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January 13, 2013–Expectations

Contributed by Brian Hiortdahl, Chicago, IL


Warm-up Question

Did you make any New Year’s resolutions?  How are you doing so far?


It is reported that December 22, 2012 happened.  It was the day after the “end of the world” predicted because an ancient Mayan calendar cycle expired on December 21.  The date inspired an apocalyptic movie released three years ago and plenty of “doomsday” preparations around the globe as many people expected the world to end:


Discussion Questions

  •  If you knew for certain the world would end tomorrow, what would you do today?
  • When have you expected something that did not actually happen?  How did you feel afterward?
  • What are you excited or worried about right now–what are you currently expecting?  How will you probably react if things turn out differently than you anticipate?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, January 13, 2013 (Baptism of  Our Lord)

Isaiah 43:1-7

Acts 8:14-17

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

(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

The vibe around John the Baptist was probably similar to that of last December.  Luke writes that “the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah.”  Long standing prophecy was finally (maybe, probably?) about to come true, and they would be there to see it!

John had his own expectations:  “one who is more powerful than I is coming….He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”  Earlier he had warned his listeners that “the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”  John was expecting a Messiah armed with blades of judgment who would come and clean house.

What John got instead was hard time.  Did you notice that there are verses cut out of the middle of the gospel reading?  They inform us that Herod put John in prison.  From there, John got rumors and reports about Jesus, who didn’t quite fit the profile he was expecting, so he sent two of his followers to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

Jesus’ response is a summary of his ministry:  “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.  And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” (Luke 7:19-23)

This is probably not exactly what John or the people were expecting from a Messiah.  In the way he goes about his ministry, Jesus seems to be listening not to the voices around him as much as he is focused on the voice above him:  the voice at his baptism which said, “You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 

Discussion Questions

  •  How do you imagine John responded to Jesus’ answer?
  • What are your expectations of Jesus?  Does he meet them, disappoint them, exceed them, change them?
  • To what voices in your life do you most often listen?
  • How do you listen to the Voice that spoke love and pleasure at your baptism?  How does God’s word to you compare or contrast with others’ expectations of you?

Activity Suggestions

  •  Wash something–hands, dishes, body, clothes, whatever.  When you do so, follow Martin Luther’s advice, making the sign of the cross in remembrance of your baptism.
  • Talk with your parents, godparents, and/or someone who was present at your baptism, and look at photos if you have them.  What do they remember most?  How have their hopes and expectations for you changed since that day?
  • Plan a baptism party.  (I annually host one around January 17, the anniversary of my baptism.  Yes, there will be cake.)  This Sunday, when we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord, is a great time to do this as a group.

Closing Prayer

Thank you, loving God, for your unexpected goodness and grace to us.  Thank you for naming us your own in holy baptism and calling us to follow Jesus in lives of service and blessing to others.  Help us who are surrounded by so many voices to keep listening to yours.  Amen

December 31, 2008-January 7, 2009 – Show me a sign

Warm-up Question: Are your expectations for 2009 mostly positive or negative?

As we begin a new year, in especially trying times, many Americans are looking for a sign of the things to come. Will it get better, or worse? Can we know before it happens?

We wonder if we’ve seen the worst of the economic crisis, or if the worst is still to come. Will more people find jobs than lose them? Will gas prices keep going down of zoom back up? Will consumers once again be able to get loans to buy homes and cars and pay for college?

Our president-elect has promised change, but will it really be the change we need? Will our elected officials find ways to stop fighting and work together on our behalf? Will the election of an African American signal an improved era of race relations in the country? Will we find a way to improve the lives of the poor, neglected, and most vulnerable in our society?

Do the recent attacks in Gaza and the Middle East suggest a year of greater violence, or is there still hope for peace? Will people with affordable medicines reach the sick that so desperately need them? Can we slow or reverse the damage we’ve done to our planet?

Some of our questions are more personal. Will I graduate? Will I find love? Will I find meaning in my life? What will happen to my family and friends?

It seems that only time will show us the answers to these and many other pressing questions.

Discussion Questions

  • What questions are you hoping 2009 will answer?
  • What signs may give you an early hint of the outcomes?
  • Can you, or anyone, reliably predict the outcomes? Can you affect these outcomes? Why or why not?
  • What does your faith lead you to expect in 2009?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, January 4, 2009.

(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 B at Lectionary Readings.)

Jeremiah 31:7-14 or Sirach 24:1-12
Psalm 147:12-20 (12) or Wisdom 10:51-21 (20)
Ephesians 1:3-14
John 1:[1-9] 10-18

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

Gospel Reflection

The first thirteen verses of John’s Gospel form a sort of executive summary of the Christian story. Jesus — the Word, the Light — was of God, not a recent creation, but present at creation. He came to earth born as a human as a witness to God, but he was rejected by many. For us, the good news is that some did believe, and those that do have new life and hope as children of God.

Then John begins his story of Jesus’ life and ministry with the witness of John the Baptist. The oppressed people of Israel had hoped for the promised Messiah, and were watching for a sign that he had come. They also had many questions. John’s witness was foretold in Isaiah 40:3, one of many signs that would confirm for believers that Jesus was the promised one. God had said, through Isaiah, that this is how Jesus’ ministry would begin.

In John’s message, we also have the first sign from God of the revolutionary new covenant with all humankind that was Jesus Christ. He is not, like Moses, an instrument for God to declare his law. Instead, through Jesus, God fulfills and demonstrates his truth and grace. As John says in verse 18, no one could see God, but through Jesus, we can know and develop a closer relationship with God.

Discussion Questions

  • Why was it necessary for John to “prepare” people for the coming of Christ?
  • Imagine yourself in first century Judea. What might influence you to believe or disbelieve John?
  • Few, if any, could imagine the events of the next three years of Jesus’ life. Based on the sign from John, what do you suppose most people expected of Jesus?
  • In what way are contemporary Christians like the Jews of Jesus’ time?
  • If God’s message through John is as valid today as it was in the time of Christ, what should we expect in 2009 and the years to come?
  • Based on these expectations, how should we behave and prepare ourselves as people who profess and follow Jesus as the Son of God — the promised Messiah and Savior?

Activity Suggestions

  • On a piece of paper, write down 2-3 questions that you hope will be answered, or problems you hope will be resolved, in 2009.
  • For each item, list the signs that will let you know in advance how they are likely to turn out. (For example, if you’re applying to colleges this year, your grades in school, SAT scores, information from colleges, or scholarships might be early signs that your hope will become a reality.)
  • Then, list the things you can do to affect and influence the outcomes, and the role of faith in each. What is beyond your control?
  • Share your list with the group.

** You can take this exercise one step further by putting it someplace safe (like the box you store your Christmas ornaments in) for a year. Next year at this time, review the list. How predictive were the signs you identified? How effective were your actions in securing the desired outcomes? And, most important, where do you see God’s hand in shaping the year you had?

Closing Prayer

Almighty God, we recognize in Jesus a sign of your great love for us. Help us every day to see the many signs of your loving presence in our world and bless us to be signs of your love for those who need your light and hope. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Contributed by Jocelyn Breeland
Fairfax, VA

December 24-31, 2008 – My eyes have seen it

Warm-Up Question: What is the most significant historical thing you’ve witnessed in your lifetime?

It is amazing to think of all the ways that life has changed in the past 20 years, or 50 years, or 100 years. You’ve probably talked with grandparents or other older people about what life was like when they were your age. No computers, no cell phones, no cars, no TV, and maybe no telephones at all.

There are people who have witnessed major changes in society. From a time when women and African-Americans couldn’t vote to a year when this country elected an African-American man as President and very nearly elected a woman instead.

Recently, Edna Parker died at the age of 115 in Shelbyville, Indiana. She was documented at the time as the world’s oldest living person. Imagine what she saw. Imagine the events she witnessed. Imagine the changes in her way of life. The article points out that she and her husband were the first in their area to own an automobile!

Discussion Questions

  • What is the change or the event you wish you could have seen during Edna’s life (since 1893)?
  • If you could have spoken with Edna, what would you have wanted to ask her?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, December 28, 2008.
(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 B at Lectionary Readings.

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

Gospel Reflection

Today’s Gospel lesson tells us about two very elderly people who got to see Jesus when he was very young. Simeon and Anna were people of great faith who had been waiting a long time for God’s promises to be fulfilled. On the day when Jesus was brought to the temple for purification after his birth (according to the law of the time), Simeon and Anna were there. They saw the baby. They knew that all they had been waiting for was there in that little boy Jesus.

Luke records Simeon’s words which many of us sing at the end of each Sunday morning worship service: “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Simeon knew he could die at peace and at rest now because he had seen everything God had promised… all in this one little baby.

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think Mary and Joseph were thinking as Simeon and Anna went “ga-ga” over their new baby in this way?
  • What are the promises that you are waiting for God to fulfill?

Activity Suggestions

Plan a conversation time with some of the oldest members of your congregation. Ask them what life was like when they were teenagers. Ask them to tell your stories of their lives. Help them to write the stories down as memory books for their own family members.

Closing Prayer

Faithful God, we thank you for the fulfillment of all your promises. We thank you especially for Jesus, born of Mary, who came to be light for the world. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Contributed by Pastor Seth Moland-Kovash
All Saints Lutheran Church
Palatine, IL