Fourth Sunday in Advent
Flourish Like Grain
Hosea 14; John 12:23-26
Call to Worship
From Scripture: Psalm 96
In Song: “Humble Thyself in the Sight of the Lord” Maranatha! Praise Chorus Book 3 66
Lighting the Advent Wreath
Child: Why do we light four candles today?
Parent: We light four candles today because today is the shortest, darkest day of the year. We need more light today than ever.
Child: I remember too that Jesus is the light of the world.
Parent: Every candle we light reminds us that the light of Jesus pushes darkness away from our lives and God’s world.
Advent Candle Song: “Light One Candle,” stanzas 1-4
Sermon Helps: “Flourish Like Grain”
The final Advent sermon before the Christmas celebration is based onthe surprisingly joyful and hopeful chapter 14. Replete with images ofgrowth and blossoming, this passage must surely have seemed unrealisticduring Assyria’s great threat to Israel’s territory and sovereignty.And, in fact, Israel did succumb to Assyria’s conquest. So then, wherewere hope and joy?
This passage reminds God’s people not to place hope in human might asIsrael had done by trying alliances with Egypt, even with Assyriaitself. (Psalm 146 would surely be a fitting reference somewhere inthis service, perhaps as a reading immediately following the sermon.)Instead, God promises to change the definition of prosperity andsecurity. Love and forgiveness will replace superiority and powerpolitics.
Two images from the Scripture passages can be used in this sermon forvivid communication of Christian truth. From Hosea 14 comes the imageof “dew to Israel.” In that arid land, the dew would at rare times beso heavy that it would provide enough moisture for growth. That is, inthe most unlikely place and time, God’s love, blessing, and power cantake root and flourish. Yet the second image from John 12 of the seeddying turns human attention to Christ—who flourished by dying, whoturned human power upside down.
Thus in Advent and at Christmas, which is the time of God’s “comingdown,” God’s people also must look forward to Good Friday, to the deathof God’s Son and Seed, and to Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus sacrificedhimself—but in dying brought new life. God’s people can sacrificethemselves by bringing hope and life to hopeless refugees, by waitingfor wayward children. Or, to return to the guiding image of Hosea, aclosing example can be made of a spouse sacrificing herself or himself,waiting beyond human endurance for the other to return.
Song Suggestions for Week Four
“My Soul in Stillness Waits” (see p.26)
“Change My Heart, O God” Maranatha! Praise Chorus Book 3 50
“Savior of the Nations, Come,” PsH 336, PH 14,
RL 189, TWC 138
“Breathe on Me, Breath of God” PsH 420, PH 316, TWC 334
“O Christians, Haste” PsH 525, TWC 731
“To God Be the Glory” PsH 232, PH 485, RL 355, TWC 72
Should you decide to use or adapt these worship services and themesfrom Hosea for Advent, you may well be interested in consulting acouple of commentaries that I have found helpful on Hosea.
- The Interpretation series is geared particularly toward preachingand preachers. The volume by James Limburg on Hosea (Hosea-Micah:Interpretation—A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Atlanta:John Knox Press, 1988) offers sterling, sometimes technical,scholarship for background textual understanding. At the same time itembraces the text itself and stimulates life-connected preaching themes.
- A much older work, Love’s Complaint (translated by TheodorePlantinga, Paideia Press, St. Catharines, Ontario, 1988), by Dutchpastor-theologian Herman Veldkamp, provides a book-long series ofmeditations on Hosea. Those meditations are typical of the warm, yettough, realistic and spiritually disciplined insights from God’s Wordthat have marked preachers of the Reformed tradition.
Sample homelink devotion
Don’t miss this opportunity to order one set of daily devotions foreach household in your congregation. These warm and challengingdevotions are based on the Scripture and themes introduced in thisservice-planning series and provide a way of linking what happens onSunday with home devotions during the Advent and Christmas seasons. Fororder information, see the inside back cover of this issue.
Monday, November 22, 1999
Knowing Where You Are
Read 1 Corinthians 1:3-9.
At 1 p.m. on November 22, 1963, my classmates and I in Mr. Gary Meyer’sEnglish class at Chicago Christian High School started a test.Thirty-six years later I have no idea how I did on that test, but almost everyone over the age of forty-five in the Western worldremembers where he or she was that afternoon. I was finishing thedefinitions of Romanticism when our principal, Mr. Robert Gosselink,broke into every class over the intercom: “President Kennedy has justbeen shot in Dallas, Texas.” Not long afterwards, Mr. Gosselink spokeagain to tell us that the President had died.
My father, a lifelong Republican, and the entire nation wept often thatsad weekend in the empty grief caused by the assassination of theDemocratic president. United States citizens weren’t alone in theirgrief by any means. More than fifteen years later our family began towork as missionaries in Costa Rica and later Guatemala. People in largecities or small villages all over Central America still remarked,“There’s a ‘Kennedy Plaza’ in our town, with a bust of the president. Iremember exactly where I was when I heard he was killed. He made usLatin Americans feel as if he cared for us. After his death we feltlost.”
We all know exactly where we were the moment we heard President Kennedywas killed. Yet afterwards we felt disoriented—for a weekend in somecases, for years in others. The world lost direction.
Advent offers a time and a way to regain our bearings. In this Adventtext from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes to peoplewho were regularly in physical danger. As Christians they were oftentolerated, though not always legally permitted in Roman society. Yettheir greater danger came from the many ways they were losing theirbearings in Christ. Some of the rich mistreated the poor among them. Alot of sexual immorality, drunkenness, and gluttony went on among them,tearing them from each other and their relationship to God. They knewexactly where they were in Corinth, but not long after God had foundthem in Christ, they lost their way.
Instead of writing them off, though, Paul writes them God’s Word. Atthe very start of his letter, he boldly reminds them where they reallyare: In the grace and peace that come from God their Father and theLord Jesus Christ. Living as though lost, they hear how Paul shows themthe way back home in Christ. He even thanks God for them, despite howthey often lived.
On weekdays in this Advent’s HomeLink, we will reflect on passages usedby many Christian churches. They come from the Revised CommonLectionary. On Sundays we will turn to passages from the book of Hosea.Hosea wrote his chilling, challenging, but ultimately grace-filledautobiography for people who had lost their bearings, wandered fromhome. But God reached out to them, as Paul reached out to the lostCorinthians, linking them to their home with God through Christ, ourhope and heart’s desire.
Something to Think About
Think of a time when you felt adrift, utterly lost—physically, mentally, spiritually, or all three. How did you find home again?
On a map of your city or county, locate your home, school, orworkplace. Draw the routes from each of those places to your church.Follow those routes this week. Each time, pray you will never lose yourway from Jesus.
Explanation of Worship Bulletin covers/Banners
Our imaginations should be stirred by reading and meditating on ancienttexts taken from Israel’s history—in this case the book of Hosea.Perhaps contemporary graphic art can help to open our spiritual eyesand ears and senses to how God remains involved with the world and itspeople still today. Thus the suggestions and guidelines for Adventworship services are accompanied by bulletin covers that include theart that the worship committee of Hope Christian Reformed Church,Thunder Bay, Ontario, used as it developed these services in Advent1997.
In order to grasp some of the powerful, unsettling images used byHosea, the pictures are intentionally stark in their style. When wetransformed them into banners we used heavy linens, harsh expressions.These banners were the product of several conversations with Hope CRCmember Daniel DePeuter, then a nineteen-year-old art student at ThunderBay’s Lakehead University. Daniel and I went through the plannedpreaching passages some weeks before the start of Advent. We discussedthe themes and possible images that could express the theme faithfully,simply, yet (we hoped) memorably.
Daniel then drew several sketches, and together he and I decided whichwould be used each week. That original sketch was photocopied for useas a bulletin cover. Daniel and his mother, Ena DePeuter, latertransferred the small sketch to a full banner-sized piece of muslin.Already the first week they decided that the banner presentation wouldbe more vivid and effective if the banners were finished in a fewcolors painted on the muslin. The bulletin covers remained black andwhite.
Factors that are always important to consider in worship planning arethe cost and use of resources. As you can tell from the description ofthe banner- and bulletin-making processes, we used a minimum of moneyand materials creating these visuals for Advent. Tempera paints areinexpensive, and the muslin itself is reuseable; because it accepts (upto a certain limit) a number of coats of paint, it can be used in otherseasons to produce completely different banners. And that’s what wedid. Due to the nature of Hosea’s message, I knew it would be unlikelythat our congregation would use that book anytime soon during anotherAdvent. So now, two years after they were used, the original bannershave been painted over and used in different worship planning projects.
Drama idea: “Gomer”
In a sassy yet tender manner, Hosea’s harlot wife Gomer talks about thecrazy prophet who married her, gave strange names to her babies, andbought her back again after she’d left him, thus leading her to hisGod. “Gomer” is a 10-15 minute monologue found in Searching for Shalom:Resources for Creative Worship by Ann Weems (Westminster/John KnoxPress, 1991). “O My People, Turn to Me” (PsH 200) is a fitting songafter the drama.
Preparing the Congregation for an Advent Series on Hosea
Before actually deciding to use Hosea and produce accompanying bannersand bulletin covers for Advent, our worship committee discussed thebasic ideas of the sermons and services. Encouraging conversationbetween the worship committee, council, and congregation is animportant step in developing real worship and avoiding unsettlingbattles at a time of the year when we celebrate the coming of thePrince of Peace.
Hope Christian Reformed Church is a congregation that is not highlytrained in the visual arts nor, by extension, in the frequent andintentional use of art in worship. I suspect that Hope is not unusualin this regard and may even be rather typical of many congregations.Thus we needed to create a context in which to use art effectively forthe blessing of God’s people and, we pray, for God’s approval.
For the Advent series on Hosea, I sketched theme ideas and discussedthem with the worship committee. In turn, the worship committeepresented the basic ideas for preaching passages and themes, banners,and bulletin covers to the council a couple of months in advance.Council approved the plans in principal and urged the worship committeeto provide a fitting explanation for the planned Advent worship andpreaching.
Even though our congregation was prepared a week in advance of thefirst Sunday of Advent and introduced to the preaching theme via weeklybulletin announcements, the impact of the banners and bulletin coverswas profound. I shall never forget the hush with which people enteredthe worship area upon seeing the banner for that Sunday hangingimmediately to the left of the large cross. Astonished murmurs ofsurprise and expectation followed. “What does this have to do withAdvent?” The reactions were to be expected. One council member had notwished to approve the worship themes precisely because at first theyappeared so jarring and unlike Christmas.
And that is exactly the point: Worldly Christmases have indeed removedthe drama and seriousness of Christ’s salvation from Christmas. ButHosea’s themes of brokenness, infidelity, and human suffering remind usof the depth of God’s commitment to humanity—the vast divine commitmentthat compels God to rescue wandering and broken people, families, andcommunities. These are not themes for adults only; they are, however,utterly crucial issues for everyone who hurts or who has ever had todeal with hurt in the context of God’s ever-faithful promises.
Naturally, then, the preaching themes and banners do not always evokepleasant feelings. That is only fitting—human disobedience and runningaway from God should not be pleasant and desirable. Yet we must not shyaway from such biblical themes, particularly when such bad news can befollowed with hope and hints of God’s greatest news in the full-orbed,muscular salvation that Jesus Christ brought and brings!
Perhaps it is helpful to think that by using such banners and preachingand worship themes, the immeasurable grace and mercy of God are givenroom to grow in our minds, hearts, and imaginations. They can act as aspiritual vaccine. That is, the slight illness a vaccine often causesas part of the physiological process of making a person immune to afatal illness is much preferable to the often fatal illness itself—and,in the long run, makes us more appreciative of our health. In analogousfashion, the series of Advent messages on Hosea might remind us (inHeidelberg-Catechism style) that we need to know our sin before we canappreciate our salvation and health.