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Advent Week One

Advent 2021 | First United Methodist Church of Rockwall

The Weary World Rejoices

Week One, November 28, 2021 — Fall on your Knees, Gracie Millard

Foundational Scripture: Isaiah 9:2-7, Isaiah 40:3-5

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. – Isaiah 9:2-7 

A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’ – Isaiah 40:3-5 

Advent Reflection:

I can think of several instances when I have purposely fallen on my knees. The first is at my bedside in prayer to God. Nothing particularly noteworthy there. But one time in particular was also in my apartment, in the middle of the living room in March 2020. I dropped to my knees and tears poured out. It was when it became real that COVID wasn’t going away and there was nothing I could do about it. I felt helpless and hopeless. The first was in worship, in prayer. The second was in defeat. Both were to God.

Maybe you’ve done the same. You received the bad diagnosis. You reached the end of your rope. You’re weary from trying to stand and be strong in the face of stress and suffering, and you finally give in to the weight of it all — you really don’t feel like you can stand at all. You fall on your knees in desperation that God will have mercy on you, that God will hear your prayer. In both instances, being on your knees is a sign that you can’t do it on your own — whatever “it” is: the marriage, the estranged relationship, parenthood, overcoming the addiction, fighting a disease, the non-stop work schedule, enduring the grief. As painful as it is, I think there’s also something really beautiful about the fact that the weight of the world brings us to our knees. It’s the reminder that we aren’t meant to carry on on our own in the darkness. Our knees bring us to God and to each other.

Israel was a people walking in darkness. Both God and Isaiah speak to Israel as if Israel is one person. They are “a people” walking in darkness. It’s not one person who alone has been walking in darkness — but a people who together have been enduring this darkness together. It’s not quite scripture, but I think Ted Lasso’s (popular TV Show) take is pretty spot on with the scripture: “There is something worse out there than being sad, and that’s being alone and being sad.” While Israel was walking in darkness, they were together in darkness. We’ve said it ad nauseum — as a community, as a world, we’ve had a rough go of it the past couple years. We’ve experienced collective grief, and that takes a toll. If we haven’t already (several times), here’s your permission and invitation to fall on your knees. On your knees, hear that “a child has been born for us, a son given.” Hear that “the government will rest on his shoulders.” Hear that “this child will be Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.” It sounds a whole lot different on your knees. From our knees, it sounds like hope. From our knees, it’s a lot easier to recognize our need for this hope.

Prophecies like Isaiah are read in what we call the prophetic perfect, meaning the voice is in the past tense but the events haven’t happened yet. It’s the prophet (and God) saying he’s so sure this is going to happen, it’s as if it already has. Israel is receiving this prophecy while still in darkness, but Isaiah says they will see a great light — he’s sure of it. This light will be such a relief, they will burst into worship while they’re still in darkness. Light means hope, light means an end to darkness. Light means life, life means Jesus, for: “in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:4-5).

Finally, Isaiah encourages Israel to make a way for the Lord in the wilderness as they wait for him. “Clear the way!” he says. The shortest distance is a straight line, so do the work to fill in the valleys and flatten the mountains — don’t make it harder for people to receive God, for God is coming! And not only has God come, but God has come to meet us in the wilderness, endure the wilderness with us and eventually bring us to the full light. 

Advent is a season of waiting, and I encourage you to do this waiting on your knees with community — express the grief we’ve been carrying and worship the God who embodies hope for us even while we’re still in the wilderness. For we are a people walking in darkness, but we have seen a great light. Behold — it’s our God, coming to meet us in the wilderness.

For Further Reflection:

  1. It can be hard to hear the voice of God in the wilderness spaces of our lives. Reflect on a time this year that you found yourself in the wilderness. Where and how did you hear God in the midst of turmoil and strife? 
  2. How have you seen the “light of God in the darkness” this week?
  3. How have you been the “light of God in the darkness” this week?
  4. What does preparing your heart for the presence of God mean to you?
  5. The title of this year’s Advent study is “A Weary World Rejoices”. What brings you joy in the midst of hardship?

Spiritual Practice: Cultivating Joy

Spend a few minutes everyday this week making a gratitude list. Write out the things that fill your heart with gratitude. After your list is complete, sit with it for a bit. Lift each thing on your list up to God. Notice your outlook begin to change as you reflect on the many gifts in your life. When we shift our focus to gratitude we are able to better see the provisions and love that surround us. 

Family Advent Moment:

As your family prepares to buy presents for one another, we encourage you to buy a present for a child from the Methodist Children’s Home (MCH) in Waco, Texas. Our church has a tradition of partnering with MCH with our Angel Trees. Your family can choose a child — or maybe two or three — that you’d like to sponsor. You can shop online or in-person to buy just the right gift for your child, and then drop it off at church for it to be collected and delivered. And remember, by buying presents for these children in need, you’re reflecting the light of God into their lives, just like Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would do for us!