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Advent, Reflectionary

Unquenchable Peace

His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.

Matthew 3:12

In the first congregation I served after seminary, when it was time to pass the peace, I noted that most members of the congregation commented on each other’s clothes, or asked about their neighbor’s grandchildren, or wondered about someone’s mother’s health. They talked about pretty much anything they could think of rather than offering each other the peace of Christ. I was frustrated, in that way you are when you feel pretty sure you know the right way to do everything. 

I stopped calling that moment in worship the passing of the peace. Instead I invited the congregation to rise and greet their neighbors. Several months later, after Easter, we read about Jesus in the Upper Room leaving his peace with the disciples. I preached about passing the peace as a radical acting out of our faith, a way of claiming our identity in Jesus Christ. 

John the Baptist offers a vivid image of the coming Messiah, wielding unquenchable fire to clear out all the mess of human systems. He has a very particular idea of who God will send, and we’ll learn later that it does not include Jesus’ fondness for having dinner with sketchy characters. John is making the way for a reordering according to God’s priorities. 

We probably all have moments when we hope for the same thing, as long as the definition of “chaff” is up to us. 

John expects the Messiah to burn away all the people who would not obey God, and I feel an uncomfortable identification with him when I remember how self-righteous I often felt in my first pastoral call. John is right to think that the Messiah will change the world, that the Messiah will change us. But he’s wrong about how. Jesus came to wield unquenchable peace. We see it in his healing, in his teaching, and in his dying, full of generosity for the rejected and the misaligned and the broken-hearted. Following him is all the things John suggested – letting go of our sense of importance and turning from our accustomed ways of being – and it is more – living in harmony with one another and with God, whose desire for peace will never be extinguished.

I wonder how ready we are to claim that identity? It’s tempting, instead, to talk about the weather, or that attractive reindeer pin our friend is wearing; it’s also tempting to adopt John’s perspective and threaten devastation against the people who don’t live up to our expectations. Who wants to admit, humbly, that we have been too harsh, too righteous, too wrong? 

For today, let’s try it.

The Peace of Christ be with you.


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Advent, Reflectionary

Unknown Hope

But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Matthew 24:36

Advent begins with Jesus asking us to hold onto hope in an unknown: God’s change is coming, but we don’t know when. We are at risk of missing it when it does arrive because we are sleepy, or distracted, or too busy with the work in front of us to notice anything else. 

We might expect Jesus to be in the know on things of major importance, but that’s not what he tells the disciples. He believes God will make some kind of change in the status quo, but he admits he doesn’t know when, even though it revolves around him. I wonder how sure Matthew’s Jesus is about his status. Does he wonder whether he has accomplished what he came to do? Will any of this matter to anyone in the long run? 

I’m reminded of those uncomfortable times in my life when I knew something – a job, a relationship, a particular sense of identity I held – was coming to an end. Even when I knew the ending was appropriate, I felt uneasy, unsure of how life would change and who I would be on the other side. 

That feels to me like the apocalyptic dynamic of our time, the worry people of faith carry with them. We thought we knew what it meant to be God’s people. We had an idea of what we hoped God might do. But given the state of the world, we may wonder how we once managed to be so sure, why it is taking God so long to set things right, and whether there is something we need to do, right now, to make things better. 

As Advent begins, may we sit in the discomfort with Jesus, on the edge of what is coming next.


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Advent, Advent Wreath

Advent Wreath Liturgies for RCL Year A (2019)

Lighting the Candle of Hope        Advent 1A          December 1, 2019

One: The prophet Isaiah shared a word with the weary world, a vision of the day when God will bring our conflicts to an end. God’s house will be on top of the highest mountain, and people from all over will come to it. 

All: God will judge all countries and settle our arguments. 

One: Weapons will be turned into tools for growth.

All: Wars will come to an end. 

One: As we wait faithfully for God’s time, we light the candle of Hope.

All: Our hope is in God, who will bring all nations together.

(Respond with verse 1 of “Now It’s Time to Light the Candle.”)

Lighting the Candle of Peace       Advent 2A           December 8, 2019

One: The prophet Isaiah shared a word with the fearful world, a vision of gentleness and peace.  “The wolf shall live with the lamb,” he said, and “the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” Animals we would never trust together will eat right next to each other! And their children will be safe with each other.

All: Animals who like meat will eat plants! 

One: Tiny children will be safe even in the places we expect them to be in danger. 

All: God’s mountain will be a peaceful place for all people because everyone will know how God wants things to be. 

One: As we wait faithfully for God’s time, we light the candles of Hope and Peace.

All: Our peace comes from God, who became one of us in Jesus.

(Respond with verse 2 of “Now It’s Time to Light the Candle.”)

Lighting the Candle of Joy            Advent 3A           December 15, 2019

One: The prophet Isaiah shared a word with the grieving world, a vision of vibrant renewal. All of creation will be glad. Even the earth itself will praise God! 

All: Dry places like deserts will be full of blooming life. 

One: Joy will grow like new crocuses poking up through the ground and spreading out in the front yard.  

All: The whole earth will sing praises to God, and so will we!

One: As we wait faithfully for God’s time, we light the candles of Hope, Peace, and Joy.

All: In God’s time of joy, all sorrow and sighing will leave us.

(Respond with verse 3 of “Now It’s Time to Light the Candle.”)

Lighting the Candle of Love         Advent 4A           December 22, 2019

One: The prophet Isaiah shared a word with the lonely world. We will not be left alone. God will give us a sign.

All: A young woman will have a baby.

One: He will be named Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” 

All: His life and his words will show us how to follow God and choose what is good. 

One: As we wait faithfully for God’s time, we light the candles of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

All: In God’s time of love, we will learn to love each other.

(Respond with verse 4 of “Now It’s Time to Light the Candle.”)

Lighting the Christ Candle             Christmas Eve Year A      December 24, 2019

One: The prophet Isaiah share a word with a waiting world. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined…For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders.”

All: “He is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

One: “His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.”

All: “The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”

One: As we stand faithfully on the brink of God’s time, we light the candles of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.

All: Tonight we enter God’s time, faithfully. We light the Christ Candle to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus, the Light coming into the world.

(Respond with a carol, such as “Angels From the Realms of Glory” or “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.”)


These Advent wreath liturgies created by Martha Spong draw on the Isaiah passages for Advent in Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary, as well as previous liturgies created by the author. The images were created by the author in Canva. Permission is granted for use of both liturgies and images in church settings.


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