Advent as Resistance Liturgy and Reflection

On Tuesday, November 28th, PPF hosted the Advent as Resistance webinar with Jessie Light-Wells, Zach Light-Wells, Elizabeth Welliver, and Timothy Wotring. Below I've posted the liturgy, reflection, and resources from that evening. Enjoy and Happy Advent! 

Advent as Resistance Candle Lighting (Photo courtesy of Lora Burge)

Lighting of the Advent candles [Timothy Wotring]

Tonight we light the candles of hope, peace, joy, and love, remembering the promises of God with prayer.

Please light candle you are in most need of this season.

We light this candle in hope.

We light this candle for peace.

We light this candle in joy.

We light this candle with love.

 

Let us hear God’s promise of hope from Isaiah 2:2-4:

In days to come the mountain of God’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains,

and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.

Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of God, to the house of the God of Jacob;

that we may be taught God’s ways and that we may walk in God’s path.”

For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of God from Jerusalem.

God shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples;

they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

Let us pray: God of Justice, out of war’s chaos, you bring the order of peace. Renew us in hope, that we may work toward Christ’s advent of peace among all nations. God of promise, God of hope, into our darkness come.

 

Singing is resistance, too-- raising voices in song to protest the way things are and to call for a new reality in God.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel (Unitarian Universalist Hymn Book version) [Zach Light-Wells]

O come, O come, Emmanuel

And with your captive children dwell

Give comfort to all exiles here

And to the aching heart bid cheer

Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel

Shall come within as Love to dwell

 

O come you splendor ery bright

As joy that never yields to might

O come and turn all hearts to peace

That greed and war at last shall cease

Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel

Shall come within, as Truth to dwell

 

Call to Confession [Jessie Light-Wells]

Advent is a period of waiting, but are not bound by waiting patiently. We wait with the hopeful impatience of a people who know that the world is not as it should be. And with this hopeful impatience, we also recognize that we are complicit in the wrongdoings of this world, we are inherently sinful beings, and especially as people of privilege, we have an obligation to name our sins and to ask God to forgive us.

Today, we will confess with our bodies.

Join me in our prayer of confession, our time of telling the truth and and naming our complicity in sin.

I invite you to make your hands into fists.

God, we confess in this season of Advent that our hands are the hands of oppressors. Our hands have been complicit in the enslavement and exploitation of peoples and this planet. Our hands have remained still, even as walls go up and guns pull triggers. Forgive us for all that we have done and failed to do.

I invite you to clench your toes together tightly.

God, we confess in this season of Advent that our feet walk on land that is not our own, land that has been stolen from indigenous people, land that has been stripped of its resources, land that is growing warmer every day. Our feet have walked this land without a second thought. Forgive us for our actions, and our failure to act.

Now I invite you to close your eyes.

God, we confess in this season of Advent that our eyes have failed to see the injustices all around us, especially the discrimination and mistreatment of people of color and our LGBTQ siblings. And we also confess that we have failed to speak helpfully against such injustice, remaining silent, or utilizing violent and alienating language rather than your powerful and convicting language of love. Forgive us for all that we have said and left unsaid, and all that we have overlooked.

This is what sin feels like-- living in tension, in pain, holding tightly to what we think is ours to claim, living in isolation with no ability to perceive the suffering of others.

Assurance of Grace [Jessie Light-Wells]

Jesus is coming. Jesus is coming so that our sin no longer threatens our existence. Jesus is coming to end the oppression and tyranny of this world, to dry the tears of all those who weep, and to remind each and every one of us just how much we are loved.

So open your hands and face your palms upward; unclench your toes and wiggle them freely, open your eyes and look into the faces of your neighbors and friends. You are forgiven; you are set free. So now, use your hands, your feet, your eyes and your words to remind this world that Jesus is coming, to remind this world that redemption is here, to remind this world that God’s kin-dom is one of justice, mercy and the greatest love.

 

Passing the Peace [Jessie Light-Wells]

As forgiven people living in anticipation of Jesus’s coming, let us share peace with one another: the peace of Christ be with you! And also with you!

 

Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55, The Inclusive Bible translation)

My soul proclaims your greatness,

O God, and my spirit rejoices in you, my Savior.

For you have looked with favor upon your lowly servant,

and from this day forward all generations will call me blessed.

For you, the Almighty, have done great things for me, and holy is your Name.

Your mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear you.

You have shown strength with your arm;

you have scattered the proud in their conceit;

you have deposed the mighty from their thrones and raised the lowly to high places.

You have filled the hungry with good things, while you have sent the rich away empty.

You have come to the aid of your people, mindful of your mercy –

the promise you made to our ancestors –

to Sarah and Abraham and their descendants forever.

 

Reflection [Timothy Wotring]

Let me begin by saying that nothing tonight I’ll be sharing is a new interpretation per se. Rather it’s radical, as in, getting to the root. Similar to how St. Francis in the early 13th century created the crèche, the nativity scene with a humble manger, while those around him in Italy adorned baby Jesus with a golden crown and beautiful fabrics.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian, pastor, and anti-Nazi, spoke these words in a sermon during Advent 1933: “The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings.…This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about the power of God.”

Mary's song may seem unique to our ears, yet the themes appear much earlier in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 with Hannah’s song.

Hannah prayed and said,

“My heart exults in the Lord;

my strength is exalted in my God.

My mouth derides my enemies,

because I rejoice in my victory.

“There is no Holy One like God, no one besides you;

there is no Rock like our God.

Talk no more so very proudly,

let not arrogance come from your mouth;

for the Lord is a God of knowledge,

and by God our actions are weighed.

The bows of the mighty are broken,

but the feeble gird on strength.

Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,

but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.

The barren has borne seven,

but she who has many children is forlorn.

The Lord kills and brings to life;

God brings down to Sheol and raises up.

The Lord makes poor and makes rich;

God brings low, God also exalts.

God raises up the poor from the dust;

God lifts the needy from the ash heap,

to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.

For the pillars of the Earth are the Lord’s,

and on them God has set the world.

“God will guard the feet of the faithful ones,

but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness;

for not by might does one prevail.

The Lord! God’s adversaries shall be shattered;

the Most High will thunder in heaven.

The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;

God will give strength to God’s king,

and exalt the power of God’s anointed.

A few differences: Hannah had already had Samuel when she sings this. Mary was pregnant visiting her relative Elizabeth at the time. Hannah has a story line closer to Mary’s relative Elizabeth who was barren than so to Mary, who probably wasn’t thinking about children quite yet. Biblical scholars say that Hannah’s song is misplaced because the ancient Hebrews did not have a king yet when she sang this so early in 1st Samuel.

The similarities though are obvious: They both praise God in the beginning and end of their song. Both demonstrate how God is a God of the poor and hungry. Thus, it is easy to conclude that Mary in Luke’s Gospel finds radical hope in Hannah’s song and narrative so much that she adapts it as her own.

Sister Elizabeth Johnson at Fordham University wrote “The Magnificat is a revolutionary song of salvation whose political, economic, and social dimensions cannot be blunted. People in need in every society hear a blessing in this canticle. The battered woman, the single parent without resources, those without food on the table or without even a table, the homeless family, the young abandoned to their own devices, the old who are discarded: all are encompassed in the hope Mary proclaims.”

This is exactly why Scripture is dangerous! It speaks of a God who is on the side of poor, of a world where no one is hungry, and to quote Hannah’s song, “the bows of the mighty are broken.” No more war, hallelujah!

The Magnificat has been so dangerous that in the 20th century, empires and governments have banned it from being read in churches and on the streets.

During British rule in India, the singing of the Magnificat in church was prohibited. So, on the final day of British rule in India, Gandhi, who was not a Christian, requested that this song be read in all places where the British flag was being lowered.

During the 1980s, the government of Guatemala found the ideas raised by Mary’s proclamation of God’s special concern for the poor to be so dangerous and revolutionary that the government banned any public recitation of Mary’s words.

The junta in Argentina banned Mary's song after the Mothers of the Disappeared displayed its words on placards in the capital plaza.

The government of El Salvador banned this song in the 1980’s.

And so on and so on – all over the world, oppressive defenders of Empire have found these words too explosive for everyday use.

To summarize: 1. The Magnificat is a radical declaration of protest against the wealthy and was inspired by Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel. She sings, “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;” and “God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” It’s hard to read such quote and not believe it.

2. Mary declared a reversal of political and social power, a reversal that would be accomplished by the Almighty. She proclaimed that God was on the side of the oppressed and poor, not those already fed and sitting high on their thrones.

3. Mary’s song has been adopted by justice movements around the world. Its message is threatening to imperial powers that it has been banned time and again by totalitarian governments: in India under British Rule, during the Dirty War in Argentina, throughout the Guatemalan civil war, and in the 1970s and 1980s in El Salvador.

 

O Come, O Come {Zach Light-Wells]

O come you Dayspring, come and cheer

Our spirits by your presence here

And dawn in every broken soul

As vision that can see the whole

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel

Shall come within, as Light to dwell

 

O come, you Wisdom from on high

From depths that hide within a sigh

And temper knowledge with our care

To render every act a prayer

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel

Shall come within as Hope to dwell

 

Offering [Elizabeth Welliver]

Friends, in this season of Advent, we are invited to draw nearer to God and cultivate detachment from our material possessions. In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus instructs his disciples to invest not in the world’s wealth but in the realm of God, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” As we look to where our treasure lies, I invite us to give generously to those people and organizations close to God’s heart for peace and justice. I hope we each will consider donating to the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship as we are blessed by this community and this holy work.

 

Prayers of the People [Elizabeth Welliver with help from Reba Balint]

In the spirit of giving and sharing as one body, I invite us now to the Prayers of the People. For  each petition, I will say, “God in your mercy,” so that all can reply, “Hear our Prayer.”

Let us pray.

God of Mercy, Source of all Life, To you we give all glory, thanks, and praise this night. You who dwell in the darkness, we give thanks for your presence with us. You who quicken our spirits in the cold, we give thanks for your steadfast love.

Hold and embrace us now, O Holy One, as we lift these prayers to you:

For the integrity of creation, for the deserts, oceans, forests, plains, and wetlands, for creatures big and small, that life would be sustained by you. May our world find new ways to live in the era of deadly climate change. God in your mercy,

For our Indigenous siblings whose homes, families, and sacred places have been taken by greed and genocide, we lament our sin as a church and a nation. We pray for Native sovereignty and for full reparations. God in your mercy,

For our Black and Brown neighbors, who each day face the racism that criminalizes their bodies, we pray against the evils that put people in cages. We pray for those who carry generations of trauma from enslavement, forced migration, and incarceration as we ask for wisdom to resist racial injustice. God in your mercy,

For our Muslim friends, in the United States and across the world, we pray for their strength and to work with them against Islamophobia and extremism. For our Jewish friends, we ask for the boldness to confront and dismantle anti-Semitism as it threatens families and communities. We pray that our church would be in solidarity with people of all faiths who face persecution today. God, in your mercy

For the people of Colombia, whose future remains uncertain with the tenuous peace that asks enemies to lay down their guns and build reconciliation, we pray for healing and community autonomy. God in your mercy,

For the people of Palestine, who live in the reality of walls, checkpoints, bulldozers, military threats, and imprisonment, we pray for resilience and steadfast hope in nonviolent struggle. We pray to turn away from the evils of the occupation and work for just peace. God in your mercy,

For all of us living in places where gunshots and calls to war echo throughout the land, we pray for Your Spirit to descend upon us and disarm us. May the Church to live out Christ’s radical call to nonviolence. God in your mercy,

Holy One, during this season of Advent as we keep watch for your coming, we pray that our eyes may be opened and our hearts awakened to your goodness. We pray that we may see your Light upon the horizon, however dimly it shines, guiding our path forward.

We pray all this in the holy name of Jesus, Prince of Peace, Amen.

 

Canticle of the Turning [Zach Light-Wells]

My soul cries out with a joyful shout that the God of my heart is great,

And my spirit sings of the wondrous things that you bring to the ones who wait.

You fixed your sight on your servant's plight, and my weakness you did not spurn,

So from east to west shall my name be blest. Could the world be about to turn?

My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the fires of your justice burn.

Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn!

 

Though I am small, my God, my all, you work great things in me,

And your mercy will last from the depths of the past to the end of the age to be.

Your very name puts the proud to shame, and to those who would for you yearn,

You will show your might, put the strong to flight, for the world is about to turn.

My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the fires of your justice burn.

Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn!

 

From the halls of power to the fortress tower, not a stone will be left on stone.

Let the king beware for your justice tears ev'ry tyrant from his throne.

The hungry poor shall weep no more, for the food they can never earn;

There are tables spread, ev'ry mouth be fed, for the world is about to turn.

My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the fires of your justice burn.

Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn!

 

Though the nations rage from age to age, we remeber who holds us fast:

God's mercy must deliver us from the conqueror's crushing grasp.

This saving word that out forebears heard is the promise which holds us bound,

'Til the spear and rod can be crushed by God, who is turning the world around.

My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the fires of your justice burn.

Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn!

 

Benediction [Jessie Light Wells]

How will we take this with us?

We know that oppression and violence do not have the last word; that one day there will be no more tears, no more suffering, no more injustice; that Christ was born into this broken and beautiful world so that we would know hope, peace, love and joy; that Christ is coming again.

 

Resources:

The Liberation of Christmas by Richard Horsely

The First Christmas by John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg

Mary of Nazareth, Prophet of Peace by John Dear

What Would Jesus Buy? documentary featuring Rev. Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir

The Subversive Magnificat: What Mary Expected The Messiah To Be Like

Why Christmas Matters by Timothy Wotring and Katrina Forman