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Forming Faith During Advent

By Terry Maples

I’m privileged to participate in a non-traditional study group at Central Baptist Church in Richmond. Our class is called Crossing Borders because of our willingness discuss beyond traditional Sunday school class lines. Usually Crossing Borders studies challenging books that help shape and form our faith.

During Advent, our facilitator asked me to guide a formational series of conversations that tapped into our imaginations. Several years ago Dr. Israel Galindo drew pen-and-ink images to coincide with Huguenot Road Baptist Church’s focus on the characters of the annunciation. Our curriculum for this study each week was a drawing:

Advent 1 – Gabriel
Advent 2 – Joseph
Advent 3 – Elizabeth & Mary
Advent 4 – Jesus
Sunday before Epiphany – Magi

I believe our choice of materials is both interesting and important. First, we often have a narrow understanding of what church curriculum is. Many think curriculum is printed or digital literature. In reality, curriculum is relationships and experiences offered to help folks participate in the life of the community. For this Advent journey, the curriculum was an image—no words!

Dr. Galindo’s images tapped into our imagination. Each week, I asked participants to share what they knew about the annunciation character. This approach helped us reflect on what we thought we knew from scripture and tradition. Next we read scripture passages telling about the character. Only then did we spend time reflecting on the image. We were forced to use our imaginations as we wrestled with what we saw in the image and pondered what Dr. Galindo intended to communicate. I was amazed at the richness of what was discovered and shared through this process. What others saw in the images that I did not reinforced my conviction that the class facilitator is a teacher among teachers! Responsibility for what is learned does not belong to one person.

Our Crossing Borders’ journey had huge faith-forming potential. Each week we moved beyond the image and the story to reflect on the invitation to us today.

Gabriel:

  • How does God come to us/speak to us today?
  • What do you sense God wants to announce to us today to aid our journey through Advent?
  • What promises from God do we need to hear?
  • Might we, too, need to hear, “you have found favor with God?” How might that reassurance affect us?
  • Are we, too, being called to announce the Good News of Jesus Christ? With bad news reported all around us, how might we be channels of good news (grace and love) during this season of Advent?

Joseph:

  • Like Joseph, have you faced a dilemma that tested your faith? How did you respond?
  • Have you ever sensed a promise from God that demanded an act of trust and faith on your part (a situation where you didn’t know for sure how the situation would turn out)?
  • Joseph regulated his life by the standards of the law (how he was made righteous). How are Christ-followers to regulate their lives today? What does Jesus require? What will inspire us to turn loose of cultural expectations to live like Jesus?

Elizabeth & Mary:

  • What qualities did these women possess? Does God expect these qualities from us today?
  • What can we learn from the faith journeys of Elizabeth and Mary?
  • What are the implications for our faith journey? (We, too, must consent to be used by God, must be willing to serve, must evidence faith and trust, express gratitude and praise to God for what God was doing in and through our lives.)

Jesus:

  • Why did Jesus come? What is Incarnation all about?
  • What was Jesus’ purpose?
  • How does Jesus’ mission statement become our mission statement?
  • How are we being shaped and formed in the image of Jesus for the sake of the world?

Magi:

  • The Magi (considered pagans) journeyed by faith. They may have made part of the trip in the dark. What are the implications for our faith journeys?
  • The Magi brought their best to Jesus. What does it mean for us to bring our best to Jesus in this New Year (time, gifts, talents, etc.)?
  • The Magi were changed by this experience with the Christ child. In what ways does worship change us so when we leave we are not the same?
  • Matthew contrasts the power of Herod with the helpless babe in the manger. What are we being taught about pursuing earthly power vs. strength through weakness?

What I loved about this Advent unit was its capacity to awaken faith. We took familiar stories we hear every year and pondered and searched for what God wanted to teach us through the characters. One class member expressed gratitude for the approach, “Thanks for helping me see these stories as invitations to grow my faith.” I encourage others to consider formational approaches (even beyond words) to reading scripture.