Preparing for Advent (Year B)

The following seasonal introduction was first published in Sundays and Seasons 2024, Year B, copyright © 2023 Augsburg Fortress.


Preaching in Advent is tricky in any year, and this year the calendar is doing us few favors. Pregnancy is a primary metaphor for the season as a whole, but our gospel texts in year B offer only one encounter with a pregnant person, and that on the fourth Sunday of the season when the psalm is the Magnificat and the gospel is the annunciation. The fourth Sunday of Advent also happens to be shared with Christmas Eve this year, and given current trends in attendance, it is quite likely that many will skip the morning service in favor of the evening one. This could mean that, without some intention on the part of the preacher, a season about pregnancy, labor, and birth might fail to include the experience, perspective, or voice of pregnant people.

Further, December 12 is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, commemorating the appearance of the pregnant virgin Mary to St. Juan Diego. This is a principal and generative story for Latin American Christian faith. It would behoove preachers, especially white male solo pastors, to choose feminist and Mujerista commentators as dialogue partners during this season. It may also be a good idea to choose the image of Guadalupe as a centering image for the season, with some context provided.

Further still, the apocalyptic imagery of Mark 13 on the first Sunday of Advent can be triggering to a generation of “exvangelicals” who are working to deconstruct harmful theologies, such as those propagated by the Left Behind series. These movies and books, as well as a host of end times profiteers, have forced nonsensical interpretations into the culture as a legitimate hermeneutic of the New Testament’s eschatology. It would be helpful to engage with Barbara Rossing’s The Rapture Exposed as a tool for debunking these faulty interpretations and offering a clearer, more hopeful picture of what the second coming will bring.

In the second week of Advent, Peter says that the Lord will come like a thief in the night, another triggering phrase for exvangelicals. John the Baptist bursts onto the scene with the immediacy characteristic of the Gospel of Mark. Isaiah 40 for many will evoke the tenor melody of Handel’s Messiah, calling the hearer to speak a word of comfort to the people of God. John the Baptist is calling his hearers to repentance. The call to repentance comes from a God who longs to comfort God’s people—a God who will come suddenly, surprisingly, to “steal from us [our] hurts, fears, jealousy and wants, and replace these with love, peace, and joy” (“Advent’s Thief,” posted December 19, 2015, at

In the third week of Advent, we return to John the Baptist, though this time through the Gospel of John. As the forerunner, John testifies to the light as a “voice . . . crying out in the wilderness” (1:23). Paul promises us that the one whose voice calls us is faithful. Reaping a harvest of joy usually requires sowing in tears, a clear exposition of the theology of the cross; God doesn’t prevent our pain and sorrow, but suffers with us, redeeming our pain and sorrow, transforming it into joy.

In the fourth week of Advent, we finally hear from Mary, whose song offers us a definition of a just peace; not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice. This season promises that we too are overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. Finding within ourselves the gestating Christ, we can commit ourselves with Mary to an enthusiastic “yes” to God’s call, preparing our hearts and minds for the labor ahead. This holy mother, this refugee mother, this brown-skinned, unwed, teenage mother, in whose veins first flowed the blood of Christ—she is our model of faith, devotion, and strength in Advent. We too are the mother of God, bearing this Christ into the world by our sacred yes.

The coming of Christ is not about wrath but revelation. This season promises to show us God’s radical solidarity with the human condition, even at its most vulnerable, to prepare us to be transformed.

Assembly Song

In Advent our lectionary texts ask worshipers to keep awake, to turn anew toward the expectation of the coming Christ, to remove obstacles to God’s movement (in our lives, churches, communities, and societies), to nurture the divine presence within, waiting to be born into the world. The earth in the northern hemisphere invites the church to engage darkness, silence, and stillness as it reaches the solstice.

One way music can support these movements is through simplicity. That simplicity can come through using chant. “In silence we wait” (ACS 998) is one of the many chants included in All Creation Sings that can be effective as gathering music, communion song, or part of an evening service. This particular song has the added benefit of creating positive associations with both light and darkness. Here, it is in the intermingling of light and darkness where God is active.

Music can also embody simplicity through considering the sounds used in worship. Organ registrations can rely on fewer stops and fewer pitch levels. Bands can use stripped-down instrumentation or go acoustic for the season. Perhaps even leadership for the season is only a guitar and voice, or guitar, voice, and a melody instrument. Contexts that use both organ and piano may lean more heavily on piano. These kinds of simplifications allow for the grandeur of Christmas to be richer in contrast and can provide congregations fewer distractions from the words they sing.

If the guiding aesthetic of the season is simplicity, some congregations and leaders may even become comfortable singing unaccompanied from time to time. Because most congregations are already familiar with its melody, you could sing “O come, O come, Emmanuel” (ELW 257) unaccompanied for one stanza, for all the stanzas, or for the entire hymn. This is an easy way for an assembly to try unaccompanied singing if this practice is new to them. Singing in Community: Paperless Music for Worship (Augsburg Fortress, 2017) is filled with paperless songs that can be led without the aid of printed materials. Music that Makes Community ( is another resource.

A simple Kyrie can support the season’s turning to and preparing for Christ. Try this practice that has been appreciated at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in St. Paul: Begin the service with a solo voice intoning “Kyrie” (ELW 151) a cappella. Invite the assembly to join in the singing as a procession comes to the font for confession before the rest of the service continues.

One important song for the season is Mary’s song (the Magnificat). Especially for congregations that gather for midweek services during Advent, the Magnificat is a primary vehicle for interpreting the season musically and lyrically. This canticle (a song contained in scripture) is rich with connections to the psalms as well as to Hannah’s song (1 Samuel 2:1-10). Luke 1:46b-55 is appointed as the primary psalmody for the fourth Sunday of Advent and the alternate psalmody for the third Sunday. There are many musical and textual interpretations of Mary’s song. One adaptation of this text, “Filled with hope and gratitude” (ACS 907), is meant to be sung both in the context of evening prayer and as a song after communion. Using it in both places can connect those two experiences of worship and encourage worshipers to understand themselves as “God-bearers” after they have taken the body of Christ into their own bodies.

It is important to remember that, during Advent, the celebration of Christmas has not yet begun in the church. Although Christmas may be two months old in the marketplace, children’s Christmas programs may be over already, and pres- sure may mount to sing Christmas carols, there is a spiritual honesty and integrity in singing songs of longing, of embracing simplicity, of engaging our need for God. The church can wait for Christmas until it arrives.

Worship Space

That’s wild! Worship space for the season of Advent might focus on the multiple mentions of wilderness in the texts, from mountains quaking (Isa. 64:1) in response to God tearing open the heavens to come down (Advent 1), to John’s appearance in the wilderness (Advent 2 and 3). How might art and natural elements be used in formal worship spaces to invite us to be mindful of the role of the wild, the unknown, the mysterious in preparing us for the coming of a God who would upset the expected order of things by tearing open the heavens to be with us?

Whether your congregation is situated in the desert, in an urban environment, near forests, or amid farmland, consider ways in which the “wilderness” of natural elements can be brought into (or just outside) your indoor worship space. Being mindful not to damage any living thing, and depending on what is available in your area, consider ideas such as those below to invite responses that are as surprising as mountains that quake and a humble young woman given a role and a voice to powerfully suggest that God’s entry into the world was a shocking, earth-shaking event.

  • If your setting has them, find fallen branches or pine cones to bring inside to “wild up” the space that may normally be controlled and sterile. These can be arranged, gathered together and tied with a bow, wrapped with a string of lights—or they could be “wildly” scattered around the space (away from anywhere people walk).
  • River pebbles or rough stones from a nearby source can be brought inside or set outside your doors to invoke the idea of wilderness.

If your setting or preferences do not allow for gathering of natural items, you might create an art project in which artists/ participants are invited to depict any kind of natural element— the wilder, the better! Art might depict non-domesticated animals of all kinds and can be created using simple materials like crayons and pencils or art supplies such as watercolor or acrylic paints on paper or fabric. Digital art can be created using drawing programs and displayed as projected images if your congregation uses large display screens or has access to laptop or tablet devices.

Another way to disrupt your “tame” worship space and invoke the wilderness would be to arrange furniture in unusual ways, creating zigzagging pathways through seating areas (mindful of the accessibility needs of users of wheelchairs or other assistance devices). Even if only a few items of furniture were arranged “wildly” off to one side of the worship space, while any pews or chairs remained in their usual spots, the notion of wilderness would be suggested.

For Advent 4, which shares the date with Christmas Eve this year, the art and worship space could lift up the parts of Mary’s song of praise that speak of God’s favor for the lowly (Luke 1:48, 52)—what a “wilderness” concept! Print out or handwrite the word “lowly” or “lowliness” on strips of paper or fabric and invite people to raise them in the air when the words “lifted up the lowly” (v. 52) are read. A banner reading “lowly” could be installed high above eye level or literally lifted up during the service to celebrate that those who are treated in our fallen world as less important or valuable than others are lifted up by God.

Seasonal Checklist

  • Order candles and greens for the Advent wreath or ask members of the congregation to make or donate these items. Consider a smaller, table-sized wreath for gatherings outside the principal worship space.
  • Recruit volunteers of all ages to help prepare the worship space for Advent.
  • Use the gathering song rubric in Evangelical Lutheran Worship to help you plan your Advent liturgy: “The time of gathering song may be brief or extended, and may include one or more of the following: hymns, psalms; a Kyrie; a canticle of praise” (p. 98). This carefully crafted instruction invites flexibility and creativity in the liturgy. If lighting an Advent wreath is the only thing you do that is unique to the season, let this invitation tap into new possibilities.
  • Work with children’s and family ministries to prepare resources that support household prayer.
  • Encourage the use of the O Antiphons (versified in “O come, O come, Emmanuel,” ELW 257) at home from Saturday, December 16, until Friday, December 22. Sing the entire hymn on the fourth Sunday of Advent.
  • Schedule time after the fourth Sunday of Advent to prepare the worship space for Christmas liturgies.



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