Contributed by Jocelyn Breeland, Fairfax, VA


Warm-up Question

Should a woman with Down Syndrome be allowed to decide where she will live?

Critical Choices

Jenny Hatch had a job she loved and had found a new place to live. Her parents had other ideas, but like most other 29-year-olds, Jenny thought her wishes should take precedence. However, because Jenny has Down Syndrome, it wasn’t that simple.

Jenny’s mother and stepfather, Julia and Richard Ross, petitioned a court to be shutterstock_128394041editdeclared guardians of their adult daughter. They wanted to decide where she lived, what medical treatment she received, and who she could see. They felt Jenny would be safest living in a group home.

Jenny had lived in several group homes and didn’t like them. She said they treated her like a child and took away her cell phone and computer. Jenny wanted to live with Kelly Morris and Jim Talbert, friends who also employed Jenny at their thrift shop.

Many people with disabilities find group homes to be a useful option. The best group homes provide needed services for people with disabilities, while supporting their right to make decisions concerning where they live and work, their relationships, and the community activities in which they will participate.  Jenny, however, did not believe a group home was the best choice for her.

In the end, a judge in Newport News VA ruled that, while Jenny could not live alone, her preferences should be considered. The judge named Morris and Talbert Jenny’s temporary guardians.

Disability rights activists are hailing this as a landmark decision. They hope that other courts will recognize that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities like Jenny can make decisions for themselves.


Discussion Questions

  • Are Jenny’s parents right to be concerned for her welfare?
  • Jenny Hatch is said to have an IQ of 50. Based on this, do you believe there should be limits on her ability to make choices about where she lives,who her friends are, and how she spends her free time, including her access to a computer or cell phone.
  • People with disabilities face many barriers to inclusion in community activities and often require accommodation or support. How open is your congregation to people with disabilities? What accommodations are in place, or would be needed, for people with disabilities to engage in the life of your congregation?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, December 8, 2013 (Second Sunday of Advent)

Isaiah 11:1-10

Romans 15:4-13

Matthew 3:1-12

(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


There must have been great relief for the people in Jerusalem, Judea and around the Jordan who heard John’s words. The time of the Messiah had come, and he would surely wipe out their oppressors and restore Israel.

Matthew tells us that many came to be baptized and confess their sins. But there is also evidence here that the coming of the Christ would not be exactly what the people were expecting.  The Pharisees and Sadducees, although known for their adherence to the Law of Moses, tradition, and ritual, were in for a big shock. By all appearances, these were the most righteous of all. Yet John questions their sincerity and warns them that the one to come will baptize them with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Some Jews of the time believed that Abraham was so virtuous that he secured a place in the life to come for himself and his descendants. John tells the leaders not to come to him merely going through the motions of confession and baptism and relying on their ancestor Abraham for their salvation. Instead, they must truly repent.  John warns them that absent true repentance the one who is coming will cut them down like trees which do not produce good fruit.

For modern Christians, this scripture offers insight into the purpose of Advent and how we should spend the weeks leading up to Christmas. The kingdom of heaven is at hand, and we must prepare our hearts with repentance to receive the gift of Christ. This cannot be empty ritual.  We risk the fate of the chaff, separated from the wheat and destroyed in the fire.

Unlike John’s audience, we know the good news of the New Testament in which Jesus shows us how to open ourselves to God’s love and live joyfully according to God’s plan. This greatest gift, the presence of God in our world and lives, is what we spend the season of Advent preparing our hearts to receive.

Discussion Questions

  •  John invited the people to confess and be baptized. Is there something similar in the way we observe Advent today?
  • The Pharisees and Sadducees allowed tradition and ritual to distract them from sincere practice of their faith in all spheres of their lives. Are there similar distractions in your life?
  • How do we “prepare the way of the Lord?”
  • Are our Advent preparations only within our own hearts and minds, or is there something about the way we act in the world that is also a way of preparing?

Activity Suggestions

Write your own Advent hymn:

Without looking at a hymnal, make a list of all the Christmas hymns you can think of. Then make a list of all the Advent hymns you can think of. Odds are, your list of Advent hymns is much shorter, even though there are numerous examples in our hymnals. For some reason, many Advent hymns have failed to capture the imagination and stick in the mind the way Christmas songs do.   Here’s your change to change that.

First, consider the message of your hymn. Will it focus on what the arrival of Jesus will bring to the world? Will it focus on how we prepare ourselves for Christmas? Perhaps both, or something else entirely?   Write down some ideas for your hymn and begin to write the poem that will be the lyrics.

Set your words to music. The easiest way is probably to use an existing familiar tune.  The numbers at the bottom right of ELW hymns can help you find possible tunes which match then number of syllables in each line of your poem.

When you’re finished, sing your hymn. Consider including your new song in your worship this Advent season.

Closing Prayer

Gracious Father, as we anxiously await the celebration of Christmas, help us to remember to spend time preparing ourselves and our world to receive our blessed Messiah. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.