Resources for Pre-Advent Bible Study - Fall 2022

Exploring the Call of John the Baptist to “Prepare the Way For the Lord.”

Based on the book & the leader guide:
Prepare the Way For the Lord: Advent & the Message of John the Baptist by Adam Hamilton 
4 Week Session: October 25 - November 15, 2022

Playlist of all YouTube Intros

Session #1 - October 25, 2022:  The Annunciation: “God Has Heard Your Prayers”

Watch the recorded intro for this session on YouTube

(Download Sesson #1 Information as a PDF)

Bibles Verses & Passages: Malachi 3:1, 4:1-2, 5-6; Luke 1:5-17; Zechariah 9:9
Opening Prayer:
Holy God, who was and is and is to come: As we prepare to celebrate your Son’s birth in Bethlehem, keep us mindful of your call to prepare for his future coming and to stay alert for his presence among and within us today.  By your Spirit, may our study of John the Baptist’s life, work, and witness to Jesus make us more ready to prepare Christ’s way into our world and in our lives. Amen.

Meeting Elizabeth & Zechariah                    Luke 1:5-7
Thinking about Prayers Answered and Unanswered                    Luke 1:8-13
Affirming God’s Choice of Those Who are “Very Old” Being a People Prepared For the Lord                    Malachi 4:5-6
The angel Gabriel makes clear [to Zechariah] that John is coming to be the Elijah that Malachi had spoken of more than four hundred years earlier.  And for us, today, as in Malachi’s day and John’s day … being prepared for the Lord involves turning back to one another, turning back to right ways of thinking.

Questions for Discussion: 
The author, Adam Hamilton, suggests that some people think about God as “the genie in the bottle.”  What do you think he means and is this an image to be discouraged?  Do you think it is easier to recognize others thinking about God this way than it is in ourselves?
“The miracles God works,” writes Hamilton, “sometimes come in different ways than we had imagined when we pray.”  What “miracles” in this sense can you point to in your own or others’ experience?  
Hamilton writes, “God often chooses older adults to do God’s greatest work.”  What Bible stories about God using older adults can you remember?  Which if these stories, if any, have had particular meaning for you, and why?
Who do you know or know of who has had their greatest adventure, or discerned their greatest calling, late in life? How can we, individually, and as congregations encourage older adults to see themselves as those “who never retire from God’s work?” 
What does or what would turning people’s hearts back to one another look like, practically and concretely, in society today? In your community? In your congregation? In your own family?

Closing Prayer:
God of the future, you have never failed to call your people back to righteous living.  We praise you for messengers in the past who have borne faithful witness to you and dare to pray you would make us people who prepare your way in our own time, for the sake of him whose coming John the Baptist proclaimed, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


Session #2 - November 1, 2022:  Pregnancy, Birth, Circumcision, and Zechariah’s Prophecy (Part 1)

Follow-up from SESSION 1 – Bible Verse & Prayer from Introduction:

Bible Verse: Matthew 3:1-3

3 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.”

Prayer from the United Methodist “Service of Death and Resurrection”:

Help us to live as those who are prepared to die. And, when our days here are accomplished, enable us to die as those who go forth to live, so that living or dying, our life may be in you, and that nothing in life or in death will be able to separate us from your great love in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

SESSION 2: Pregnancy, Birth, Circumcision, and Zechariah’s Prophecy (Part 1)

Opening Prayer:
Before you, Holy God, we sometimes fall silent in humility and awe. At other times, we cannot help but shout and sing your praises. In this time of study, help us to listen – in the Scripture, in our discussions with each other, and in our hearts – for your Word, that we may learn how to more faithfully echo and embody it, for the sake of Jesus Christ, your Word made flesh. Amen. 

How Can I Be Sure? Luke 1:18-20, 57-64, 67, 76-79 
When our faith is well placed, our doubts or questions should lead us to a deeper faith.

Struck Silent Psalm 46:1, 10; Habakkuk 19:12; 1 Kings 19:12; James 1:19     
Silence is an expression of awe and worship that is an appropriate response to the glory of God. It is in silence that we can hear God speak. 

Questions for Discussion: 
Adam Hamilton says that most key decisions in our lives require a leap of faith. 

Do you agree? Why or why not?

Hamilton quotes author and minister Frederick Buechner: “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.” What does this quote mean? Do you agree? Why or why not? How, if ever, have doubts led you to deeper faith?

Hamilton writes that the longer he lives, the more comfortable he is with uncertainty and simple trust in God. Do you share this experience? Why or why not?

While we, like Zechariah, crave certainty, God gives us mystery…” How does or how could your congregation recognize God’s gift of mystery – in its worship, in its education ministries, in its service to others, or in other ways – while encouraging people to both trust God and ask God questions?

Hamilton thinks “God was asking Zechariah to talk less and to listen more.” When have you found less talking and more listening, whether to God or to other people the right approach, and why?

When, if ever, have you heard God speaking to you in and through silence? How? Where do you go when you want or need to take time for silence?

How does your congregation take time for silence in its worship? Do you think it takes enough? Why or why not?  


Closing Hymn Text for Reflection & Prayer: “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”

  1. Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
    And with fear and trembling stand;
    Ponder nothing earthly-minded,
    For with blessing in His hand,
    Christ our God to earth descendeth,
    Our full homage to demand.

  2. King of kings, yet born of Mary,
    As of old on earth He stood,
    Lord of lords, in human vesture,
    In the body and the blood;
    He will give to all the faithful
    His own self for heav’nly food.

  3. Rank on rank the host of heaven
    Spreads its vanguard on the way,
    As the Light of light descendeth
    From the realms of endless day,
    That the pow’rs of hell may vanish
    As the darkness clears away.

  4. At His feet the six-winged seraph,
    Cherubim with sleepless eye,
    Veil their faces to the presence,
    As with ceaseless voice they cry:
    “Alleluia, Alleluia,
    Alleluia, Lord Most High!”


Session #3 - November 8, 2022:  Pregnancy, Birth, Circumcision, and Zechariah’s Prophecy (Part 2)

Watch the recorded intro for this session on YouTube

(Download Session #3 Information as a PDF)
(Download PDF of bible verses Luke 1:41-79)

Opening Prayer: Almighty God, in choosing the Virgin Mary to be the mother of your Son, you made known your gracious regard for the poor, the lowly, and the despised, and you inspired her to visit Elizabeth and assist her in her need; Grant us grace to receive your word in humility, and so to be made one with your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Who Is Your Elizabeth? Who Is Your Mary?
Luke 1:24-55 ESV

Quotes from Hamilton & Questions for Discussion:
Luke says the Holy Spirit was present and active during Elizabeth and Mary’s visit. How often do you think of your family visitations as opportunities for the Spirit to act? Why?
Hamilton states that Elizabeth essentially prophesies in her words to Mary. How so? What do Elizabeth’s words show us about the nature and function of prophetic speech? When, if ever, have you heard prophecy for yourself?
Hamilton points out Elizabeth is the first person to make the “fundamental confession of the Christian faith,” that Jesus is Lord. Romans 10:9 ESV
Who was the first person you heard make this confession? If you made this confession for yourself, when did you first make it? How can and do Christians make this confession with more than words?
“Elizabeth is the first person to celebrate Mary’s pregnancy,” Hamilton notes. When and how have you celebrated someone’s pregnancy? Has your congregation celebrated someone’s pregnancy?
Hamilton sees Mary’s visit to Elizabeth as evidence of a deep relationship that likely formed over many years, beginning when Mary was younger. What long-lasting relationships with older adults have positively influenced you, and how?
“Everyone needs an Elizabeth,” writes Hamilton, “but as we get older, we also find ourselves needing a Mary.” When and how, if ever, have you mentored, encouraged, and celebrated a younger person? 
How does or how could your congregation celebrate, support, and create the “dense networks of caring” Hamilton sees in Elizabeth and Mary’s relationship?

Closing Prayer:

Mighty God,
by whose grace Elizabeth rejoiced with Mary
and greeted her as the mother of the Lord:
look with favour on your lowly servants
that, with Mary, we may magnify your holy name
and rejoice to acclaim her Son our Saviour,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Session #4 - November 15, 2022:  Pregnancy, Birth, Circumcision, and Zechariah’s Prophecy (Part 3)

Watch the recorded intro for this session on YouTube

(Download Session #4 Information as a PDF)
(Download PDF of bible verses Luke 1:41-79)

Opening Prayer: Stir up the wills of your faithful people, Lord God, and open our ears to voices preparing your way.  Grant us the wisdom to see your purpose and the openness to hear your will, that we too may prepare the way of your Anointed one who comes to establish your kingdom of peace and justice; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

His Name Is John – Giving Voice to God’s Grace
Luke 1:57-64; Ephesians 2:8-10

A Father’s Prophetic Word – Light to Those in Darkness
Luke 1:65-66, 68-79; Malachi 3:1

Quotes from Hamilton & Questions for Discussion:
The name “John” (Hebrew, Johanan) means “The Lord is gracious.” How appropriate is and will this name be for Elizabeth and Zechariah’s child?

Hamilton notes that the Greek word for grace appears more than 150 times in the New Testament. Christians believe that grace is a defining characteristic of God (along with attributes like love and justice). How do you define grace?
Hamilton calls receiving and giving grace “the rhythm of the Christian life.” What does Ephesians 2:8-10 say about the rhythm grace?
8  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  9  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  10  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
When was a time you experienced grace? When was a time that you extended grace to another person?

Reflecting on Zechariah’s Prophecy:
Luke 1:67-79
Malachi 3:1 

What word, phrase, or image in Zechariah’s prophetic speech most grabs your attention or excites your imagination? Why?
How do Zechariah’s words characterize God? Which of these characteristics do you find most meaningful, and why?
How is the work Zechariah says God will do through Jesus and John consistent with God’s past work for Israel? Is its new and different?
When, if ever, have you burst out in praise of God’s grace, as the Holy Spirit moved Zechariah to do?

Hamilton writes, Zechariah’s “prophetic word captures the Advent message of John the Baptist. It summarizes what Advent is all about … This is Advent, when the dawn from heaven breaks upon us, regardless of the darkness we’ve been living in.”
Think about someone you know who you think is “sitting in darkness.” Is there one specific thing you could do this Advent season to reflect God’s light for that person?

Closing Prayer:
Blessed are you, O God, for compassionately shining your light of love on us in Jesus Christ. Although you called your prophet John to go before him in a unique way, you call us to carry his light into darkness even today. By the power of your Spirit, may we serve you without fear and walk always in the paths of peace. Amen.