Preparing our Hearts | Advent Week 2 | 2018
Welcome to the Constant Source Weekly Advent series! This post is the second in the series. If you didn’t read last week’s post, we recommend that you start here.
Read: Luke 3:1-6
(Every Constant Source Weekly is inspired by four pieces of Scripture from all different parts of the Bible. One of those texts becomes the main foundation for the lesson and is interwoven throughout. Start by reading the text linked above.)
(Every Scripture reading is paired with a commentary section that explains the core themes of the passage, discusses the way the reading informs our faith, and helps interconnect all parts of the Bible. Read that next below.)
Last week, we began Advent with a look at the book of Jeremiah. We discussed the importance of preparing for the coming of Jesus and remembering His promise to redeem God’s people from their sin and rename them as righteous. Preparation through remembering where God’s people have been and God’s promise to redeem them is integral in helping us to know our place within the big picture story of who God is and what God is doing. Today, we are going to take a look at John the Baptist’s story and discover three ways that he challenges us to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord.
John the Baptist’s story is really unique. As we will see in the family time reading for the week, John’s mother, Elizabeth, was Mary’s relative, and she played a large role in mentoring and caring for Mary during her pregnancy. For the Gospel writer Luke, John’s origin story was almost as important as Jesus’s. In fact, Luke spends more time talking about Elizabeth, Zechariah, and John in chapter 1 than he spends writing about Mary and Jesus. Why? Because John played a key role in preparing the way for the ministry of Jesus.
John’s first challenge isn’t an explicit one; rather, it is seen in the way that John responds to God. It’s easy to miss this one because we often don’t understand the nuances behind the locations where things happen in the Bible, but Luke 3:2 mentions that John was in the wilderness when the word of the Lord came to him. The “wilderness” is a theologically loaded location all throughout the Bible. The Old Testament is filled with wilderness moments where a servant of God encounters God and is given a new invitation to further the work of God in the world. One of the most famous examples of a wilderness moment is found in Exodus 3 when Moses encounters God in the burning bush and is tasked with leading the Israelites out of their captivity. Exodus 3:1 opens as Moses “led the flock to the far side of the wilderness,” and it was in the wilderness that Moses encountered God and received a new call on his life. But meeting and hearing from God is only part of the challenge, Luke 3:3 begins with, “He (John) went…” The first challenge that John invites us into this Advent season is to create space to hear from God and then to do that which God asks of you. Preparing our hearts looks like hearing and obeying.
John’s second challenge is repentance. John’s message reminds us that there are things in our hearts and lives that don’t quite look like Jesus. As disciples, we seek Christ in order to be transformed into His likeness. Advent is a season of recognizing that we all have a long way to go. It gives us the opportunity at the beginning of each liturgical year to remember how deep our need for Jesus really is. Through the act of evaluating that which is in our heart, confessing these shortcomings to others, and repenting before God, we prepare the way for Jesus to do a great work within us. This is potentially the hardest challenge, but it very well might also be the most important. To follow Christ, we often have to realize that the direction that we are heading isn’t the right one. Repentance means admitting that there are pieces of our lives that are pulling us away from God and others. These are the things that we must shed in order to fully live into the life that God has for us. That being said, it’s important to remember that repentance is a willingness to change and not necessarily a declaration of the change; that’s called a testimony. Jesus is the one that does the work in our hearts. Our call during the Advent season is to prepare our hearts for that work by making sure we are willing to allow Jesus to have His way in us.
John’s third and final challenge is for us to remember that God doesn’t only want to work in us but also through us. In fact, this last point takes up the majority of our text for today. First, John quotes the words of the prophet Isaiah in Luke 3:4-6, which prescribes correcting the unjust inequalities in the world. Then in response to the crowd’s questions regarding living into their baptized life, John instructs them to exchange selfish actions for selfless ones. We too must receive this challenge. As much as the Advent season is about preparing our hearts to be transformed, it is also about seeing the needs of all people. As Jesus works in us, Jesus will work in the lives of others. Therefore, prepare your heart for service. For some that will mean repenting of selfishness, and for others that will mean exploring ways to care for those in your community. But the challenge is clear, “bear fruit worthy of repentance,” or in other words, allow the changes in your heart to influence the way you inhabit the world.
(The reflection section provides prompts to help you think through what God is teaching you and how it applies to the world around you. Take 3-5 minutes to ponder and respond to each question below. We recommend keeping a journal to write in, so that you can revisit it later.)
In the upcoming weeks, how can you seek “wilderness” better? In what ways can you create space to hear from God and respond to that which you hear?
How comfortable are you with the idea of repentance? Do you practice confession often? Take a moment to consider these questions and then rate your willingness to allow Christ to work on the sins in your life on a scale of 1-5. How can you improve that number during this season?
How can you step into a need during this holiday season? How can you share that experience with your kids?
(This section notes the other three scripture verses that come from the Lectionary and influenced the direction of the theme. Each reading helps you dive deeper into the Bible and provides a quick note on how that text applies to the theme. Finally, there is a reflection question for each verse as well.)
Philippians 1:3-11 - In this text, Paul is writing to the church at Philippi and affirming the transformation that he has seen in their lives. For us, Philippians is a case study that shows us the outcome of those who live into the three challenges that John the Baptist invited us into in Luke 3.
In verse 9, Paul prays “that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight.” Here Paul is talking about the fact that the more proximate we are to God, the more we understand what God is doing in us and in the world around us. How does this apply to you? Ask God to help your love for others overflow this season.
Malachi 3:1-4 - In this text, Malachi is foretelling the work of John the Baptist, which prepares the way for Jesus Christ. The way in which Malachi talks about the “refiner’s fire” deepens our understanding of what John the Baptist was alluding to when he said, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16). Malachi is illustrating the work of the Holy Spirit in each of our lives by comparing it to the refining process of fine metals. God transforms our hearts and removes our impurities, so that we may shine like we were intended to.
The refining process is rarely a comfortable one. Take a few minutes to reflect on the ways God has been uncomfortably working out the impurities in your life.
Psalm 90 - In this text, the Psalmist is describing the vastness of God and the punishment we deserve for our sins. The contrast between God’s timelessness and our boundedness is staggering. The Psalm closes with a cry for help. The Psalmist pleads with God and asks that the Lord would help set right his heart, so that he might find favor and that his work might be prosperous.
The Psalmist believes that while God is at work within his heart, he is also being prepared to return a greater yield for the work that he has in front of him. How does repentance prepare us for the future?
Each week of Advent, we encourage you to set aside time for your family to come together and create space to intentionally focus on preparing your hearts for the coming of Jesus Christ. We recommend Sunday evenings, as it is the traditional time that the Advent story has been shared in families for hundreds of years, but any time when you can gather together will work great. To help you navigate this time, each week you will find a reading from the traditional Advent story, discussion prompts, questions, a thematic song, a craft, and a prayer. We pray that your time will be filled with the Holy Spirit and that God would prepare your hearts this Advent season for the coming of the Messiah.
Mary and Elizabeth | Advent Story | Luke 1:39-56
(This section is to help you see the connection between what you studied above and the Advent story we are going to share below.)
The story of Mary and Elizabeth has always been an important moment in Jesus’s story. The relationship between Mary and Elizabeth is exceptional because it is steeped in mutual joy, encouragement, and care. We can imagine that Mary went to her relative Elizabeth because, as a teenage, virgin mother-to-be, she probably needed a safe place to go to escape a culture that couldn’t understand. In caring for her, Elizabeth affirms her identity as the mother of the Messiah and prepares her emotionally, spiritually, and physically for the birth of her child. It is only after being blessed and affirmed by Elizabeth that Mary’s heart cries out in declaration over her unborn child. Just as John prepared the way for Jesus, his mom helped prepare Mary’s heart for that which was to come.
Begin by recapping Advent and talking about what this church season is all about.
Read, or have one of your older children read, Luke 1:39-56.
Ask your family: In what ways do you think that Elizabeth helped Mary to be Jesus’s mother?
Share a story about a person who helped you prepare to be a father or mother.
Ask: Elizabeth was John the Baptist’s mom. Do you know who John the Baptist was?
Share John the Baptist’s story and explain how he prepared the way for Jesus.
With older kids share the challenges that we talked about in the main section and ask how you can all be preparing your hearts together
Craft | DIY Nativity Scene | Shepherds
Over the course of the next four weeks, we are going to use our craft time to create a DIY nativity scene with our family. By creating a tangible and tactile implementation of the Christmas story, our young ones will be better able to process through the story and then can retell the story through the use of their nativity as a prop. You will also have a great keepsake decoration to help you revisit memories for years to come.
NOTE: If you have multiple kids who are going to participate in the creation of the nativity scene, you can either divvy up the steps and who gets to paint each doll or you can create an extra set to gift to a relative. Just be sure that you purchase extra peg dolls.
If you purchased supplies last week, you should have everything you need.
Wooden Peg Dolls (1-3 “Dad” Dolls will be used for this craft, but we will use many of these dolls throughout.)
Craft Paint Brushes (2-pack linked so that whole family has the brushes they need)
Unfortunately Elizabeth and John the Baptist aren’t typically featured in nativity scenes, so we are going to fill in our scene a bit with a few characters whose story we aren’t going to get to in our Advent readings this year. Today we are going to add the shepherds. As you can see below, I made three, but you can do as few as one or as many as four with the supplies you purchased for last week.
Step 1: Outline
For the shepherds, we are going to use the same technique we used last week for Joseph. We are going to skip on the arms and keep his robe simple by sketching two parallel vertical lines. Next, draw a trapezoid to outline his hairline and sketch out a beard on one or two of them if you like. Finally, add a belt by drawing two parallel horizontal lines about 1/4 of the way up the body.
Step 2: Paint
This step is pretty simple and can be done by anyone. Using as few as five colors, you can fill in the outline you sketched in step 1. For young kids, you can number the colors and put a number in each section so they know what color to paint. If needed, you can also outline each section and allow them to fill in the rest.
Step 3: Add Faces
For the faces, simply grab your black marker and draw a little smiley face.
Bonus Step: Finishing Spray
For durability, spray with clear protective finish to keep paint from chipping during play.
Each week take some time to sing together. Each song is on theme, and the lyrics can be another awesome conversation starter with your older kids. If you’re unfamiliar with the song or if you’d like some an accompaniment, we recommend that you search for a video online and play it while you sing. The lyrics are included below for reference, either while you sing or while you talk about their meaning.
O come, O Wisdom from on high,
who ordered all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show
and teach us in its ways to go
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.
O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.
(Pray this prayer in conclusion of your time together.)
“Lord God, we thank you for the time that we have shared together this evening. We pray that you would continue to work in our hearts and prepare us for the coming of your son. May we receive Him with the same rejoicing that was evident in Mary and may we be encourage those around us like Elizabeth. We love you God! In Jesus’s name we pray, amen.”
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Happy Advent and God Bless.
*Transparency Disclosure: Each of the Amazon links above are associate links, which means that Constant Source collects a small percentage of each item purchased via the above links. These links are examples of the supplies that can be used and alternative supplies will work just as well.