Posts Tagged ‘hope’

Good Grief

Saturday of Holy Week Reflection

Photo taken by Christopher Michel.

Matthew 27:55-66. (Click here to read the full text.)

Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive,
“After three days I will rise again.” 
Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day….

Numb. Wobbly. Dread carried like a stone in the gut. These are just some of the ways grief manifests itself.

Jesus’ followers must have felt the weight of grief after the worst thing they never imagined had happened. Although the Sabbath was a required day of worship, they were no doubt distracted all day. Jesus had been their teacher but also their friend. He had been their rabbi but also their hope for the Messiah. Now Jesus was reduced to “had been,” past tense, their hope entombed.

Without knowing it, the day grief settles into a human heart things begin to change. Priorities shift. Hopes fade only to reappear in unexpected places. Where we find meaning either settles deeper into what and who we have known already, or it takes up new residences and turns to see fresh faces. Grief is an unfamiliar emotion that makes all things ahead seem even more unpredictable.

On this Saturday when the followers and family of Jesus were only starting to keep the vigil of grief, we know that they were unknowingly preparing their hearts for an unimagined grace. But don’t shortcut the virtue of silence and prayers of anguish. God hears these too. Even their distress displays trust in God albeit of a different kind. Their complaints are a call to God for help.

While Jesus’ followers are grieving, the officials want to ensure Jesus’ death. They seal the tomb and place a guard to watch. It is up to those in charge to make sure that Jesus stays dead. It serves as another display of the arrogance in thinking that human authority has the right to control life and death. No, that role is not for the family that grieves or the government that kills. Life can only be given, either in this creation or the heavenly realm, by God. In the weight and silence of grief, this statement of faith is what gives us strength to await yet another day and whatever it may bring. What we need is comfort, and the nearness of God in our grief. What is to come is beyond us, but if we admit it, there may yet remain a smolder of hope that is not yet extinguished. One day it may flame into light. May that day come soon, O Lord. May faith become sight. May death bring new life. Only in you, O Lord, do we dare hope.        

Reflection Questions

  • If, or when, we are grieving, what gives us hope?

Prayer. O Lord, may you give me sure faith that I shall know your goodness in all ways and days of life, today and forever. Amen

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God says in Isaiah 58:6-7

Isn’t this the fast I choose:
releasing wicked restraints,
untying the ropes of a yoke,
setting free the mistreated,
& breaking every yoke?
Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry
& bringing the homeless poor into your house,
covering the naked when you see them,
and not hiding from your own family?

The purpose of Lent is to be a season of fasting, self-denial, Christian growth, penitence, conversion, and simplicity. Lent, which comes from the Teutonic (Germanic) word for springtime, can be viewed as a spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our corporate and personal relationships with Jesus Christ and our service to him. (John Birch)

May these 40 days before Easter be a time of spiritual spring cleaning, of removing what hinders and renewing what facilitates our relationships with God, the world, and one another.

The Worship of God for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Passing the Peace 
Say to one another, “May the peace of Christ be with you.”
And reply, “And, also with you.”

Invitation to Worship

Jesus said,
“When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me.”

Come let us worship the One who draws us together,
who bears our burdens,
and forgives our sins.
Come let us worship!

Song of Praise
We Will Walk With God
Words: Eswatini Traditional (trans. J.L. Bell)
Tune: SIZOHAMBA (Eswatini Traditional)

Come and walk with me, my brothers.
We will walk with God.
Come and walk with me, my sisters.
We will walk with God.

We will go rejoicing,
til the kingdom has come. (Repeat)

See-zoh-hahm-bah nah-yay,
woh woh woh,
see-zoh-hahm-bah nah-yay. (Repeat)

Goom-shlah wen-jah-boo-lah,
see-zoh-hahm-bah nah-yay. (Repeat)

Come and walk with me, my brothers.
We will walk with God.
Come and walk with me, my sisters.
We will walk with God.

We will go rejoicing,
til the kingdom has come. (Repeat)

Opening Prayer
Let us pray:

Creator God,
we thank you for the beauty of your springtime creation,
awakening buds and blooms,
lengthening blue skies and sunshine.

Awaken hope within us.
Renew us.
May we be refreshed with energy and enthusiasm
to see you in the places where we live
and in the people around us.

Redeemer God,
we thank you for your son, Jesus,
for his parables and teaching,
healing and caring,
for his life and death and resurrection.

Awaken love within us.
Renew us.
May we share your love and care with others.
May we and they come close to you.

Companion God,
we thank you for your Holy Spirit,
for your comfort and guidance,
presence and trust.

Awaken faith within us.
Renew us.
May we share your way and life with others.
May we be a witness to your saving love.

Creator, Redeemer, Companion,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
we bring our praise and thanks to you.
Amen.

Song of Adoration
O Day of Peace
Words: Carl P. Daw, Jr.
Tune: JERUSALM LMD (Parry)

O day of peace that dimly shines
through all our hopes and prayers and dreams,
guide us to justice, truth, and love,
delivered from our selfish schemes.
May swords of hate fall from our hands,
our hearts from envy find release,
till by God’s grace our warring world
shall see Christ’s promised reign of peace.

Then shall the wolf dwell with the lamb,
nor shall the fierce devour the small.
As beasts and cattle calmly graze,
a little child shall lead them all.
Then enemies shall learn to love,
all creatures find their true accord.
The hope of peace shall be fulfilled,
for all the earth shall know the Lord.

Psalm 51:1-12
Common English Bible

Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love!
Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion!
2 Wash me completely clean of my guilt;
purify me from my sin!
3 Because I know my wrongdoings,
my sin is always right in front of me.
4 I’ve sinned against you—you alone.
I’ve committed evil in your sight.
That’s why you are justified when you render your verdict,
completely correct when you issue your judgment.
5 Yes, I was born in guilt, in sin,
from the moment my mother conceived me.
6 And yes, you want truth in the most hidden places;
you teach me wisdom in the most secret space.

7 Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean;
wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and celebration again;
let the bones you crushed rejoice once more.
9 Hide your face from my sins;
wipe away all my guilty deeds!
10 Create a clean heart for me, God;
put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!
11 Please don’t throw me out of your presence;
please don’t take your holy spirit away from me.
12 Return the joy of your salvation to me
and sustain me with a willing spirit.

Prayer for Forgiveness
O God, You who are always doing a new thing,
we confess that we sometimes close windows
against the fresh air of new ideas,
against the noise of other people’s worries,
against the winds of change.

God of every place and time,
we confess that we often draw the curtains
against people who are different,
against world news or community concerns.

Forgive us our insulation in our locked homes,
our shuttered churches,
the security systems on our hearts.
Open up our lives,
and let your Spirit blow through. Amen.

silent prayer and meditation

Assurance and Hope

Hear again the joy and gladness God provides and rejoice!

The Lord forgives.
The Lord wipes away all our guilty deeds.
The Lord cleans our hearts and puts new, faithful spirit deep within us.

Let the joy of the Lord’s salvation sustain you this day!

Anthem
Create a Pure Heart in Me
Composer: Susan Matsui

Create a pure heart in me, O Lord.
Grant me a new and steadfast spirit.
Do not drive me away from thy presence,
or take thy Spirit from me.

Revive in me the joy of deliverance,
Grant me a steady soul to uphold me.
Open thou my lips, everlasting Lord,
that my mouth may sing thy praises.

Thou takest no delight in sacrifice,
nor hast thou any wish for whole offering.
My sacrifice, Lord, is a broken soul,
my offering, a contrite heart.

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Common English Bible

The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 It won’t be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant with me even though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 No, this is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my Instructions within them and engrave them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 They will no longer need to teach each other to say, “Know the Lord!” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord; for I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sins.

Reflection on Jeremiah
Rev. Jeffrey Vickery

Listen to the sermon or watch below.

Audio

Prayer of Thanksgiving 
Thank you, God for constant love.
Please help our church family grow
deeper and deeper in your love. Amen.

Song of Faith
God of Jeremiah
Words: Brian Wren
Tune: KELVINGROVE

God of Jeremiah, grieving with an aching heart
for an empire, unbelieving as it falls apart,
when your thunder goes unheard, we will tend the prophet’s word,
and in season out of season, we will sing your song.

When our wound is left to fester, though the pain goes deep,
when we’ve sown a hundred whirlwinds, but have yet to reap,
when the platitudes of peace only make our fears increase,
with a poem and a story we will sing your song.

When the palace looks at poverty with scornful eyes,
when the scroll of truth is shredded by a leader’s lies,
when the glory of the cross is a propaganda gloss,
in the square and in the senate we will sing your song.

We will break the jar of plenty by the gates of gold,
we will buy a field of promise when the farm is sold,
at the ending of the dream, in the death of self-esteem,
at the bank and in the market we will sing your song.

We will praise the grainy granite of the Law’s demands,
and the life creating, Lover God with wounded hands;
we will spin your story line to an empire in decline,
and in exile or in honor we will sing your song.

Sending Out

Go now, to serve Christ and follow him.
Let your old life fall like a grain of wheat into the earth
so that you may bear much fruit
as you allow God to reshape your heart
and live in obedience to the law written within you.

And may God centre you in truth and steady your spirit.
May Christ renew your joy and strengthen your will.
And may the Spirit teach you God’s hidden wisdom
and fill you with songs of rejoicing.

We go in peace to love and serve the Lord,
In the name of Christ. Amen.

Blest Be the Tie 
by John Fawcett 

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. 
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements:

  • The words by John Birch are posted on “Prayers for the season of Lent (faithandworship.com).” Accessed February 18, 2021. https://www.faithandworship.com/prayers_Lent.htm.
  • The image was retrieved from https://i2.wp.com/www.catholicteacher.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Lent-prayer-service.png?fit=1000%2C667&ssl=1.
  • The Invitation to Worship is based on John 12:32.
  • The hymns are sung by Mindy, accompanied by Kendall on the djembe, Mindy on the ukelele, and Tonya on the piano and keyboard.
  • The opening prayer was written by Ruth Bowen and printed in Spring: Liturgical Resources for February, March, and April. Edited by Ruth Burgess. Published by Wild Goose Publications, the publishing house of the Iona Community, © 2019.
  • The Prayer for Forgiveness was posted by Teri on the RevGalBlogPals A Place for Prayer blog. http://revgalprayerpals.blogspot.ca/.
  • Create a Pure Heart in Me is sung by Laura, Elizabeth, Tonya, and Mindy, accompanied by Tonya on the piano.
  • The Sending Out was written by Nathan Nettleton and posted on http://www.laughingbird.net/ © 2003.

    Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.

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Preparation for Worship at Home. When worshipping at home, set aside a time and a place each week for worship. During the Advent season (today through Christmas Eve), set out four candles. One candle will be lit for each Sunday that passes as we approach Christmas Day.

May the following serve as a guide in your worship of God.

The Worship of God

Passing the Peace 
Say to one another, “May the peace of Christ be with you.”
And reply, “And, also with you.”

Advent Candle Litany
Zephaniah 3:17; Psalm 86:15 and 136:26; Isaiah 54:10

light four candles

We light four candles today:
one candle to remind us
that God is our everlasting and constant abiding hope,
a second candle to remind us
that God brings peace to our weary and troubled hearts,
a third candle to remind us
that God provides us abundant joy
and a fourth candle to remind us
that God loves us, yes, God loves us.

To the One who has made
this everlasting promise to us:
that even though the mountains may shift
and the hills may shake,
my love for you will not shift and my peace towards you will not be shaken;
to the One who is compassionate and gracious,
to the One who takes great delight in us,
we give our thanks and praise this day.
May the Lord increase our love!

Opening Prayer
O Wondrous God,
send your Messenger to us today with a word of grace.
If we are fearful, move us to Confidence.
If we are weary, offer us Rest.
If we are empty, fill us with Hope.
We have been searching for you far away;
Let us find you at home in our midst,
Changing hearts and minds,
Urging us to join your work of Love.
We pray in the name of the One who is coming,
Jesus, the Christ. Amen.

Hymn of Praise
People, Look East
Author: Eleanor Farjeon
Tune: BESANCON (French Trad.)

  1. People, look east. The time is near
    Of the crowning of the year.
    Make your house fair as you are able,
    Trim the hearth and set the table.
    People, look east and sing today:
    Love, the guest, is on the way.
  1. Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare,
    One more seed is planted there:
    Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
    That in course the flower may flourish.
    People, look east and sing today:
    Love, the rose, is on the way.
  2. Birds, though you long have ceased to build,
    Guard the nest that must be filled.
    Even the hour when wings are frozen
    God for fledging time has chosen.
    People, look east and sing today:
    Love, the bird, is on the way.
  3. Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim
    One more light the bowl shall brim,
    Shining beyond the frosty weather,
    Bright as sun and moon together.
    People, look east and sing today:
    Love, the star, is on the way.
  4. Angels, announce with shouts of mirth
    Christ who brings new life to earth.
    Set every peak and valley humming
    With the word, the Lord is coming.
    People, look east and sing today:
    Love, the Lord, is on the way.

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
Common English Bible

I will sing of the Lord’s loyal love forever.
I will proclaim your faithfulness
with my own mouth
from one generation to the next.
That’s why I say,
“Your loyal love is rightly built—forever!
You establish your faithfulness in heaven.”
You said, “I made a covenant with my chosen one;
I promised my servant David:
‘I will establish your offspring forever;
I will build up your throne from one generation to the next.’”

Once you spoke in a vision
to your faithful servants:
I placed a crown on a strong man.
I raised up someone specially chosen from the people.
I discovered my servant David.
I anointed him with my holy oil.
My hand will sustain him—
yes, my arm will strengthen him!
No enemy will oppress him;
no wicked person will make him suffer.
I will crush all his foes in front of him.
I will strike down all those who hate him.
My faithfulness and my loyal love will be with him.
He will be strengthened by my name.
I will set his hand on the sea.
I will set his strong hand on the rivers.
He will cry out to me:
“You are my father,
my God, the rock of my salvation.”

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted.  Let us pray,

Merciful God, who shelters us and guides us,  
we give you thanks for…. 

God who comforts,  
receive those who are fearful and lonely…. 

God whose love is steadfast,  
be refuge for the ill, the dying, and those who care about them.… 

God of righteousness,  
we ask for your wisdom and ways of justice to prevail  
in our community, this nation, your world…. 

God who seeks our trust, grow us and guide us in your ways
that are life-giving in your world.  Amen.

Choral Anthem
Love is All Our Joy!
Composer: Malcom Archer

Anointed as God’s chosen ones,
beloved, pure, and holy,
With patience, kindness, clothe yourselves,
a mantle, meek and lowly.

Refrain:
Love, love, is all our joy,
binding us in harmony,
With love we can ne’er destroy
the peace of Christ within us.

Compassion, mercy, charity,
these gifts to us are given;
Forgive all others, bear with them,
as you have been forgiven.
Refrain

Our words, our deeds, our gifts of love,
to Jesus Christ we raise them,
Give thanks to God who reigns above,
sing psalms and hymns to praise Him.
Refrain

Luke 1:26-38
Common English Bible

When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. When the angel came to her, he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.” Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son. Look, even in her old age, your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son. This woman who was labeled ‘unable to conceive’ is now six months pregnant. Nothing is impossible for God.” Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

Reflection on the Gospel
Rev. Tonya Vickery

The college Bible study group is reading through the book of Acts. Last Wednesday night we were reading Acts 15. where a major church conference is happening down in Jerusalem. Some believers are having a difficult time accepting into the church people who profess faith in Jesus but are not following some of the essential Jewish customs. For us, this seems strange. We easily recognize that one doesn’t have to be a Jew to be a Christian. Nor does one have to practice certain aspects of Judaism to be a Christian. But remember these early Christians down in Jerusalem were Jews as well. It wasn’t an either/or thing for them. They were both Jews and Christians. The Jewish disciplines they practiced were not a hindrance to their faith in Jesus. But these disciplines were becoming a hindrance to their ability to welcome all into life with God through Jesus Christ. So the church had a meeting to decide what to do.

After debating the matter, they decided not to cause further trouble for those ho were turning to God who were not Jewish. They would only require four things: to avoid eating food associated with idols, avoid sexual immorality, refuse to eat meat from strangled animals, and refrain from consuming blood. They wrote all this down in a letter which they had Paul and Barnabas hand deliver to the non-Jewish believers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. In the letter these four refusals are described as “essentials.”

When we move the story into our present day context, we can push ourselves to see what unnecessary burdens we might be placing on others who turn to God. Are there disciplines that are meaningful to us, that bring us closer to God, but we have made them requirements for others to be included in the church? Now the early church came up with four essential no-no behaviors. We could be lame and leave it with those four. I don’t have a problem with any of them. I’m not tempted to drink blood, nor eat meat that comes from a strangled animal. Nor am I interested in sexual immorality or eating foods that have been offered to idols. But, truly, what are the essentials we should be placing on ourselves today? If we were to write a letter to people who are new to living the way of Jesus, what would we say is essential to being a Christian and a part of the church? I think at the top of the list is the word, “love.”

1 John 3:11 says “This is the message that you heard from the beginning: love each other.” The discipline of love is an essential “burden” we must carry if we want to be a Christian and a part of the church. If we are to trouble ourselves with any Christian discipline, if we are going to require anything of one another, if we are going to put down some essential to our faith, “love” should be at the top of the list. 1 John 3 goes on to say that “We are to love one another not with words or speech, but with actions and truth.” I like the way T.S. Eliot describes the family love in his play, The Elder Statesman . It echoes this idea of not loving one another with words or speech but with actions and truth. Eliot wrote

There’s no vocabulary
for love within a family, love that’s lived in
but not looked at, love within the light of which
all else is seen, the love within
which all other love finds speech.
This love is silent.

That’s the kind of love we are to have for each other. It is a love that does something, not merely says something. Love is essential in the life of a Christian. The way we live as followers of Jesus should reflect God’s love. If we follow Jesus, we will love each other. If we follow Jesus, we will reflect that love of God which 1 John 3:1 describes this way. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us that we should be called God’s children, and that is what we are!” We are God’s children and we are loved.

Everybody needs to be told that God loves them. We all need to be told that God loves us. It is true, God loves us. God’s love is not earned. God’s love cannot be measured. God’s love is not withheld from some and provided more for others. God’s love is constant, abounding, and certain. God does not love us in word and speech, but God loves us in action and truth. God’s love is “lived in” as Eliot wrote. As we live in God’s love, we see everything better and brighter and easier because we look at the world through the love of God.

We see the love of God in action in the opening chapter of the gospel of Luke. Here in our gospel story for the day, the angel Gabriel is sent to Galilee to a young girl named Mary. She is engaged to be married to a man named Joseph. In those days, engagements lasted for a whole year. Gabriel’s presence and greeting confused and disturbed Mary, but Gabriel calms her fears and gives her some good news. She is going to have a baby whom she will name Jesus. This baby will be called the Son of the Most High. This baby will be given the throne of David. But unlike David, this baby’s reign will never ever come to an end. Without any opposition to any of this news, Mary gets straight to the point and asks Gabriel, “How will this happen?” Gabriel reassures her that this is the work of the Holy Spirit of God. And to further reassure Mary, Gabriel shares the good news that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth who had been labeled as unable to get pregnant is now six months pregnant. Yes, nothing is impossible for God. And Mary in great humility, trust, and devotion says, “Let it be as you have said.”

God loves us. And our response to that love is critical. Mary responded to God’s love by accepting it, welcoming it into her life, and committing her life to it. She says to Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant.” Mary responds to God’s love without knowing all the details, without knowing all that would be required, without knowing where this love would lead her. This was a risk she was taking. Did you realize that an engaged woman who was found to be pregnant could be punished for her mistake by being stoned to death? But Mary says, “Here I am.” She did not run from God’s love for the world. Instead she responds with humility and deep trust in God and says “yes” to God’s love which is not just for her but for the whole world.

Sometimes the way we live and the decisions we make do not reflect the love God has for the world. You see, the way we respond to God’s love is critical. Sometimes we assume God loves the world and God loves us, but we are just indifferent to it. We take God’s love for us and for the world for granted, and we go about our merry little way (and “our way” is quite little in comparison to the way of Jesus). At other times, we get so caught up in the fact that “God loves us” that we forget that God loves the whole world. Instead of being super spreaders of God’s love, we excel in making God’s love individualistic, just like a “designed for me” gift. And we have all witnessed the trend to simplify the love of God proclaimed in John 3:16. God’s love is turned into this individual evacuation plan for the end of all time. “Are you saved,” one asks. “Yes, I am saved.” God’s love morphs into something Jesus can do for us personally and privately. That’s not the good news. That’s not what Mary humbled herself for. That’s not why God took on human form, became flesh, vulnerable in all ways possible, as one of us, and lived among us.

God’s love is for all, everyone, all things, the world. God’s love leads the world along the paths of reconciliation, mercy, peace, and forgiveness. God’s love urges the world towards wholeness. God’s love points the world in the direction of mending what is broken, not tossing out the broken and replacing it, but God’s love points towards mending. God’s love does not destroy, but God’s love creates. God’s love is about life giving renewal and restoration. God’s love sees and acknowledges the brokenness, the wreckage, and the despair. But God’s love doesn’t turn away; it is tender and thoughtful and works towards repair.

Somewhere this past week I have read about the art of repairing broken pottery with gold. Imagine a bowl broken into four or five pieces. It is no longer useful. It’s purpose is gone. However, instead of tossing out the broken pieces, the bowl is repaired. A lacquer mixed with gold powder and that is used to seam the bowl back together. What once was broken is repaired. Maybe not to be used in the same way, but now with added beauty and perhaps a new purpose. This is such a great visual to how God’s love works in the world. God takes the broken, God takes the wreckage, God takes the despair and mends it. God puts it back together and it is beautiful.

God loves us. God loves the world. How will we respond to God’s love? It will help if we stop idolizing the illusion that we have control over life’s events. It will help if we can recognize our brokenness, our weaknesses, and our poverty. And it will help if we respond to God’s love with humility and deep trust just as Mary did. For God so loves the world….

Prayer of Thanksgiving 
Thank you, God for constant love. Please help our church family grow deeper and deeper in your love. Amen.

Song of Faith
O Come, O Come Emmanuel
Tune: VENI EMMANUEL
Author: based on antiphons from Advent Vespers

O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Child of God appear.

Refrain:
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.

O come, O Wisdom from on high,
and order all things far and nigh;
to us the path of knowledge show
and help us in that way to go.
Refrain

O come, O Key of David, come
and open wide your heavenly home;
make safe the path to endless day,
to hell’s destruction close the way.
Refrain

O come, O Day spring, come and cheer
our spirits by your advent here;
love stir within the womb of night
and death’s own shadows put to flight.
Refrain

O come, Desire of nations, bind
all peoples in one heart and mind;
make envy, strife, and quarrels cease
fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Refrain

Sending Out
May the blessing and peace of God uphold you, 
May the compassion and love of Christ enfold you, 
and may the vitality and power of the Holy Spirit embolden you, 
today and always.  
Amen.

Closing Song 
Blest Be the Tie 
Tune: DENNIS (Nageli) 
Author: John Fawcett 

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. 
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements: Artwork by Elizabeth. The Opening Prayer is provided by the United Church of Christ (www.ucc.org). The anthem was played by Tonya on the piano, Tessa on the flute with Mindy, Laura, Michelle, Tonya, Ally, and Elizabeth singing. Tracy played the organ and Mindy sang the hymns and played the recorder. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.

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Preparation for Worship at Home. When worshipping at home, set aside a time and a place each week for worship. During the Advent season (today through Christmas Eve), set out four candles. One candle will be lit for each Sunday that passes as we approach Christmas Day.

May the following serve as a guide in your worship of God.

The Worship of God

Passing the Peace 
Say to one another, “May the peace of Christ be with you.”
And reply, “And, also with you.”

Advent Candle Litany

light three candles

We light three candles today:
one candle to remind us
that God is our everlasting and constant abiding hope,
a second candle to remind us
that this God’s hope brings peace to our weary and troubled hearts,
and a third candle to remind us
of the always present possibility of joy that comes from God.

For the One who makes the gateways of the evening and the morning sing for joy,
who clothes the desert pastures and hills with pure joy,
who causes the countryside and the trees,
the valleys and the meadowlands to shout for joy,
this One sustains us, forgives us, and stays with us.
Therefore, let your hearts rejoice.
God will clothe us with joy,
God will water our souls with rivers of pure joy,
and God will help us sing and shout for joy again.
May the Lord increase our joy!

Opening Prayer
Holy One,
Builder who delights
in making spaces of safety and beauty,
fill us today with the gifts we need
to join you in your life-sustaining, hope-giving work in the world;
let us share your joyful vision
of beauty and justice
in this world you have created and loved.
In the name of the One who is coming,
Amen

Hymn of Praise
The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns
Author: unknown; trans. John Brownlie
Tune: MORNING SONG (John Wyeth)

The King shall come when morning dawns
And light triumphant breaks.
When beauty gilds the eastern hills
And life to joy awakes.

Not, as of old, a little child,
To suffer and to die,
But crowned with glory like the sun
That lights the morning sky.

The King shall come when morning dawns
And earth’s dark night is past;
O haste the rising of that morn
Whose day shall ever last.

And let the endless joy begin,
By weary saints foretold.
When right shall triumph over wrong,
And truth shall be extolled.

The King shall come when morning dawns
And light and beauty brings.
Hail, Christ, the Lord! Your people pray:
Come quickly, King of kings.

Psalm 126
Common English Bible

When the Lord changed Zion’s circumstances for the better,
it was like we had been dreaming.
Our mouths were suddenly filled with laughter;
our tongues were filled with joyful shouts.
It was even said, at that time, among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them!”
Yes, the Lord has done great things for us,
and we are overjoyed.

Lord, change our circumstances for the better,
like dry streams in the desert waste!
Let those who plant with tears
reap the harvest with joyful shouts.
Let those who go out,
crying and carrying their seed,
come home with joyful shouts,
carrying bales of grain!

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted.  Let us pray,

Merciful God, who shelters us and guides us,  
we give you thanks for…. 

God who comforts,  
receive those who are fearful and lonely…. 

God whose love is steadfast,  
be refuge for the ill, the dying, and those who care about them.… 

God of righteousness,  
we ask for your wisdom and ways of justice to prevail  
in our community, this nation, your world…. 

God who seeks our trust, grow us and guide us in your ways
that are life-giving in your world.  Amen.

Choral Anthem
Joy!
Author: Isaac Watts
Composer: Glenn Wonacott

Joy to the world! the Lord is come:
let earth receive her King;
let every heart prepare him room,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the earth! the Savior reigns:
let us, our songs employ;
while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sin and sorrow grow,
nor thorns infest the ground;
he comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of his righteousness,
and wonders of his love,
and wonders of his love,
and wonders of his love.

Luke 1:46b-55
Common English Bible

Mary said, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
He shows mercy to everyone,
from one generation to the next,
who honors him as God.
He has shown strength with his arm.
He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty-handed.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
remembering his mercy,
just as he promised to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”

Reflection on the Gospel
Dr. Rev. Jeffrey Vickery

Fifteen years ago we were visiting Disney World in Florida with our family. It was early Spring in 2006 and we spent part of a day at the Disney Hollywood Studios. The movie version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe had just been released a few months previous. I remember walking through a plain set of doors into what looked like a warehouse and instantly the sunny spring day outside was transformed into the snowy white paradise of Narnia. Disney had re-created the set of the movie to look as it did when Lucy walked out of the wardrobe for the first time and into the winter snow of Narnia. I know it’s a bit cheesy, but it really did seem like Disney magic. The idea that on one side of this small door was spring and the other was a make-believe winter that looked and felt so real was startling.  

In some ways, Advent and Christmas are times to venture more deeply into God’s alternative reality. We live too much of our year thinking that what we see is as good as it gets. We forget that on the other side of the door is a version of God’s Way of life and love. If we spend too much time unaware of the world as God sees it, we can become unaware of the promises of light and salvation. We think we have to accept reality as it is, or at least as we think that it must be.  

Even more troublesome, it is easy to wonder if what is happening in the world that we see is what God really wants. Maybe if my car’s transmission failed then maybe God intended it. Maybe if my cousin contracted COVID then maybe God intended it. Maybe if I lost my job then maybe God intended it. When we only measure God’s purpose and presence by the reality we see around us then we will be tricked into accepting the status quo as God’ Holy Way. Advent and Christmas both pull back the curtain. God does not intend human suffering. God is not the author of sin. God does not secretly command evil or empower the ungodly. It is easy to confuse God’s intent and God’s knowledge. In all its messy and sinful state, this reality is what we may have to endure but it’s not the reality that God intends. 

Right here is where Mary’s words in Luke 1 come into the mix. Mary reminds us of what she can see of God’s Way even before Jesus is born. It’s a vision of faith in God and hope in God’s very real world. This young Jewish woman has something to teach us even after all these years.    

The storyline goes something like this: The angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah, a Jewish priest, and tells him that he and Elizabeth will have a son that they are to name John. Zechariah is rendered speechless, Elizabeth ends up pregnant, and together they await their son. A few months later, the same angel, Gabriel, visits Mary and asks her if she is willing to be the mother of the Messiah. She agrees, and her obedience changes the world. In the first trimester, Mary decides to travel and visit Elizabeth in the hill city of Hebron, presumably a 60-mile journey. Mary was clearly not timid. When she arrives and greets Elizabeth, two things happen: the not-yet-born John jostles with joy and Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit of God. Under holy inspiration, Elizabeth explains the importance of Mary’s child and the blessing that falls upon Mary as a result of her courage and trust in God. While this is the Advent week of joy for many reasons, we cannot overlook Mary’s courage and trust in God because acting on these are what amplifies her joy.  

Everything Mary says in vv. 48-55 helps us see God’s alternative reality. Mary is not simply being an optimist, she gives voice to a reality that is both the foundation and the future of her life. Yet her words stand in counterpoint to what the current circumstances of her life must have been like. Consider the following.  

Mary is young, poor, unknown, and of no social status. While famous beyond measure today, she was of “no account” as they might say in my native SC. No one other than Elizabeth would look upon her and think that her small “yes” to God was going to matter to anyone other than her. Yet she can see enough of God’s reality to say (vv. 48-50) “God has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name.” 

Mary is uneducated, certainly illiterate, isolated in her Palestinian Jewish homeland, and unable to know or understand the world at large. She would not have owned maps and books. Did not sit at the feet of teachers. Didn’t wait in the marketplace to hear the stories of travelers or the escapades of soldiers and they came through the town.  Yet she can see enough of God’s reality to say, (v. 50) “God shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God.” 

Mary lives on land that is hers in name and history but is occupied by a Roman pagan government. She walks through streets and down highways that are frequented by Roman soldiers. She has no rights from the government including almost no ability to choose her own way of life. It is bad enough that she can’t do anything about the political power imposed on her personal life, she also has to tolerate Jewish patriarchy from her own religious leaders. Yet she can see enough of God’s reality to say (v. 51-52), “God has shown strength with his arm. God has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. God has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.” 

Mary was poor and common, frequently surviving on only one meal a day, two on good days, but far from enjoying abundance. She knew hunger herself, and likely saw others who were even hungrier. Yet a few were rich and received their unfair portions as the expense of others. Even more found wealth through corruption and theft and fraud and using others for their own gain. Sound familiar? Yet she can see enough of God’s reality to say (v. 53), “God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.” 

Mary has not been educated enough to read her own scripture. That itself is a travesty. She would not have been allowed a Bat Mitzvah when she was of age because only boys had Bar Mitzvahs at that time. She had to learn to know and love the Torah stories by listening and remembering scraps and pieces from Sabbath blessings and Jewish festivals and traveling rabbis. Yet she can see enough of God’s reality to say (v. 54-55), “God has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.” 

Mary is not in denial about the difficulties of her everyday circumstances. She knows that, on a day-to-day basis her son soon to be born will not change these parts of her life. At the same time, she is keenly aware of God’s view of reality. She can see that the divine perspective is an alternate reality. It is very real but no longer overlooked by her. Its promises help her endure to the point of knowing a joy that last beyond a moment’s sorrow or happiness.  

That’s all good for Mary. She was after all the Mother of God, Jesus’ first disciple, and a first-hand witness to God’s salvation. She communicated much of the book of Luke and kept alive the sayings and doings of Jesus. So again, that’s all good for Mary, but what about us? 

Oh, how much I want to see the world through Mary’s eyes. This Advent we are called to catch a vision of God’s reality. Especially when the circumstances of the everyday are dimmed by despair, when the future is muddied by uncertainty, when our anxieties and fears are exaggerated by the actuality of another crisis, we need to see this world within God’s holy alternative reality. For in God’s world all our troubles do not disappear, but they are re-focused. God thinks highly of us. God shows mercy to us. God knows the sin of the arrogant and powerful and in God’s reality they have no sway over us. God will satisfy all our needs and the greedy will be left in want. 

May we know God’s joy this Advent season for as we prepare for the coming of God, we are peering over the edges of the day and looking to time in which God’s Way becomes our life and our hope and our joy.

Questions for Reflection

  1. What do you think that God wants in our world that we don’t see or hear enough?
  2. How does “Joy” become part of lives at times other than Christmas?

Prayer of Thanksgiving 
Thank you, God for constant love. Please help our church family grow deeper and deeper in your love. Amen.

Song of Faith
Mary Gladly Told Her Cousin
Author: Carolyn Winfrey Gillette
Tune: IRBY (“Once in Royal David’s City”) / Gauntlett

Mary gladly told her cousin, “Praise the Lord! My spirit sings!”
Young and humble, she’d been chosen! God was surely changing things!
God of love, her words ring true As we sing her prayer to you:

“Now my soul is gladly singing At the greatness of the Lord.
I rejoice, for God is bringing His salvation to the world.
All who live will say I’m blest Even in my lowliness.

“God is mighty, just and holy, And he’s done great things for me.
Those who fear him know the mercy That God gives us endlessly.
Mighty ones are brought down low; Lowly ones find blessings flow.

“God has filled the poor and hungry, And he’s sent the rich away.
God is active here in history, In a real and wondrous way.
God has promised, and I’m blessed, For I know God’s faithfulness.”

Sending Out
May the blessing and peace of God uphold you, 
May the compassion and love of Christ enfold you, 
and may the vitality and power of the Holy Spirit embolden you, 
today and always.  
Amen.

Closing Song 
Blest Be the Tie 
Tune: DENNIS (Nageli) 
Author: John Fawcett 

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. 
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements: Artwork by Elizabeth. The Opening Prayer is provided by the United Church of Christ (www.ucc.org). The anthem was played by Tonya on the piano with Mindy, Laura, Tonya, Ally, and Elizabeth singing. Tracy played the organ and Mindy sang the hymns. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.

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Preparation for Worship at Home. When worshipping at home, set aside a time and a place each week for worship. During the Advent season (today through Christmas Eve), set out four candles. One candle will be lit for each Sunday that passes as we approach Christmas Day.

May the following serve as a guide in your worship of God.

The Worship of God

Passing the Peace 
Say to one another, “May the peace of Christ be with you.”
And reply, “And, also with you.”

Advent Candle Litany
O Holy One, we light this second candle,
a candle offering comfort to weary spirits
after a year of pain and loss.
Let its glow remind us of your tender care
and warm our lives in the Light of Peace.
Let it guide us to your presence in our midst,
leading us to your Justice and Joy in the service of Love.
God be with us in this Light of Peace.

Two candle are lit today.

Opening Prayer
O Holy One,
you are tender shepherd,
architect of the Way,
beguiling hope of all who go looking for you
deep in their lives.
Surprise us here with
Sweetness, challenge, vision—
Whatever we may need
In this moment to recognize you
and follow you into the future.
We pray in the name of Jesus, the Beloved.
Amen.

Hymn of Praise
Comfort, Comfort O My People
Author: Johannes G. Olearius; tr. Catherine Winkworth
Tune: GENEVA 42 (Louis Bourgeois)

Comfort, comfort O my people, tell of peace, thus says our God;
Comfort those whose hearts are shrouded, mourning under sorrow’s load.
Speak unto Jerusalem of the peace that waits for them!
Tell them that their sins I cover, and their warfare now is over!

For the herald’s voice is calling in the desert far and near,
Bidding us to make repentance since the realm of God is here.
Oh, that warning cry obey! Now prepare for God a way;
let the valleys rise in meeting, and the hills bow down in greeting.

Straight shall be what long was crooked & the rougher places plain!
Let your hearts be true and humble, for Messiah’s holy reign.
For God’s glory evermore shall be known o’er all the world;
and all flesh shall see the token that God’s word is never broken.

Isaiah 40:1-11
Common English Bible along with The Jewish Bible

Comfort, oh comfort My people! says your God.
Speak compassionately to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her that her compulsory service has ended,
that her penalty has been paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins!

A voice is crying out:
“Clear the Lord’s way in the desert!
Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!
Let every valley be raised up, and every mountain and hill be flattened.
Let uneven ground become level, and rough terrain a valley plain.
The Lord’s glory will appear, and all humanity will see it together;
the Lord’s mouth has commanded it.”

A voice rings out: “Call out!”
And another asks, “What should I call out?”
“All flesh is grass; all its goodness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass dries up and the flower withers
when the Lord’s breath blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
The grass dries up and the flower withers,
but our God’s word is always fulfilled.

Go up on a high mountain, messenger Zion!
Raise your voice and shout, messenger Jerusalem!
Raise it; don’t be afraid; say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
Here is the Lord God,
coming with strength, with a triumphant arm,
bringing his reward with him and his payment before him.
Like a shepherd, God will tend the flock;
he will gather lambs in his arms and lift them onto his lap.
He will gently guide the mother sheep.

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted.  Let us pray,

Merciful God, who shelters us and guides us,  
we give you thanks for…. 

God who comforts,  
receive those who are fearful and lonely…. 

God whose love is steadfast,  
be refuge for the ill, the dying, and those who care about them.… 

God of righteousness,  
we ask for your wisdom and ways of justice to prevail  
in our community, this nation, your world…. 

God who seeks our trust, grow us and guide us in your ways
that are life-giving in your world.  Amen.

Choral Anthem
Comfort My People
Composer: Ian Callanan

Comfort, my people, and calm all your fear;
the day of salvation is quickly drawing near.
The One you long to see will soon set you free.
O come, Lord Jesus, come. O come, Lord Jesus, come.

Silence the thunder, silence sounds of war.
End all destruction and comfort those who mourn.
Your dream draws near; your vision is here.
O come, Lord Jesus, come. O come, Lord Jesus, come

Be light in the darkness; be truth for our lives.
Be strength for the helpless, the poor and lost who cry.
O saving voice, O living choice,
O come, Lord Jesus, come. O come, Lord Jesus, come

Reflection on Psalm 85
“Peace” / Rev. Tonya Vickery

I don’t know if you can remember what Advent and Christmas was like last year. This year’s pandemic, hurricanes, social unrest, and downright ugly political conversations have made the year seem like three or four years at least. However, it was just a little over 365 days ago that we celebrated Advent and Christmas all warm and cheery in our comfortable sanctuary closely surrounded by family and we were not afraid. But for some, Advent and Christmas was hard. I know it was for me. Alzheimer’s was changing my mom’s demeanor and erasing her abilities slowly but surely. I ached for her, my dad, and myself. If I could have given her anything last Christmas, I would have given her the ability to know peace.

Well here I am again this Advent/Christmas season, and if there was one gift I could give to all of you all, it would be the ability to know peace. We have all had a heck of a year and it isn’t over yet. We’ve been afraid. We’ve been sad. We’ve been angry. We’ve been flippant and short. We’ve been tired. We’ve been alone. We have been anxious. And after so many days and months of these restless feelings and emotions, we need peace. And I am grateful that the second Sunday of Advent aims to deliver.

Psalm 85:8-13
Let me hear what the Lord God says,
because he speaks peace to his people and to his faithful ones.
Don’t let them return to foolish ways.
God’s salvation is very close to those who honor him
so that his glory can live in our land.
Faithful love and truth have met;
righteousness and peace have kissed.
Truth springs up from the ground;
righteousness gazes down from heaven.
Yes, the Lord gives what is good,
and our land yields its produce.
Righteousness walks before God,
making a road for his steps.

Our Psalm reading begins today in the middle of the chapter with these words: “Let me hear what the Lord God has to say….” In other words, in response to all that has happened, what does God have to say about it? In this psalm, the writer’s life has been messed up. Life among God’s people had moved so far away from what God would have life to be. And God was angry.

This reminds me two winters ago when we were study the prophet Jeremiah on Wednesday nights. God used the common image of thirst and water to describe how God provides for us but how often we respond. God is like a fountain of living water, always running with water, always available. However, we people who are thirsty are also stubborn, arrogant, and stupid. We can see that fountain, but the way we respond to that water is by deciding to carve out our own cisterns out of stone so that we can catch the rain to drink. As we carve, and we work hard, day in and day out. It takes a long time to carve out rock. we crack our cistern, but we ignore the flaw, and when we finish we still set our leaky rock bowls out to catch the rain so we can have something to drink for ourselves. In Jeremiah, God says, when we finally realize our homemade cisterns are cracked, we don’t turn to the fountain of living water, we start looking for water in other places. We look for an alternative source, while the fountain of living water keeps on running, waiting, always ready for us to come and drink. God in Jeremiah says, please stop being so stubborn, arrogantly self-sufficient, and stupid. Please change the direction of your gaze and look this way, and come and drink.

Well, in Psalm 85, God’s steadfast patience is running out. And God is more than just a little mad with the people for doing the wrong things and acting the wrong way — ignoring the fountain of life in their midst. God is furious with them. You know, it’s bad enough when you disappoint yourself and others, but when you disappoint God, what is left to do? How can you ever make it right with God again? It is a horrible feeling when you realize you have turned your back on God out of arrogance, stubbornness, or plain stupidity, or carelessness. What does God have to say about all this? “Let me hear what the Lord God will speak.” And what is it God says? Peace.

I lean heavily today on one of my preferred theologians, Jurgen Moltmann. Moltmann says that peace is “an experience of the Spirit in our restless hearts.” I don’t know about you, but I know that my heart is restless these days. It is hard for me to be at ease. Each week something happens and it seems like we hold our breath that things will turn out okay. But man, the magnitude of loss surrounds us and it’s like it’s trying to smothers us. Jobs have been lost. Trust has been lost. Civility has been lost. But worst of all life has been lost and continues to be lost more and more each day. Leaving us little time to grieve. I used to think that maybe, just maybe our small little county might be sheltered from the storm of the pandemic, but it seems that as the world we let our guard down and now the virus taunts us. Our hearts are restless. When will this end? When will life be safe again? When will we be able to see smiling faces and hug one another? When will we be able to joyful gather as family and not be terrified that we have shed the virus where we have been?

The Spirit of God comes to our restless hearts and the voice of the Lord God says to us, peace. Hear the voice of the Lord God say to you, peace. God loves you. And God does not hold back love. Instead God through the Spirit pours love in our hearts, minds and inner souls. And as God’s love permeates your whole being, peace begins to bloom and thrive. All those tense muscles, all that anxiety, it lessens it grip on us, slows our heartbeat and racing minds.

Moltmann also writes, as Christians, as believes of God through Jesus Christ, “we are possessed by a hope which sees unlimited possibilities ahead because it looks into God’s future.” Jeffrey talked about this last week. God’s future for us is a wonderful thing, not a dreadful thing.

When that kind of hope takes root in your life, you begin to see and recognize the endless possibilities in store for all of us and all of creation. And that’s when your restless heart can stop struggling to control the day, the moment or the future, and instead your heart, mind and soul can be at peace, at rest because you know that God’s future is certain and God’s future is good. We who believe God, we have the possibility of seeing through the haze of this world and past the horizon of destruction and fear, and the ability to look into God’s new world. And we live our lives looking ahead, beyond the current fears and sufferings and disappointments in this life, and we see the beautiful coming world God and our restless hearts can sigh and be at peace. Think on the beautiful world of God to come. Breath the air of the Spirit and be at and in God’s peace.

Prayer of Thanksgiving 
Thank you, God for constant love. Please help our church family grow deeper and deeper in your love. Amen.

Song of Faith
On Jordan’s Bank
Author: Charles Coffin; tr. John Chandler and others
Tune: WALTHAM

The Baptist shouts on Jordan’s shore,
the earth shakes with the mighty roar,
awake, let lazy sleep now flee:
behold, the voice of prophecy!

The earth and sky and sea now feel
that which their Author will reveal:
the Child now leaping in the womb
as God does human form assume.

Clean up your hearts, lay down the way,
for God approaches day by day;
prepare for such a worthy heir,
for such a guest your house prepare.

Through you, O Jesus, you alone
salvation, solace, strength are known;
without your love we fade like grass,
like wilted flowers our lives will pass.

O One who comes to set us free,
O Child, to you our song will be,
with Father, Spirit mothering,
to you shall praise for ever ring!

Sending Out
May the blessing and peace of God uphold you, 
May the compassion and love of Christ enfold you, 
and may the vitality and power of the Holy Spirit embolden you, 
today and always.  
Amen.

Closing Song 
Blest Be the Tie 
Tune: DENNIS (Nageli) 
Author: John Fawcett 

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. 
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements: Artwork by Elizabeth. The Advent Candle Litany and Opening Prayer were provided by the United Church of Christ (www.ucc.org). The anthem was played by Tonya on the piano, Kat on the cello, and Michelle on the guitar with Mindy, Michelle, Tonya, Ally, and Elizabeth singing. Tracy played the organ and Mindy sang the hymns. Scripture readings are from the Common English Bible unless otherwise noted. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.

Read Full Post »

Preparation for Worship at Home. When worshipping at home, set aside a time and a place each week for worship. During the Advent season (today through Christmas Eve), set out four candles. One candle will be lit for each Sunday that passes as we approach Christmas Day.

May the following serve as a guide in your worship of God.

The Worship of God

Passing the Peace 
Say to one another, “May the peace of Christ be with you.”
And reply, “And, also with you.”

Advent Wreath Litany
In the beginning was the Word –
spoken and breathed,
a promise made and kept.
Listen and hear –
God’s promise is true!
The Word was in the beginning,
and through him all things come into being.
Eternal and near at hand,
already and not yet,
God’s promise is the foundation of all life.
Listen!
Hear the covenant anew, giving voice to a future with hope.
~Teri Carol Peterson

One candle is lit today.

Opening Prayer
We have had enough feasts of anger and bitterness,
so come, God-who-aches-to-be-with-us,
to feed us with the simple Bread of heaven.
Every day we are handed steaming mugs of tears,
so come, to hold the Cup of hope to our lips.
Every day seems to be the longest day
in this year which goes on and on,
so come, God-who-approaches,
using the stars in the night sky
to light the way to the grace
we long to find in Bethlehem,
where we will find a home with you
when all the power and wealth of the world
slams their doors in our faces,
leaving us huddled with all our fears and worries.
We are deafened by all the arguments, the rhetoric,
the foolish boasts, the outright lies,
so come, God-who-is our peace,
to fill our ears with the angelic songs,
to pour love and wonder into the emptiness of our souls.
Come, God in Community, Holy in One,
come to assure is that out of these uncertain times
will come the Advent of new life.
~Thom Shuman

Hymn of Praise
Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
Author: Charles Wesley
Tune: HYFERDOL

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
Shepherd of Israel, listen!
You, the one who leads Joseph as if he were a sheep.
You, who are enthroned upon the winged heavenly creatures.
Show yourself before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh!
Wake up your power!
Come to save us!
Restore us, God!
Make your face shine so that we can be saved!

Lord God of heavenly forces,
how long will you fume against your people’s prayer?
You’ve fed them bread made of tears;
you’ve given them tears to drink three times over!
You’ve put us at odds with our neighbors;
our enemies make fun of us.
Restore us, God of heavenly forces!
Make your face shine so that we can be saved!

Let your hand be with the one on your right side—
with the one whom you secured as your own—
then we will not turn away from you!
Revive us so that we can call on your name.
Restore us, Lord God of heavenly forces!
Make your face shine so that we can be saved!

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted.  Let us pray,

Merciful God, who shelters us and guides us,  
we give you thanks for…. 

God who comforts,  
receive those who are fearful and lonely…. 

God whose love is steadfast,  
be refuge for the ill, the dying, and those who care about them.… 

God of righteousness,  
we ask for your wisdom and ways of justice to prevail  
in our community, this nation, your world…. 

God who seeks our trust, grow us and guide us in your ways
that are life-giving in your world.  Amen.

Choral Anthem
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Composer: Richard Shephard

O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, Desire of nations, bind In one the hearts of humankind.
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease, And be Thyself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Mark 13:24-37
“In those days, after the suffering of that time, the sun will become dark, and the moon won’t give its light. 25 The stars will fall from the sky, and the planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken. 26 Then they will see the Human One coming in the clouds with great power and splendor. 27 Then he will send the angels and gather together his chosen people from the four corners of the earth, from the end of the earth to the end of heaven.

28 “Learn this parable from the fig tree. After its branch becomes tender and it sprouts new leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 In the same way, when you see these things happening, you know that he’s near, at the door. 30 I assure you that this generation won’t pass away until all these things happen. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away.

32 “But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the angels in heaven and not the Son. Only the Father knows. 33 Watch out! Stay alert! You don’t know when the time is coming. 34 It is as if someone took a trip, left the household behind, and put the servants in charge, giving each one a job to do, and told the doorkeeper to stay alert. 35 Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know when the head of the household will come, whether in the evening or at midnight, or when the rooster crows in the early morning or at daybreak. 36 Don’t let him show up when you weren’t expecting and find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to all: Stay alert!”

Reflecting on the Word
“Apocalypse Later” – Dr. Jeffrey Vickery

It just might seem to many of us that 2020, of all years, is apocalyptic. Let me assure you, it is not. Do not fear the end of all things. While everything from the out-of-control pandemic to the extraordinary number of hurricanes to the murder hornet invasion to the circus spectacle of politics has disrupted the lives of possibly every single person in America, yet these are not signs of the end of time. These are mostly the result of human sin in one form or another. Whatever we do, Christians cannot misunderstand human sin and assign it to God’s purpose. God is the architect of redemption, not sin. God is the Creator of a good humanity and not the instigator of human evil. God is the light of hope, not the dark knight of death and destruction. 

So even though 2020 is not the apocalypse warning sign some claim, this dramatic reading from Mark 13 is a good place to think about the end of 2020 and the beginning of a new church year as Advent starts today. Why? Because the biblical message of the apocalypse is not one of doom and gloom but of hope. I’m serious. It is not a message of the end of all things, but the beginning of all that God imagines. While sun and moon turning dark sounds ominous, the end result is salvation. Just as Advent asks us to consider what we need to do in order to prepare for God’s coming, so too these messages that we have come to call the “end of times” are really lessons from the biblical story about “the coming of God.” And when God comes among us, there is hope and salvation. In this way, the message of the apocalypse is identical to the message of the manger. God is coming soon. For the people of God, this brings hope not fear.   

This story of Jesus from Mark 13 uses three different stories to make the same point. The first story is cosmic, the second is seasonal, and the third is domestic.  

Jesus’ first illustration (beginning in verse 24) draws our attention because we are often enamored by the sensational. The sun and moon will darken. The stars and planets will shake and waver in the sky. These are things that only God can do. The first reminder about the apocalypse is that it comes at God’s time and not ours. It is the result of God’s action, not human accomplishment. It is a work of salvation, not a path of destruction brought on by human mishap and sin. Because these are only accomplished by God’s direct intention, they are hopeful reminders of salvation. Mark does something interesting with these signs by directly attaching them to the coming of the Messiah. The mention of the “coming of the Human One” is a clear reference to Jesus. And for centuries Christians have confessed as our central doctrine that Jesus came to dwell among us, full of grace and truth, as a way to bring us hope and salvation. The character of God is consistent. The truth of God’s grace is unerring. The trust in God’s forgiveness is unwavering. Therefore, the coming of God, at any time and in any place, is a reason for hope. This includes any future coming of God. If the next time we look to the heavens we happen to see the stars and planets dance, we should join the celebration. God is near, enter into the joy of salvation! 

Jesus’ second illustration (beginning in verse 28) draws us into the agriculture of Jesus’ Palestinian homeland where fig trees were common. The movement from winter to spring and spring to summer is something that we as humans depend upon but not something that we control. Without summer, Jesus can’t eat figs. That doesn’t sound dramatic, of course, but what if we were talking about a world without tomatoes, corn, squash, and beans? In order to have this good harvest, summer must come in its time. Since Galilee and Cullowhee (where Jesus lived and where we are today) are at the same latitude, our seasons are similar. And in Jesus’ Galilee, they lived in a world where they had to grow their own food. Any indication that summer is on the way, like the young shoot on a fig tree, is a sign of sustenance and hope. Without summer the health and welfare of our family is uncertain. Yet summer comes. Every year. And it comes in the way that God set forth at the creation of this world. Summer is a certainty just as God’s care is without doubt. As our Advent season leads us into winter, we know that snow and frost will eventually give way to new fruit and garden dirt warming in the spring sun. One way to read verse 30,  when Jesus says, “I assure you that this generation won’t pass away until all these things happen,” is that Jesus gives us the assurance that, just as summer brings enough food to sustain life for another season, God gives life in every season. Salvation is like an eternal summer in which the garden of God is always abundant and thus our life is sustained for eternity. Think of the images of heaven at the end of Revelation in which a river flows so that water is always available, two trees that grow twelve kinds of fruit are always producing, and the light of God never dims. It sounds like heaven is an eternal summer!  

Mark ends this teaching of Jesus with the assurance that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away.” Consider all the ways in which the biblical story places emphasis on “the word.” In Genesis 1, God speaks a word and creation takes on life. John’s Gospel (chapter 1) gives us the assurance that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.“ In this way and others, one designation of Jesus himself is as the “Word of God.” Additionally, following the Jewish perception of the Torah, we Christians identify scripture as the word of God. So when Jesus says here in Mark 13 that “my words will certainly not pass away,” it is a statement of assurance. A trust given to us that God’s creative Spirit will always speak and life will not be diminished … regardless. The Gospel of God incarnate in Jesus is not contingent upon any other creation or the possibility of catastrophic destruction. These words of God in all their form both bring and give life. Once again, the apocalypse expresses hope. 

Jesus’ third illustration (beginning in verse 33) brings us home. Or maybe I should say, brings us into the household. The emphasis here is that the homeowner is always to be expected to be present or to return soon by those who are employed in the house. The repeated advice, three different times, is “stay alert” — “stay alert” — “stay alert.” Why? Because the owner will come home at a moment that is not determined by anyone inside the house. If God is, in this analogy, the house owner, then God is the only one that determines God’s return. We do not and cannot control God’s actions, but we are indeed responsible for our own. We are like the doorkeeper. We have a job to do and it is one that is common rather than spectacular. It is to be prepared. Do our job. Keep awake. Stay alert. This call is one of basic daily obedience to the Gospel. Since we are surrounded by entertainment and media industries that broadcast superlatives – the best, the scariest, the prettiest, the most dramatic, the world champion, the crazy sensational – we are sometimes led to believe that only these media-worthy actions are important, or make us feel important. But the Gospel lesson here is that the common daily practice of faith is what prepares us for any moment of obedience, whether it involves the extraordinary or not.  

I’m reminded of the day that Ronald Reagan was shot. It was March 30, 1981 and I was on Lake Keowee fishing with my father. While listening to the radio we heard the news of the shooting of the President after he had given a speech at a hotel in Washington. Attention turned almost immediately to Jerry Parr and Timothy McCarthy. They were the Secret Service agents who protected the President. Agent Parr pushed Reagan into the limousine while Agent McCarthy jumped between Reagan and the gunman and was shot himself. These two men, as is true for every agent who protects every President, were ready and prepared and trained to respond at a moment’s notice to any threat while at the same time expecting that almost every day will end without any incident. Their daily task is watchfulness. They are present at every event and mostly do nothing sensational. But they are always ready, always alert. They train for an unexpected moment that they also hope will never come.  

When Jesus tells the “doorkeeper” to be ready for any return of the “house owner” he is calling us to be ready to respond with the Gospel in any instance. True, we may be alive and living out the Gospel at the end of all the world. But most likely, this day and every other day of our lives will end without cosmic cataclysm. Yet we live today and the next, we train our hearts and minds and bodies, to respond today as though we are prepared for the unfiltered presence of God among us. After all, the host of angels came to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus on an ordinary sheep-herding night. Today is by all accounts normal, but it is possibly this day that we are called to show love and grace in a way that just may make this world a bit more as God intends. We don’t start the day expecting to save a life, discover our life’s calling, meet the person who will change our future, or teach the next Nobel Peace Prize winner. We don’t plan these things because, like the apocalypse, they are often within the reach of God’s intent but require our obedience in some common way. Whoever we are, this day we must remain alert to God’s way of living. We are required to exercise forgiveness, and kindness, and generosity, and grace. We cannot treat others as a means to our end but as a value to God’s work and world just because of who they are. We are alert to God’s coming in such a way that will require us to respond with justice for others and to help heal creation. We live in obedience to God now with the hope that this day will be the apocalypse, but most likely it will not. In either eventuality, we are God’s people now, and prepared for this day whatever opportunity we may have to show love. 

During this Advent season, don’t just look ahead to the joy of Christmas and skip past this common day, like so many other days, that we are to be obedient to God in the ordinary. That’s our discipleship watchfulness. In so doing, we will be a part of this day of God’s creation, and will be prepared for the hope of an apocalypse later. 

Prayer of Thanksgiving 
Thank you, God for constant love. Please help our church family grow deeper and deeper in your love. Amen.

Song of Faith
Angels from the Realms of Glory
Author: James Montgomery
Tune: REGENT SQUARE

Angels from the realms of glory,
wing your flight o’er all the earth;
ye who sang creation’s story
now proclaim Messiah’s birth:

Refrain:
Come and worship, come and worship,
worship Christ, the newborn king.

Shepherds, in the field abiding,
watching o’er your flocks by night,
God with us is now residing;
yonder shines the infant light: [Refrain]

Sages, leave your contemplations,
brighter visions beam afar;
seek the great Desire of nations;
ye have seen his natal star: [Refrain]

Sending Out
May the blessing and peace of God uphold you, 
May the compassion and love of Christ enfold you, 
and may the vitality and power of the Holy Spirit embolden you, 
today and always.  
Amen.

Closing Song 
Blest Be the Tie 
Tune: DENNIS (Nageli) 
Author: John Fawcett 

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. 
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements: The anthem was played by Tonya on the piano, Connor on the violin, Tessa on the flute with Mindy singing. Tracy played the organ and Mindy sang the hymns. Scripture readings are from the Common English Bible. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.

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