Contributed by Jay McDivett, Thiensville, WI


Warm-up Question

What is the most important thing on your “to do” list between now and Christmas?

What’s the Point?

As the economic recovery continues to be slow, the U.S. “shopping season” got off to a huge start on “Black Friday” (11/23, the day after Thanksgiving) this year, with record numbers of shoppers lining up in person and shopping at home online.

Each year, analysts and business owners, together with stock-watchers and folks looking for signs of economic hope, wait to see how big an event “Black Friday” will be – as an indicator of how the rest of the holiday retail season will pan out. In recent years, Black Friday has been joined by “Cyber Monday” (the Monday after Thanksgiving, when online retailers offer deals for shoppers who prefer to stay home and purchase things while wearing their pajamas) and “Small Business Saturday” (the Saturday after Black Friday, when folks are encouraged to shop locally and support small businesses).

In addition, non-profit organizations are getting into the holiday spirit with “Giving Tuesday” (the day after Cyber Monday…after Small Business Saturday…after Black Friday…after Thanksgiving), encouraging folks to “cut through the noise” of retail and spend the day (or season) learning how to “give more, give better, and give smarter” during a season when people express their generosity in lots of different ways, including both gift-giving and charity.

It remains to be seen how many of these money-charged “festival days” have staying power – or generate any “real” hope for economic recovery in this country or around the world. And, of course, we’re several paragraphs into this story about the “holidays” (Christmas being at least one of the biggest holidays celebrated this time of year), and with all this talk about hope, no one has yet mentioned Jesus.


Discussion Questions

  • How many of your friends and family did some (or most, or all) of their shopping over the Thanksgiving weekend? Was it fun? Stressful? Exciting? Meaningful? Anyone have a shopping story they want to share?
  • Why do you think we focus so much energy and interest on the shopping aspect of this season?
  • How do you feel about “Giving Tuesday” as a part of (or response to) the shopping emphasis of the kick-off to the holiday shopping season?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, December 9, 2012 (Second Sunday of Advent)

Malachi 3:1-4

Philippians 1:3-11

Luke 3:1-6

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.


Gospel Reflection

Talk about “cutting through the noise.” The reading in the Gospel of Luke for this day begins with a long list of totally unpronounceable names. Luke places the story of John the Baptist (son of a very important priest) in its context – the context of empire, politics, religion and rule. These are the people who have power over the lives of the people surrounding Jesus: people like Tiberius, Herod, Pilate, Philip, Lysanias, Annas, Caiaphas… and so on. These were important people, who demanded attention, homage, and obedience from the poor folks living in Galilee and the regions surrounding the Jordan River. People like Mary and Joseph.

Into this noisy and complicated time, God sent John – an important man who threw away his power and prestige and devoted his life to pointing. John’s job was to point: to point out the dumb and dangerous nonsense that clouded people’s lives; to point to the water where they could be washed and changed and given another shot at living a meaningful and faithful life; and most of all, to point to the One who was coming into the world who would make all things new – for us and for all of creation.

Pointing – that’s the job of the church and its faithful few. Our job is to cut through the clatter and clutter and point: to point out how silly it is to think that the future depends on how many people line up at the crack of dawn to buy mostly useless stuff; to point at how many people are living in poverty and hunger while the rest of us are wearing our pajamas in a warm house and clicking away on Amazon or Etsy; to point out that real, lasting hope cannot be purchased; and more than anything, to point to the fact that real, lasting hope will mean a total re-arranging of the world as we know it… which means, of course, that we might not want to spend so much time worrying about the ups and downs of the world as we know it.

John tells us that the coming of God into the world will mean filling in valleys and tearing down mountains. That makes environmentalists cringe – if, of course, they are taking these things literally. But maybe what John is really saying is that repentance (that is, a changed mind/heart/life) is something that totally rearranges how we understand our world, our lives, and the things we value. What better time than this season to be reminded of what really matters. (Hint: you can’t buy it in a store. It is a gift, but it is one that can only be given to us, by God.)

Discussion Questions

  • What, in your opinion, “really matters”? How does the “holiday season” help and/or hurt your ability to focus on the things that really matter?
  • Where do you think you would find Jesus on the Friday-Tuesday (and beyond) following Thanksgiving?
  • If John the Baptist showed up at your school, what would he point to that would need to be changed? What would he point to that would be a sign of hope and joy and life

Activity Suggestions

Materials needed: cardstock, writing utensils, current newspapers and/or magazines.

Using cardstock, invite each participant to cut out 5-10 “pointer fingers” (number varies according to the time you have allotted for this activity), about 1” square (these can be decorated, or not). Then, invite each participant to rifle through the news sources for stories/ads/images that s/he thinks John the Baptist would point to in his effort to call people to repentance and hope. Include both signs of danger and nonsense as well as signs of life and hope and joy. Cut out those pictures/ads/stories and tape a pointer finger to each one. Assemble these into a collage, clumping together signs of danger and signs of hope. Invite participants to share why they chose the items they chose.

Closing Prayer

God, you send us people like John to point to what’s really important – and to remind us of all the stuff that isn’t. Help us to listen to those voices, so that we can spend less time on stuff that doesn’t matter and more time on the things that do. Help us learn how to become pointer fingers ourselves. But most of all, remind us during this crazy beautiful season that you – and you alone – have given us hope; and you – and you alone – will give us life, now and forever. Amen.