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Faith Lens

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