Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Advent discipleship group: week 5

CHRISTMAS             Overflowing gladness and praise

[This fifth conversation is intended to take place at some point over Christmas.]

We light all four Advent candles, and the Christmas candle

Opening prayer
Blessed are you, sovereign Lord, King of peace:
to you be praise and glory for ever.
The new light of your incarnate Word
gives gladness in our sorrow,
and a presence in our isolation.
Fill our lives with your light,
until they overflow with gladness and praise.
Blessed be God for ever.

Conversation starter

Optional props: a selection of Christmas cards and letters received in recent weeks.

What was your favourite Christmas card this year, and why?

Bible passage

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
Philippians 1:1-11


What are you thankful for, this Christmas?

Where have you known gladness in sorrow and presence in isolation?

How might we hold one another in our hearts, and so share in God’s grace?

Closing prayer

Lord Jesus, Light of light,
you have come among us.
Help us who live by your light
to shine as lights in your world.
Glory to God in the highest.

Advent discipleship group: week 4

ADVENT 4    Renewed in Christ’s image

We light all four Advent candles

Opening prayer
Blessed are you, sovereign Lord, merciful and gentle:
to you be praise and glory for ever.
Your light has shone in our darkened world
through the child-bearing of blessed Mary;
grant that we who have seen your glory
may daily be renewed in your image
and prepared like her for the coming of your Son,
who is the Lord and Saviour of all.
Blessed be God for ever.

Conversation starter

Optional props: a doll, or selection of dress-able play figures with moveable body-parts.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up, and why? (And what came of those dreams?)

Bible passage

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

Romans 12:1-8


What might it mean to present our bodies as a living sacrifice?

Do you know what gifts God has given you to enjoy using?

What might be your function within the Church?

Closing prayer

Lord Jesus, light of the world,
blessed is Gabriel, who brought good news;
blessed is Mary, your mother and ours.
Bless your Church preparing for Christmas;
and bless us your children, who long for your coming.

Advent discipleship group: week 3

ADVENT 3    To witness to him

We light the first, second, and third Advent candles

Opening prayer
Blessed are you, sovereign Lord, just and true:
to you be praise and glory for ever.
Your prophet John the Baptist was witness to the truth
as a burning and shining light.
May we your servants rejoice in his light,
and so be led to witness to him
who is the Lord of our coming kingdom,
Jesus our Saviour and King of the ages.
Blessed be God for ever.

Conversation starter

Optional props: running shoes.

Have you ever been enlisted to a group, other than the Church? And have you ever enlisted others?

Bible passage

You then, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus; and what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well. Share in suffering like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving in the army gets entangled in everyday affairs; the soldier’s aim is to please the enlisting officer. And in the case of an athlete, no one is crowned without competing according to the rules. It is the farmer who does the work who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in all things.
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. The saying is sure:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.

2 Timothy 2:1-13


Who told you about Jesus, that caused you to respond?

How does it feel to have been entrusted to bear witness to Jesus?

How would you summarise the gospel?

Closing prayer

Lord Jesus, light of the world,
John told the people to prepare,
for you were very near.
As Christmas grows closer day by day,
help us to be ready to welcome you now.

Advent discipleship group: week 2

ADVENT 2    Found ready and watching

We light the first and second Advent candles

Opening prayer
Blessed are you, sovereign Lord, just and true:
to you be praise and glory for ever.
Of old you spoke by the mouth of your prophets,
but in our days you speak through your Son,
whom you have appointed the heir of all things.
Grant us, your people, to walk in his light,
that we may be found ready and watching
when he comes again in glory and judgement;
for you are our light and our salvation.
Blessed be God for ever.

Conversation starter

Optional props: one or more oil lamps.

How do you prepare your home for Christmas?

Bible passage

‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.’

Matthew 25:1-13


In all the excitement and pressures of this time of year, how do we ensure that we don’t ‘miss the moment’ at the centre of it all?

Oil is one of the symbols of the Holy Spirit. It is used to anoint baptism and confirmation candidates, the sick and dying, (mixed with ash) the community on Ash Wednesday, those being set apart for a particular task, and in other acts of blessing. How do such moments sustain us?

Where have you heard a shout, or even a whisper, that Jesus is on the way?

Closing prayer

Lord Jesus, light of the world,
the prophets said you would bring peace
and save your people in trouble.
Give peace in our hearts at Christmas
and show all the world God’s love.

Advent discipleship group: week 1

ADVENT 1    To journey in hope

We light the first Advent candle

Opening prayer
Blessed are you, sovereign Lord, God of our ancestors:
to you be praise and glory for ever.
You called the patriarchs to live by the light of faith
and to journey in the hope of your promised fulfilment.
May we be obedient to your call
and be ready and watchful to receive your Christ,
a lamp to our feet and a light to our path;
for you are our light and our salvation.
Blessed be God for ever.

Conversation starter

Optional props: a pop-up tent and string of ‘star’ (or white Christmas) lights.

Have you any memorable (or, disastrous) stories of sleeping in a tent or going on a journey?

Bible passage

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.’

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-16


What is your story, the journey of faith you have walked to this point?

Who has journeyed with you?

What renews our hope when we feel lost or weary?

Closing prayer

Lord Jesus, light of the world,
born in David’s city of Bethlehem,
born like him to be a king:
be born in our hearts at Christmas,
be King of our lives today.

Advent discipleship group: Intro

Last night saw the first of an Advent discipleship group we are holding this year, an open invitation to the congregations of Sunderland Minster and the neighbouring parish of St Nicholas’. On a wet and windy night, we were fourteen, and an even mix from both congregations. The format is very simple, and based on the Prayers at the Advent Wreath, from Common Worship: Times and Seasons. I produced a workbook for participants, JOURNEY TOGETHER THROUGH ADVENT—see following posts for the content, though not the formatting, which includes various line drawings and other illustrations. Advent doesn’t begin until Sunday, but we wanted a series of four weekday evenings, and with Christmas Day falling on a Tuesday this year, we had a take a head-start. A fifth session, looking back at Christmas, will be held early in the new year.

We welcomed people with tea and coffee and star-shaped gingerbread Lebkuchen—engaging the senses of smell and taste in the experience.

We will begin each time singing Maggi Dawn’s achingly beautiful Advent carol Into the darkness of this world [you can link to a version, here]. It was unfamiliar to most of the group but will become known over the weeks.

I bought large pillar candles for their visual impact: three dark purple, one pink, and one white [see footnote]. We placed them in a line—purple, purple, white, pink, purple—but may place them in a cardinal compass around the white candle. And here I have gone with the tradition of having the white Christ-light candle lit each week and lighting the other candles from it; rather than the tradition of saving the Christ-light until Christmas Day.

Each week, there will be an additional visual prompt.

The format is to gather, sing, light candle(s); a question to get us talking; and a Bible passage to read. We did this all together as one group, with a volunteer reader. This took about 30 minutes. Then we broke into three smaller groups to discuss the questions, for about half-an-hour; and ended with saying the closing prayer together. You can have a good conversation in just half-an-hour, and it felt important to keep the total time to an hour, leaving people wanting more rather than wishing they were headed home already.

Introduction to the workbook:

Advent is the start of a new church year. It is a season of expectancy and of preparing ourselves to receive afresh the wonderful but utterly disruptive gift of Jesus, God-with-us. The purpose of this booklet is to be a resource for groups of people who want to journey through Advent together, wherever they might choose to meet up. Like those good friends Piglet and Winnie-the-Pooh, we do not need to be especially courageous or wise but find that adventures are better shared.

This resource takes as its structure the Prayers at the Advent Wreath, from Common Worship: Times and Seasons. These prayers are used to open and close each of five conversations, four leading up to Christmas and a fifth to be had at some point during the Christmas season. Each session follows the same pattern, including a conversation starter, a Bible passage to read and reflect on, and some questions to discuss. Depending on the nature of the group, these questions might simply be the springboard for further questions of your own. Each session also includes the visual prompt of the Advent candles, and suggestions for other simple visual aids.

Links: Week 1 and Week 2 and Week 3 and Week 4 and Week 5

Footnote: Purple is the traditional colour of Advent. The candles represent:
Week 1 (purple) the patriarchs and matriarchs of the faith;
Week 2 (purple) the prophets;
Week 3 (pink) John the Baptist;
Week 4 (purple) the Virgin Mary;
Christmas (white) the Christ.

The pink candle, a lighter, brighter hue, goes with John the Baptist and the cry in the wilderness to rejoice; it does not go with week 4, Mary. For one thing, Mary has always traditionally been associated with blue; for another, pink was not associated with girls until the second half of the twentieth century.