I have stopped using the Lectionary during Advent (and Lent as well). Why?
It seems to me that in this day and age you can never tell the story of the first Christmas (or Easter) early enough or often enough.
It is far better to begin with the story we are trying to tell - Christmas - and then provide the historical context along the way.
And starting with the historical / theological / history of salvation has the unintentional effect of making the story we are wanting to tell seem like nothing more than a foretold, logical conclusion - a prepared script for actors on a stage - and not the flesh and blood seizing - or passing up - actual in-the-moment opportunities for God's will to be on earth as it is in heaven. Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the Magi become cardboard cut-outs instead of real people who made real - and very difficult - choices.
In my humble opinion, the Lectionary guts the power of the Christmas story because it fails to lift up the crucial necessity of the particular. It sets the Christmas story within an historical arc of centuries of time, and robs the particularity of Mary's faith filled response, "let it be with me according to your word." (Luke 1:38, NRSV) In that moment, Mary is NOT "fulfilling what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet," (Matthew 1:22); nor is she the beneficiary of 2,000 years of hindsight and reflection. She is an uneducated, poor, young girl. She may not even have heard of the passages we are reading from the prophets. And what she agrees to do would cost her - and her family's - social reputation forever. They would become forever the subject of malicious gossip - and forever always suspected and sidelined by their neighbours. Even today, don't we wonder about what really happened? Don't we doubt the facts of Mary's story?
And so I have stopped using the Lectionary.
I tell the Christmas story early and often. And I start singing Christmas carols in church as soon as the malls start playing them to accompany the Christmas sale announcements.
I vary my choices somewhat from year to year, but roughly here are the lessons I use, along with a link to an Adobe PDF document for Advent Candle Lighting based on that day's text. (The document is formatted to be a half-page insert 5.5 by 8.5 inches.):
And yes, we do re-read these passages on Christmas Eve in their Lectionary appointed hour.
And of course, reading the prophets alongside the above - or even as a focus for one Sunday - also enriches, deepens, and speaks to the longing-yet-to-be-fully-fulfilled which abides in our hearts as it did in Mary.
Permission is granted for non-profit use of these materials.
Acknowledgement in oral presentations is not required.
Otherwise, please acknowledge source as, "David Ewart, www.holytextures.com."
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.
Permission is granted for non-profit use of these materials. Acknowledgement of source is not required in oral presentations. Otherwise please note as, "David Ewart, www.holytextures.com."