25:1-10)



In this Advent season of waiting on the Lord,
we trust the Lord’s goodness. We rely on God’s mercy. We find shelter in God’s steadfast love.

In this Advent season of waiting on the Lord,
we walk in the Lord’s way. We follow God’s example of love. We keep our covenant promises.

In this Advent season of waiting,
Lord, forget our sins. Remember your love. Remember each one of us. Remember your people everywhere.

In this Advent season of waiting,
Lord, we wait for your salvation. We wait for your leading. We wait for your coming.



Prayer of Confession: (based on Psalm 25:11-22)
O Lord, forgive our sins, even though they are great. We come before you, knowing that we have failed to follow you. Lord, turn to us and be gracious to us, for without you we are lonely and distressed. We look to you for refuge, because our hope is in you.



Lighting the Advent Wreath

Child: Why do we light the first Advent candle?

Parent: We light one candle today because this candle represents our time of waiting for the coming Savior. This first candle reminds us of the light of hope that the prophets promised to us in the Old Testament. Each Sunday in Advent we will light one more candle as the promise unfolds.

Child: Who will bring this light of hope to the world?

Parent: Jesus is coming! The promise of the prophets is coming true. Jesus, the light of the world, has come to earth and will come again.



Advent Candle Song: “Light One Candle” (by Natalie Sleeth, as found in her Sunday Songbook or in a two-part arrangement, both published by Hinshaw Music, Inc.), stanza 1



Note: This song is best used by adding one stanza each week and adapting the music where needed to end appropriately.



Sermon Helps: “God’s Love Rejected”
This sermon began with an illustration that attempted to evoke a sense of the vastness of the universe by describing what some writers have called “millions of sheets of galaxies layered one on top of the other.” Such sheets of galaxies are “hundreds of thousands of light years thick.” Christian belief says that the God who created sheets of galaxies is also intimately involved in the lives and history of human beings.

That took us to one of those people, God’s prophet Hosea. Hosea took God’s disturbing message of Israel’s relationship with God as the motif of his marriage to the prostitute Gomer. Through marriage Hosea rescued Gomer from the streets, as God rescued (“elected”) Israel from a rebellious humanity. But Gomer returned to the streets, as Israel turned its back on God. The meanings of the sad names of Hosea and Gomer’s first two children emphasize God’s emotional and spiritual involvement with his people. God is not distant. God grieves, as does his servant Hosea. God is angry, as Hosea is angry.

This provided opportunities to identify with ways God’s people today often lessen their devotion to God, throwing their wedding rings off and grieving the abandoned spouse. Yet the rest of the message is that God invites his people back—changing their names and their lives.



Dismissal



May our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father and God’s Spirit, who have given us such encouragement and bright hope, strengthen us in every good word and deed.

Lord, fill us with hope, enlarge our vision that we may trust and reflect your promises. Immanuel, come quickly.



Song Suggestions for Week One
“My Soul in Stillness Waits” (Text: Psalm 95; tune by Marty Haugen; see p. 26)



Note: Of the various stanzas, choose two or three weekly to tie in with the sermon theme or the candle-lighting ceremony.



“O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” stanzas1-3

PsH 328, PH 9, RL 184, SFL 123, TH 194, TWC 133

“God, Be Merciful to Me” PsH 255, RL 104, TH 486

“Comfort, Comfort, Now My People” PsH 194, PH 3, RL 169, SFL 121, TH 197, TWC 132

“Hark, the Glad Sound! The Savior Comes”

PsH 335, RL 251

“My Lord, I Did Not Choose You” PsH 496

“Lord of All Hopefulness” PsH 558, TWC 369





Second Sunday of Advent

All in the Family

Hosea 11

Call to Worship: Mark 1:1-8 or Psalm 24:7-10

Call to Confession: Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13



Prayer of Confession
Lord, we confess that sometimes we do not feel your presence. We often live in distress and sorrow.

O Lord, let your face shine on us again. Show your might and deliver us from evil, that we may experience your peace. Amen.



Lighting the Advent Wreath
Child: Why do we light this second Advent candle?

Parent: We light two candles today because the second candle points to the peace that God gave to us through Jesus.

Child: Why do we light one more candle each Sunday in Advent?

Parent: Because Jesus is coming again. Because light gradually pushes out darkness. Jesus, the light of the world has come to earth and will come again.



Advent Candle Song: “Light One Candle,” stanzas 1 and 2



Sermon Helps: “All in the Family”
This sermon opened with a true story of grieving parents who had raised their children lovingly, devotedly. Of the children, two ran off—hence the banner image—and broke contact with the family. Already suffering greatly, the parents’ devastation grew when one child died violently, and his body was never discovered.

That story provided the link to God’s reminiscences in Hosea 11 about how God had cared for his children Israel, “teaching Ephraim to walk.” It gave ample room to review briefly God’s history with Israel—this time not in terms of a spouse, as in Hosea 1, but in terms of parents—thus the major difference from the sermon of the first Sunday in Advent.

Parents do a lot of laughing as they teach their kids to walk, watching them tumble and get up. They also do a lot of rescuing. I recalled one occasion when my father pulled me from deep water. God did a lot of rescuing of his children—quails, manna, judges, and more. Kids rarely realize how deeply devoted parents are involved in their lives until they bear their own children.

Though homiletically risky, this passage provides a way that is scripturally faithful to portray God’s profound emotional and spiritual devotion to his children. Preachers might as well make the risky leap to get that across; we’re only trying to retell what God has told and lived.

While potentially a thoroughly dark sermon, this passage ends with an image of the lion-strong God roaring to call his children back. That is powerful mercy. The sermon too should end with a reminder of God’s faithful suffering and unexpected power. God is like a father whose son cracks up the car for the third time and is terribly injured in the accident; the father cries over the boy’s hospital bed in a combination of rejection, pain, and endless love. “Son, I begged you to drive carefully. Look what you’ve done to yourself. I don’t know now if you’ll ever walk again, much less drive. But I’m here anyway.” God’s presence is exactly what Advent recalls and promises.



Dismissal



As we anticipate Jesus’ birth with great excitement, may we also find peace in the knowledge of Christ’s salvation, who was the shepherd of his people Israel.

Lord, shine in our hearts and lives, lead us in our way, and guide us in our walk. In this Advent season, we stand on tiptoe, awaiting your coming. Immanuel, invade our lives.

In the name of Christ, whose birth we remember, whose coming we await, go in peace to love and serve the Lord.


Song Suggestions for Week Two
“My Soul in Stillness Waits” (see p. 26)

“How Bright Appears the Morning Star” PsH 357

“My Faith Looks Up to Thee” PsH 262, RL 446, TH 528, TWC 552

“Comfort, Comfort, Now My People”

“Our God Reigns” PsH 195, Maranatha! Praise Chorus Book 3 219

“Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” PsH 341, PH 5, RL 188, TH 193, TWC 167

“Joy to the World” PsH 337, PH 40, RL 198, SFL 137, TH 195, TWC 146,





Third Sunday of Advent

A Second Honeymoon

Hosea 3

Call to Worship: Psalm 126 or the following reading based on Isaiah 40:3-5.



Prepare the way for the Lord.
Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low.
Crooked roads will become straight, the rough ways smooth.
All the people will see God’s salvation.




Prayer of Confession



Lord, we confess that so often we have not shared the love that you gave us through Jesus.

O Lord, grant us a loving spirit. Fill us with abundance and teach us to share your love with others.



Lighting the Advent Wreath
Child: What does this third Advent candle mean?

Parent: We light three candles today because the third candle means love, which God gave to us through Jesus. Jesus’ birth and the coming of God’s love was first told to Mary and has since been spread through all the world. We too must share Jesus’ love with each other.

Child: Why do we light one more candle each Sunday in Advent?

Parent: Because Jesus is coming again. Because as light gradually pushes out darkness, love gradually pushes out hate. Jesus, the light of the world has come to earth and will come again.



Advent Candle Song: “Light One Candle,” stanzas 1-3



Sermon Helps: “God’s Love Returned: The Second Honeymoon”
The theme of Hosea 3 returned us to the marriage motif. This very brief chapter recalls the conditions of reconciliation between Hosea and Gomer—in other words, between God and his “spouse” Israel.

Both for review purposes and because the vein of marriage issues is so rich to mine, this passage provided an opportunity to explore ways that we break our vows with God. The emphasis in this sermon differed significantly from that of the first Sunday in Advent by looking beyond individual examples of unfaithfulness to broader societal issues. Imagine, for example, how an invisible God feels when we ignore him in our age of visible technology and power, in an age of powerful laptops and one hundred channels. We often are tempted to think God is not much of a god.

In such a situation of betrayal and abandonment, though, God doesn’t let things lie. God’s Word comes again, as in the living parable of Hosea and Gomer’s marriage. Hosea takes the first step towards reconciliation—as God does with erring people at any time, as God did with Israel in her history, time and again.

Here the compelling image of a second honeymoon—both from the bulletin cover/banner and in a description—can show ways to keep our relationship with God in shape. Good and honorable relationships in life can grow from that root. For a relationship to revive or grow in a place where there’s deep betrayal or merely normal daily friction—be that a marriage, a friendship, a church, a committee, a business, or a job—somebody has to make the start. God did and does that in history, in Christ, so people can do that on a human scale.



Dismissal



Peace to all, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Lord, send the living waters of your Spirit to enliven us, to bring forth new love and life. Immanuel, come quickly.

In the name of Christ, whose birth we remember, whose coming we await, go in peace to love and serve the Lord.




Song Suggestions for Week Three
“My Soul in Stillness Waits” (see p. 26)

“Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” PsH 329, PH 1, 2,

RL 183, SFL 122, TH 196, TWC 135

“Lord, I Pray” PsH 268, SFL 37

“Comfort, Comfort, Now My People”

“Angels from the Realms of Glory” PsH 354, PH 22,

RL 229, TH 218, TWC 174

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” PsH 345, PH 31, 32, RL 196, TH 203, TWC 171