Advent 1: “Hope” Face-to- Face Gatherings

The lessons focus on significant words of the season. They are arranged: 1. Hope, 2. Peace, 3. Love, and 4. Joy. However, feel free to rearrange them according to the Advent practices of your congregation.

The Sankofa Bird, source: uncommongoods.com

Prep

Ready the video; gather an Advent wreath with candles and matches; provide Bibles and refreshments, paper and colored pencils. Plan to display the picture of the Sankofa bird.

Getting Started

Welcome all guests. Conduct a brief time for introductions of participants.

Briefly introduce the scope of the study and The Bible Project. Speak about expectations regarding group dynamics, such as encouraging questions and comments.

Offer an opening prayer. Light the first Advent candle.

Prompt discussion: When you hear the word “advent,” what comes to your mind? What feelings or memories are evoked?

(“Advent” means “coming,” describing the church’s expectations for the return of Christ and his kingdom come in its fulness.)

Digging In

Make available paper and colored pencils and invite participants to doodle or draw as they watch the video.

Introduce the video: In the Bible, people who have hope are very different from optimists! In this video, we’ll explore how biblical hope looks to God’s character alone as a basis for trusting that the future will be better than the present.

Watch the video.

Following the video, note key ideas such as two Hebrew words, “to wait for” and “tension in waiting”; waiting for God, whose past steadfastness leads to trust; optimism is different from hope; Greek word, elpis, a living hope in which we and all creation are reborn.

Invite participants to offer comments and observations on what they saw and drew. Discuss: How are hoping and waiting like hearing thunder in the distance? What is difficult about waiting for someone or something? What tensions have you experienced in waiting?

Introduce Isaiah 40:1-5, 27-31. The covenant people are in exile in a foreign land, a condition the prophets said had resulted from their disobedience to God. Now, the prophet announces the people’s rescue because of God’s steadfast love and trustworthiness.

Invite volunteers to read Isaiah 40:1-5, 27-31.

Discuss: What does it mean to wait for God? How does knowing what God has done in the past give us hope for tomorrow? What is it about God’s character that evokes trust in the human heart?

Introduce the Sankofa bird from West Africa (above). The symbol is based on a mythical bird with its feet firmly planted forward with its head turned backwards.

Say: People of faith can learn from the Sankofa the truth that to move forward into God’s future, it’s crucial to know the past and what God has already done. God’s character is the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. So we can hope that the God who liberated a people from slavery in Egypt and exile in Babylon and who raised Jesus from the dead will one day liberate creation from sin and death and raise all of us to new life.

Concluding Options

1. Invite the participants to talk about their attitudes about the future. Identify people who have nurtured their hope in God. Honor these harbingers of hope by writing Advent/Christmas cards or making a contribution to an organization in their names.

2. Listen to “I Shall Be Released” by Bob Dylan (or various other artists. Check out Nina Simone’s version!). Connect the song’s lyrics of longing and waiting with prison and social justice. Wonder together what makes Dylan’s song a fitting Advent song for our times.

3. Commit to a living hope by helping small businesses in your area that are struggling. Brainstorm ways to do so and follow through.

Prayer

O God, you tell us to hope in your faithfulness, yet when we look at the world, all we see is sin and sadness. Strengthen our resolve to be for the world witnesses to our living hope, Jesus Christ, your son, our savior, In whose name we pray. Amen.

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