Advent marks the beginning of a new year in the Church Calendar. The Church Calendar is our way of following Jesus’ life throughout the year, and a new year of following Jesus begins this week!

On your “New Year’s Prayers” sheet, take 5 or 10 minutes to write down hopes, dreams, and worries you have about this new year, and commit them to God’s care. (At the start of Advent next year you'll get this sheet back, and you can see how things turned out!)

New Year's Prayers activity

Have you ever heard of “Advent” before? What do you think it’s about? What’s it for?

Life can be really busy and noisy with so many people shouting for your attention all the time. Think for a moment → Can you list all the ways you are connected to people in a single week? (E.g., responsibilities at home, teams or groups, classes at school, music lessons, other stuff…)

How much “down time” do you have in a day? In a week? (Time that doesn’t belong to anything else. Time to sit and think, or rest and relax.)

What would you say to someone who says to you, “I’m way too busy to take a day off!”

  • Join the club!
  • That’s OK, it’s not that important.
  • Hey, life’s too short to take time off!
  • What’s a day off?
  • Be careful; it’s important to take care of yourself!
  • Something else? ___________

Advent is season for slowing down. It’s 24 days to remember to take a breath, to take stock of all the stuff our lives are made of. It’s time to think about how much space we give to hearing Jesus’ voice. Advent is a season to remember the things we need from God -- things no one else can give us.

READ Psalm 85:1-13

What kinds of things does the psalmist ask God for?

What’s the big problem in this psalm? (What is the psalmist concerned about?)

What kinds of things does the psalmist say about God?

How is the psalmist trying to convince God to “restore us”?
(He reminds God of what God has done for Israel in the past. He’s saying, “Do it again!”)

Have you felt like this before? Like you’ve been hung out to dry? Like God isn’t hearing you?

Is there anything that you find difficult to pray in this psalm?

What do you think God’s answer will be to the psalmist’s questions? Is he/she confident that God will give a good answer? (What do vv. 9-12 say about the kinds of things God gives?)

When this psalm was written, Israel was in trouble -- they were being oppressed by their enemies, and were probably in exile -- ripped out of their homes and forced to leave their friends and family and way of life behind. Whenever Israel got into trouble, it was because they got distracted and stopped caring about what God wanted. Exile was God’s way of telling Israel, “I’m serious about you! I don’t want you to live poorly! Chasing after useless things ruins your life! Come back and be my people again!”

How can we pray this psalm as Christians in Advent?

What’s the biggest thing we look toward in the season of Advent? (What comes at the end?)

We celebrate Jesus’ birth every year, but why is it such a big deal? Can you explain it in your own words? Why should you care that Jesus came into the world?

READ Matthew 11:28-29

Jesus changes everything. Do you know what a “yoke” is?

What do you think is significant about Jesus inviting us to “take my yoke upon you”?

It means that Jesus is labouring along with you! Imagine you’re a farmer and you have 10,000 acres of land to plough, and all you have is a small, rickety old donkey to do the work. And then your neighbour comes along with 30 huge combines and offers to help. Who do you think ends up doing most of the work...? 1 small donkey, or 30 enormous machines? That’s the picture of “Emmanuel” -- of “God with us”. That’s the answer to the psalmist’s complaints in Psalm 85. He’s asking, “Help us! We can’t do all of this ourselves!” And God answers by coming into the world himself and taking care of everything.

So as you think about the year ahead, remember how trustworthy God is.