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Christmas Courage

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And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:38

When God decided to invade history for the sake of redeeming humankind, God used a 13 year old woman child named Mary.  The angel Gabrielle is sent to reveal God’s plan and Luke 1:38 is her answer.

Mary did not fully grasp, at that very moment, how close all those close calls were going to be:  the almost quite divorce from Joseph, the long journey to Bethlehem resulting in a barn birth, the two and a half year hide out years in Egypt; fleeing King Herod.  No not at that very moment. At that very moment, I think she thought about her father.  He was the man in charge of her upbringing and protector of the family’s social status.  His primary job was to deliver Mary to the marriage bed pure. The primary qualification for a wife at that time was sexual loyalty and knowledge of and a work ethic toward running a household (take it, her mother taught her most of these things.). But the buck stopped with her father.   If those things did not happen, public shame plagued not only Mary but her family and especially her father.  Did he deserve that?  Was the sacrifice of her father’s honor worth this?  Things had been set up to go so smoothly; with the betrothal to Joseph.  By saying “yes” to God she would have to sorely disappoint and shame two men in her life; one representing her past, the other her future.

Yet, God chose her – a woman-child without the means to support herself.  How easily she could have been cast aside by these two men and everyone else.  Mary defined vulnerability and we should not be surprised at God’s path.  The God of the Bible is attracted to human vulnerability.  God chooses a woman-child in Luke 1, comes in the form of a baby in Luke 2, grows up to heal the sick, bless the children and speaks to a Samaritan woman.  This list goes on.  Yes, what is with God and human vulnerability?  We humans don’t get it, as a matter of fact, we don’t like it!

If I knew now what I didn’t then, I’d probably had postponed my own wedding.  But at the time, and being the person I was, it was a sweet deal.  I was a year out of seminary and serving as a head pastor at a medium church in a large town.  I had the paycheck, the parsonage and the car that ran.  My to-be husband at the time was tiptoeing through seminary via long distance learning and serving as a youth pastor.  When he decided to quit work and return to school full time, I became the sole bread winner, the chief homemaker and primary CEO.  He called me his “sugar momma”.  But don’t worry, I was a benevolent dictator!   I did feel “large and in-charge”….until I woke one Thursday morning with a small scratchy feel in the back of my throat.  As the day progressed, I felt weak, even dizzy at times.  Before lunch I called the doctor, who graciously squeezed me in her schedule at the end of the day.  The trouble with the appointment was the timing, it came after my husband returned home.  Kevin came into our living room to find me in the middle of a pile of blankets and pillows with our faithful Labrador (and blog mascot) at my feet.  He soon realized that he did not need adoring eyes to behold his new bride.  He needed a thermometer, a wet washcloth and a puke bucket!  I was sick and I had to depend on my new husband to take care of me.  This was vulnerability.  My sugar momma façade had been reduced to a puddle physical misery.

Even in this unattractive state, would my husband still care for me?  Did he only love me when I was his sugar momma?  God bless that saint I married!  Not only did he hold my hair back while I made use of the puke bucket, but he ran into the bathroom afterwards and called his momma asking, “What do I do?”  It turns out my new husband felt just a vulnerable as I did.  And out of that whole first year of marriage (which can be the most rough) this memory is the sweetest because this moment pivoted my attitude from playing the role of sugar momma to being real and authentic in my marriage.

Brene Brown says it like this, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.”  Mary makes no pretenses of who she is.  She is very well aware of her situation.  Could you imagine if Gabrielle made the same announcement to King Herod’s wife?  It would have been a negotiation between super powers!  But not Mary, she had her feet firmly planted in the truth of the hour.  She knew who she was and she was well acquainted with who had sent Gabrielle.  Embracing that truth gave her the courage to say “yes”.

Going to sit at the bedside of a dying friend, taking responsibility for an error at work, confronting a family member about bad behavior….all of these are vulnerable moments for us humans.  None the less they present themselves daily and Christian ethics teaches us to lean on honesty and tell the truth.  How do we say “yes” to the Christian way?  We, like Mary, embrace our vulnerability, our fallibility, and our limitations.  With one foot in that truth and the other in the truth of God’s love for us we find courage.

 

 

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Advent in July, The Reverend David Graves

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This blog post comes from the preaching gifts of The Reverend David Graves of Kingsport, Tennessee.  David was one of our lectionary presenters at our “Lectionarypalooza” event at Emmanuel Christian Seminary on August 8. 

 

An Unexpected Christmas Message Series

 

As we approach Christmas Day, I am proposing a theme during advent of unexpected moments and what God does in the midst of them. With the Gospel lessons coming from Matthew, this thought of unexpected moments flow through this Gospel. You could set this theme by using the genealogy in Chapter 1 especially verses 1-6, and correlating it with Matthew’s own conversion experience in Matthew Chapter 9. Matthew, a tax collector did not have a chance in this world, and one day Jesus invited Matthew to follow him. It was an unexpected moment. I wonder how many people in our culture are thinking I don’t have a chance. This was Matthew until he met Jesus. Could this Advent be an unexpected Christmas where Christ becomes known or made known in a deeper way?

December 1-Matthew 24:36-44 (The telling of the second coming in not knowing the day or hour). Unexpected, but be prepared for the unexpected. One could really go a lot of different directions with this one.

Title: “Stay Alert!”

Theme: We tend to believe that we can rescue ourselves.

December 8-Matthew 3:1-12 (Ministry of John the Baptist)

Title: “Going First”

Theme: Who will you extend grace to?

December 15-Matthew 11:2-11 (Ministry to the people)

Title: “Recognizing the Unrecognizable!”

Theme: Our God is a great God!

December 22-Matthew 1:18-25 (Virgin birth of Christ)

Title: “A Covenant Keeper”

Theme: God keeps God’s promises-that’s good news!

Bonuses messages:

Christmas Eve-“A Charlie Brown Christmas”

Theme: It is the same old story

Scripture: Luke 2:1-20

December 29-“Second Chance Christmas”

Theme: God continues to invite us to a relationship.

Scripture: Matthew 2:13-23

Advent in July; The Reverend Rex Hill

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St. Paul United Methodist Church Piney Flats, Tennessee

This blog post comes from the liturgical writing gifts of The Reverend Rex Hill of Enterprise and St. Paul United Methodist Churches, Piney Flats, Tennessee.  Rex brought his original liturgy to share at our  “Lectionarypalooza” event at Emmanuel Christian Seminary on August 8.

 

Traditions! In all honesty, the Church is filled with traditions. Most are very helpful. They give us a view of where we have been and they can help mark our path for where we wish to go. They are not unbending and they are not always factual and they are not everlasting.

But traditions are valuable to each one who knows them

and shares them

and challenges them

and changes them

and carries them on.

Traditions are valuable to each one of us in some way today.

Advent and Christmas represent a time of Great Drama! Many of us have been in some of those high and holy dramas that have portrayed the story or the meaning or some particular benefit of Christmas. We still remember the First Great Christmas Pageant. And even wish for it to return to us in all its glory.

All that is okay. This is a dramatic season.

There is a lot of coordinated movement that goes back to the timeless beginning:

“When God began creating . . .”

And into the eternity that awaits:

“There will be no more sadness or sorrow or death . . .”

There are many changing backdrops;

there is action that moves in various speeds;

scenes can change rapidly;

emotions are drawn from every extreme;

and the story unfolds using the most unlikely cast of characters.

Real Life is Dramatic! The preparation and story of Christmas is Dramatic! It affects every relationship on earth and in heaven and beyond every age and season.

We start the season by setting the back drop for this living pageant.

We start the season with the Hanging of the Greens.

This is the decorating of the Church.

It is common to have some form of seasonal reminder present to help us grasp the text or the message of the time but the all-out decorating seems difficult to understand for many. It is not practical. Is there any good reason to do all this decorating? There is so much to drag out of the garage or the attic or the basement. The job makes us wonder about the possibility of becoming Amish—Simple Life Celebrations.

I suppose we could put all this out for our own selfish wishes. At the end we do feel good. We like the warm, cozy atmosphere. We like the feeling that we are safe as if curled up and the world is at peace.

We love the memories that connect us to the past while preserving something for the future. The ornaments that have been given and shared push our memories of places or people or time. We remember how we felt and how we wish we felt again.

We remember something about near-mythic peoples or a folk tale about a candy cane.

There is something beyond what we can know in this season—there is something that has to be felt in the heart and then known in the mind.

We can’t help but set up some sort of Nativity Scene—Crèche. And the Bible is out prominently turned to Luke Chapter 2 for the message of the Birth of Christ. And there are a lot of candles!

There is always a naysayer who reminds the world that there is a secular history in Christmas. The birth was probably in the spring and the light is just a way of keeping the darkness of winter away.

Darkness is quickly gaining on us;

We feel as if we are losing the light.

The harvest has passed;

Spring is many months away—

It is an eternity before we see new growth.

Suddenly candles everywhere;

Lights, colors, twinkling, sparkling everywhere;

There is hope that the sun is returning.

But our annual celebrations recall that:

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light.
To those who live in a land of deep shadows—light!

Sunbursts of light!

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:

the government shall be upon his shoulder.

his name shall be called:

Wonderful . . . Counselor . . . Mighty . . . God . . . Everlasting . . . Father;

He shall be called The Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end,

He will reign on David’s throne—

over the kingdom of David,
He will establish and upholding his kingdom
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.

The zeal of the Lord God Almighty will accomplish this.

Before time itself was ever measured, the Word was then speaking.

The Voice was and is God.

This celestial Voice remains always present with the Creator.

The Word shaped the entire cosmos.

Alive and breathing in the practice of creating—

all things that exist were brought forth—even birthed in him.

            His breath filled all things with a living breathing light.

Light that even thrives in the depths of darkness,

blazing through murky bottoms.

This Light cannot, and will not, be quenched.

           

            A man named John, who was sent by God, was the first to clearly articulate the source of this unquenchable Light. This wanderer, John who ritually cleansed—that is he immersed to show repentance—put in plain words the elusive mystery of the Divine Light that all might believe through him. Because John spoke with power, many believed in the Light. Others wondered whether John might be the Light. John was not the Light. He merely pointed to the Light. By his actions and words he invited the entire creation to hear the Voice of the Word.

The True Light, who shines upon the heart of everyone, was coming into the cosmos—                             even as flesh into the cosmos.

He does not call out from a distant place but quietly comes near.

He enters our world, a world he made,  and speaks clearly,

yet his creation did not recognize him.

Though the Word utters only truth, his own people,

(who have heard the Voice before),

rebuff this inner calling and refuse to listen.

But all those who hear and believe the calling of the Divine Voice and embrace him—      they shall be reborn as children of God. He bestows this birthright not by human power             or initiative but by the will and grace of God. Because we are born of this world, we can     only be reborn to God by accepting his call.

The Word that had been an enigma in the heavens,

even unknowable on the earth,

chose to become human and live surrounded by his creations.

We have seen this and we have seen him.

Undeniable splendor filled him and surrounded him—the One True Son of God—                                                evidenced in the perfect balance of grace and truth.

That is why we try again to get the backdrop right to tell of this event. The drama is important. The interpretive features, the texture of the times, and the context of the stories area all important to bringing the Pageant to life again. The features and forms and fashions of this new gathering of listeners and seekers is important to passing the Pageant forward again and again and again.

What follows is a collection of tools that may help in bringing the relevance of what happened back then and there to the generations looking and listening here and now. They too have eyes to see; and ears to hear; and hearts to hold the Word. And as they choose to come to Celebrate we choose to invite, inform, encourage, and share this hunger for worship—especially during this season of preparing for the coming of Jesus, once past; once future; and once for all.

Gathering . . .

We gather as one Fellowship;

Created, wonderfully and fearfully;

On purpose and with purpose;

As part of the Greater Fellowship;

The Living Body of Christ—the Church.

We pray that the words of our mouths;

And the meditations of our hearts—

The words that we share from our lips;

That we have been filled with in our lives;

Be acceptable to The One True God;

The One who is Rock and Redeemer.

We wait with all who wait upon the Lord;

Even so: Come, Lord Jesus, Come! Amen

Light of Christ . . .

Call to Worship . . .

One:    Join together now!

Let us walk in the light of the One True God!

Echo:   Who do you say that I am?

All:      We now enter into the House of the Lord,

            We pause in a place and we shut out the rushing moments;

            We Celebrate to hear an invitation;

            To enter the House of the Lord!

Echo:   In the beginning was The Word!

            The Word has always been with God—

            The Word has always been God!

            All things came into being through him!

            His breath fills all things—The living breathing Light . . .      

One:    Every year we celebrate Christmas—

We celebrate the birth of Jesus—

We celebrate first by waiting;

How do we prepare this house for the birth of Jesus?

All:      With many branches of cedar!

            This is a tree of strength and beauty;

            These needles pierce the skin—

            This tree pierces straight into the heavens!

One:    How do we prepare again;

Even as if for the first time;

For the Eternal Christ?

All:      With holly and ivy woven in a thorny wreath!

            Humbly we see the passion—

            The suffering, the death, the resurrection!

One:    How do we prepare our hearts for a revelation from God?

Echo:   Who do you say that I am?

All:      With the prophets and promises shared by God!

            Long ago, God spoke many times;

            And in many ways to our ancestors.

            God still gives promises to us through the prophets!

One:    History and eternity cross in Salvation!

Salvation is made complete in Jesus alone!

How do we prepare the world for this Wholeness?

All:      With candle lighting!

            Lighting one more candle—simple and dramatic;

            A symbol of our living witness;

            The everlasting power of Light over Darkness!

Echo:   Who do you say that I am?

One:    The Light shines in the darkness . . .

Darkness does not overcome the Light.

The Light that cannot, and will not, be quenched.

All:      Let us join together and praise the One True God!

            Thank God for this unending love—

            The wonderful works of mercy toward all humanity.

            Now and Forever. Amen

Opening Hymn . . .

The Down-Low . . .                                       A Child’s View

Celebrate the Offering!       Every Gift From and To God

Doxology:         Praise God From Whom All Blessing Flow              

Offertory Hymn . . .

Prayers!                      Praises! Shouts! Whispers! Silence!

Ministry in Music . . .                      

Scripture . . .

Promise . . .                           

Response . . .            

Sending Forth . . .

Benediction . . .

Postlude . . .

Additional Hymn and Praise Selections:        Try going beyond the tried and true suggestions that often appear in planners. They are good choices, but there may be others that tell this story in an even more powerful way. Many people have so learned the routine that it has become rote—and that can be hollow or shallow repetition. For example try simply singing “Amazing Grace” to the tune of “O, For a Thousand Tongues ‘. Wow! What a change.

Imagine it is the other end of this story and we are preparing for Lent. Place the events in the life of Jonah into the conversation that Jesus has with those first followers. Here is one result:

This wicked and evil generation asks for a sign;

The only sign will be the sign of the prophet Jonah;

Just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh;

So the Son of Man will be a sign to this generation.

Then Jesus left them and went away.

Matthew 12:39; 16:4; Luke 11:29-30

A Sign of Jonah

2:2-9

One:    I called out to the Lord from my distress—God answered me.

Out of the belly of Sheol, from the depths of Hell,

I cried out, and the One True God heard my voice.

Many: You cast me into the deep,

            Under the heart of the seas,

            The flood surrounded me,

            All your waves and billows passed over me.

One:    I am driven away from your sight—Out from your presence.

Surely, I shall look again upon your Holy Temple.

The deep closed in over me and all round about me.

I was under the mountains.

Many: Under the land where the bars close upon me—

            Forever! Forever! Forever!

            Yet, you did bring up my life from the Pit,

            O, Lord my God.

One:    Even as my life was ebbing away—I remembered the One True God.

My prayer came up to you, into your Holy Temple.

(Those who pay honor to vain idols forsake their true loyalty.)

All:      With the voice of thanksgiving,

            I will sacrifice to you,

            What I have vowed, I will give,

            What I have promised, I will provide.

            Salvation belongs only to the One True God!

            Now and forever, Amen.

God is the God of change; of transformation; of creation; of re-creation. And God is the one who breathes calm over chaos. Be aware of change that is chaotic and that which is calming.

Additional Hymn and Praise Selections:

All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name;    Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise; Step by Step

Great is Thy Faithfulness;  In Christ Alone.

Christmas Benediction:

The Good Words for Sending Forth:

Christmas Time Always!

Many are saddened by the gossip;

Christmas-time is over!

The sparkle and tinsel of lights and ornaments—

Repacked and placed up high, or low;

Placed back in the dark again.

Trees broken down and dragged out;

Setting by the curb or taped in a box.

All the cheer and mood of the party is gone;

The triumph of the bah-hum-bug is back!

We wake to see our journey is beginning,

The time is for January now;

The calendars have all been flipped!

Christmas just arrived—

Christmas can’t really be over!

We have barely greeted the Child;

The carols and wishes are whispers;

Shepherds have just left the stage . . .

Wise Magi are just on the right . . .

The birthday celebration has passed—

Another season of peace is past?

We step forward as our journey continues;

Can Christmas really be over?

This is just the beginning of the pageant—

The ending is never-ending;

Now and Forever—

Star . . . Light . . . Life . . .

We saw! We heard! We believe!

Christmas is not over; not ever!

In our breath—in our heart we still hear—

Emmanuel for another day;

God with us!

Always!

Amen

Advent in July; The Reverend Kaye Florence

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This blog post comes from the preaching gifts of The Reverend Kaye Florence of Bethel Presbyterian Church, Kingsport, Tennessee.  Kay was one of our lectionary presenters at our “Lectionarypalooza” event at Emmanuel Christian Seminary on August 8. 

Yearning for Restoration:  Preaching Isaiah in Advent

 

First Sunday in Advent    Isaiah 2:1-5   

Advent proposes impossibilities.  Along with Mary we ask, “How can this be?”

In God’s future holiest ground becomes highest ground.

We are preaching a dream, in what way is the dream true, in what realm?

We are in the presence of mystery, God’s own justice and peace express the depth of human longing for restoration.

Second Sunday in Advent    Isaiah 11:1-10  

Gift of Messiah will extend beyond redemption for humans to transformation of a new creation.  Julian of Norwich:  “All shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.”

The restoration of justice and peace come through transformation of predator and prey.

Christ redefines our notions of kingship the Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God are one.

 

Third Sunday in Advent    Isaiah 35:1-10  

Transformations described in poetry, happy glimmers from a dream: liberation, jubilant homecomings, end of all sorrow and sighing, ransomed will come home.

Connecting old hopes with the need for new hope.

‘The Lord will come and save’ is the longing of Advent

Fourth Sunday in Advent    Isaiah 7:10-16

God gives signs and fulfills promises with steadfast faithfulness and grace.

Ambiguous signs summons trust in the promise that God is with us.

Mary – pregnant with the child of promise, Emmanuel “God with us”

Resources for Preaching Advent

Books

Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, ed. Feasting on the Word Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, Vol. 1, Louisville Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010.

Brueggemann, Walter, Charles B. Cousar, Beverly R. Gaventa, and James D. Newsome, Texts for Preaching  A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV  Year A, Louisville Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995.

Johnson lll, Pegram and Edna M. Troiano, ed. The Roads from Bethlehem Christmas Literature from Writers Ancient and Modern, Louisville Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993.

Lewis, C. S., and others, Watch for the Light Readings for Advent and Christmas, Maryknoll New York:  Orbis Books, 2008.

Meeks, Blair Gilmer, Season of Light and Hope Prayers and Liturgies for Advent and Christmas, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005.

Weems, Ann, Kneeling in Bethlehem, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1987.

________.  Searching for Shalom Resources for Creative Worship, Louisville Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1991.

Daily Devotionals

Rohr, Richard, Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr, Cincinnati:  Franciscan Media, 2008.

Richardson, Beth A., The Uncluttered Heart  Making Room for God During Advent and Christmas, Nashville:  Upper Room Books, 2009.

Websites

www.textthisweek.org

http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/worship/advent/

Advent Liturgy

During Advent, the four Sundays before Christmas Eve, the traditional Call to Worship is replaced with the lighting of the four candles of the Advent wreath.  These are the candles of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.  On Christmas Eve the Christ candle is lit.

Members of the congregation, church staff, and their families take part in the candle lighting ceremony.  This is the liturgy that accompanies the candle lighting:

 First Sunday of Advent    

Today we light the first candle of the Advent wreath. This is the candle of HOPE.
With Christians around the world, we use this light to help us prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of God’s Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

May we receive God’s light as we hear the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined.”                                                  — Isaiah 9:2

Let us pray:
Lord as we look to the birth of Jesus, grant that the light of your love for us will help us to become lights in the lives of those around us. Prepare our hearts for the joy and gladness of your coming, for Jesus is our hope. Amen.

 Second Sunday of Advent         

Today we relight the candle of HOPE.
Now we light the candle for the second Sunday in Advent. This is the candle of PEACE.
As we prepare for the coming of Jesus, we remember that Jesus is our hope and our peace.

From the prophet Isaiah:

“For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”                                                                                                     — Isaiah 9:6-7

From the Gospel of John:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”         — John 14:27

Let us pray:
Gracious God, Grant that we may find peace as we prepare for our Lord’s birth. May divisions in ourselves and in our families be peacefully resolved. May there be peace in our cities and in the countries of our world. Help us to see the paths of peace in our lives, and then give to us courage to follow them. Lord, let us remember that you only are the giver of lasting peace and that you are always with us. Amen.

 Third Sunday of Advent              

Today we relight the first two candles of the Advent wreath, the candle of HOPE and the candle of PEACE. Now we light the third candle of Advent. This is the candle of JOY.  As the coming of Jesus, our Savior, draws nearer, our joy builds with our anticipation of his birth.

From the Book of Isaiah we read the words of our Lord:

“But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.”                                    — Isaiah 65:18

From the New Testament, the words of Paul to the people of the church at Galatia:

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.”                                                                                                                              — Galatians 5:22-25

Let us pray:
We joyfully praise you, O Lord, for the fulfillment of your promise of a Savior and what that means in our lives. Thank you for the gift of salvation through the birth of your son, Jesus. Create us anew as we wait, and help us to see your glory as you fill our lives with your living Spirit. Amen.

 Fourth Sunday of Advent                       

Today we relight the first three candles of the Advent Wreath — the candles of HOPE, PEACE and JOY. Now we light the fourth candle of Advent. This is the candle of LOVE.
Jesus demonstrated self-giving love in his ministry as the Good Shepherd. Advent is a time for kindness, thinking of others, and sharing with others. It is a time to love as God loved us by giving us his most precious gift. As God is love, let us be love also.

In the Book of Deuteronomy we find these words:

“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Deut. 10:17-19a

From the Gospel of John we hear:

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”                                                                          John 13:34-35  

Let us pray:
Teach us to love, O Lord. May we always remember to put you first as we follow Christ’s footsteps, that we may know your love and show it in our lives. As we prepare for our celebration of Jesus’ birth, also fill our hearts with love for the world, that all may know your love and the one whom you have sent, your son, our Savior. Amen.

 CHRISTMAS EVE 

On the eve of our Christmas celebration, Jesus’ birthday, we light all of the candles of the Advent wreath.
First we light the candle for HOPE because Jesus is our hope.
Second, we light the candle for PEACE because Jesus is our hope and peace.
Third, we light the candle for JOY because Jesus brings joy.
Fourth, we light the candle for LOVE because Jesus is love.
Finally we light the center candle. This is the CHRIST candle. Jesus is born.           Jesus has come. Jesus is our salvation.

From the Gospel of Luke hear this account of the birth:

The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you:  you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”                                                                                   Luke 2:10-11

Let us pray:
Great God of love and light, we thank you now for the light of that special star over two thousand years ago that guided humble shepherds and learned wise men to the holy babe. Lead us now, by the light of your love, that we also may follow you to new life in him. In celebration of the birthday of our King and our Savior, Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

A Service of Lessons and Carols 

Gathering

Welcome

Prelude

Lighting of the Christ Candle

A Service of Lessons and Carols

“Once in Royal David’s City” vs. 1,2                                                                                    

The First Lesson                      Christ’s birth and kingdom are foretold                     Isaiah 9: 2,6,7

“Angels We Have Heard on High” vs. 1,3                                                                            

The Second Lesson                 The Peace of Christ is foreshown                               Isaiah 11:1,2,6 “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”                                                                                             

“O Little Town of Bethlehem”                                                                       

The Third Lesson                    The Angel Gabriel greets Mary                       Luke 1:26-35, 38

“O Holy Night”                                                                                             

“The First Nowell”  vs.1,2                                                                                                     

The Fourth Lesson                  The Birth of Jesus                                           Luke 2:1,3-7

“Joy to the World”      vs.1,2,4                                                                                               

The Fifth Lesson                     The Shepherds go to the manger                    Luke 2:8-16

“Still, Still, Still”                                                                                                                     

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”                                                                                          

The Sixth Lesson                    The Wise Men are led by the star                   Matt.2:1-11

“We Thee Kings of Orient Are” vs.1                                                                                     

The Seventh Lesson                The Incarnation                                               John 1:1-14

“O Come , All Ye Faithful”    vs.1                                                                                         

 

The Sacrament of Holy Communion

We will receive communion by Intinction.

Please come forward using the center aisle and return by the outside aisle.

To receive communion, break off a piece of bread and dip it into the cup, then eat.

The Lord be with you.

And also with you.

Lift up your hearts.

We lift them to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right to give our thanks and praise.

Sending

*Candlelighting Carol             “Silent Night, Holly Night”                                                    

Candles will be lit at the end of rows, please light your neighbor’s candle in turn.

Hold the lit candle vertical, and tilt the unlit candle.

*Benediction

Postlude

Advent in July, The Doctor Reverend Tim Ross

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Hopwood Christian Church on the Campus of Milligan College

This blog post comes from the preaching gifts of The Reverend Tim Ross of Hopwood Christian Church, Milligan College, Tennessee.  Tim was one of our lectionary presenters at our “Lectionarypalooza” event at Emmanuel Christian Seminary on August 8.  

Lectionarypalooza-August 8, 2013:

Advent Theme: Living Into the Kingdom…

(Lectionary scriptures that speak to that theme and the theme of the day listed below)

December 1, 2013 Peace that Calls for Participation

Isaiah 2:1-5

Psalm 122
Matthew 24:36-44

December 8, 2013 Justice that calls for Repentance

Isaiah 11:1-10

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Matthew 3:1-12

December 15, 2013 Hope that calls for Patience

Isaiah 35:1-10
Psalm 146:5-10

James 5:7-10

Matthew 11:2-11

December 22, 2013 Salvation that calls for Wonder

Isaiah 7:10-16
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
Romans 1:1-7

Matthew 1:18-25

 

An Unexpected Christmas Message Series

 

As we approach Christmas Day, I am proposing a theme during advent of unexpected moments and what God does in the midst of them. With the Gospel lessons coming from Matthew, this thought of unexpected moments flow through this Gospel. You could set this theme by using the genealogy in Chapter 1 especially verses 1-6, and correlating it with Matthew’s own conversion experience in Matthew Chapter 9. Matthew, a tax collector did not have a chance in this world, and one day Jesus invited Matthew to follow him. It was an unexpected moment. I wonder how many people in our culture are thinking I don’t have a chance. This was Matthew until he met Jesus. Could this Advent be an unexpected Christmas where Christ becomes known or made known in a deeper way?

December 1-Matthew 24:36-44 (The telling of the second coming in not knowing the day or hour). Unexpected, but be prepared for the unexpected. One could really go a lot of different directions with this one.

Title: “Stay Alert!”

Theme: We tend to believe that we can rescue ourselves.

December 8-Matthew 3:1-12 (Ministry of John the Baptist)

Title: “Going First”

Theme: Who will you extend grace to?

December 15-Matthew 11:2-11 (Ministry to the people)

Title: “Recognizing the Unrecognizable!”

Theme: Our God is a great God!

December 22-Matthew 1:18-25 (Virgin birth of Christ)

Title: “A Covenant Keeper”

Theme: God keeps God’s promises-that’s good news!

Bonuses messages:

Christmas Eve-“A Charlie Brown Christmas”

Theme: It is the same old story

Scripture: Luke 2:1-20

December 29-“Second Chance Christmas”

Theme: God continues to invite us to a relationship.

Scripture: Matthew 2:13-23

Advent 2013

Timothy Ross, Hopwood Christian Church

Advent in July; Isaiah 4

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Isaiah 7:10-16:  God with us

Background information:  This week’s OT reading is pre-exilic (and before King Hezekiah).  Ahaz is still in the throne room drumming the war drums and set on making alliances despite Isaiah’s words and God’s hand at work right in front of him.  The text is unique (in comparison to other Advent texts) in that Ahaz and the prophet have a direct interaction.  The scripture passage opens with Ahaz responding to God by refusing to ask for a sign.  This is false piety.  The history of Ahaz tells us that he clearly thinks he has this one wrapped up and doesn’t need God.  By refusing the ask, Ahaz dismisses God.  This seems foolish considering what just happened prior to our text for this week (Isaiah 7:10-16).

In Isaiah 7:1-9, God has given a much needed word (vs 7b).  Ahaz fears (Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’s son is Samaria and Damascus in vs. 5) will take Judah by military force.  God sends comforting words through Isaiah that this will not happen and gives directions to the place where Isaiah is to meet Ahaz and deliver the news.  If only Ahaz had the faith of Abraham who responded to the command to go.  Isaiah nearly makes this same point in vs. 9:  “If you do not stand in faith, you will not stand at all.”  What Isaiah foretold comes to pass, Samaria and Damascus do not go to war with Judah.  Not that time, but war drums still beat nonetheless.

Our text this week is another encounter between God, Ahaz and Isaiah.  This time the topic is different competition (Syria and Ephraim/Israel) but what remains constant is Ahaz’s fear and lack of faith.  Unwilling to trust in God’s protection, Ahaz makes an alliance with Assyria.  But this is equivalent to asking the biggest bully for protection.  Eventually, you get squashed.

In response to Ahaz’s stubbornness, heaven cannot stand still.  Patience has ran out. An exasperated Isaiah blurs out a prophecy that fast forwards beyond Ahaz’s immediate needs and his understanding.  In contrast to strategies, alliances and weapons, God turns our attention to the weak and vulnerable:  a young girl and a new born.  Through this vision God is with us (Emmanuel).

 Thinking about the text

 Since Ahaz is directly mentioned in the text, why not make use of him?  We all have an inner Ahaz, unwilling to trust in God’s providence and direction.  (Once again we are internalizing the characters at play in this text.)  Among the congregation inner “Ahaz” lurks and wreaks havoc on relationships.  Here are a few examples:  some in the pew may feel that they cannot ask for what they need of others until they build up enough good will, a form of military strategy?  “You scratch my back, I scratch yours” sounds like the give and take relationship where each party is more interested in survival instead of thriving.  Jesus calls us to love one another as we love ourselves.  The inner “Ahaz” tells us to earn the love of others and refuse to freely request was we need…just like the historical Ahaz refused to ask of God.

In relationships, the inner Ahaz is constantly keeping score, connections, paychecks and/or possessions.  We fear those who we think may be smarter, richer, better connected than ourselves, assuming we will be rejected.  We forget that the redeeming work of Christ is what makes us worthy.  Instead of opening ourselves up to new relationships, full of potential, the inner Ahaz shuts down all hope.  We waste our time keeping score with accomplishments, forcing us to only surround ourselves with those whom we think we are better than.

Hope of the inner “Ahaz” is to limit ourselves with our own resume (we hope in what we have done).  We block the possibilities that may transcend our efforts.  We have no faith that God will work within new relationships or possibilities.  Without faith we will not stand.  If our faith needs proof, it stands before us today – Emmanuel; God with us.  What God dreamed of so long ago came to be.  Because God brought to fruition the words sent to Isaiah long ago, we rest assured that God will bring to fruition a great work in us.  What a contrast is it with Ahaz’s plans for war and what a contrast it is with our constant need to scrape and claw and earn love, respect and attention from those around us….and God.

According to IFS Theory, there are four internal “parts”:  Self, manager, firefighter and exile.  Which one is Ahaz?  It’s up to you!  The main thing to remember when using IRS Theory as a preaching paradigm is not to admonish harshly or condemn any parts.  We offer an alternative route for our inner “Ahaz”.  The pace goes from an exhausting work (war) to a calm, unique moment when a mother and newborn first meet.  This is the peace that Jesus brings (Matthew 11:28-30).  Jesus offers rest to our manager and firefighter by pointing to his birth.  God chose to come as a weak, vulnerable baby.  God chose to come as a weak, vulnerable baby.  This is a sign to our inner voices that God values weakness and vulnerability.  We do not need to “earn” or “fight for” our place at God’s table.  Our place has been set long ago.

Advent in July; Isaiah 3

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Isaiah 35:1-10:  A Safe Passage for the Those Made Whole by God

This text opens with the glory of God likened to natural occurrences of beauty.  While nature erupts with glory, strength and steadiness are given to human limbs.  God’s idea of renewal has no limitations.  Nothing is too broken, not even the worst part of ourselves.  We place our hope in this belief.  This thought, perhaps presented as a responsive reading, would be a great way to open a worship service.

A deeper look at our Isaiah text poses this question in my mind:  what has caused the limbs to weaken (vs.3)?  What has caused the hearts to fear (vs. 4)?  In the context of history, scholars assume that the exile has happened and this has caused many to lose hope.  Therefore this passage has more of a sense of desperation. Lester tells us that despair is a total loss of future story, every day looks like the last.  This generation will never have the lifestyle they had grown accustomed to living and their children would not have the same childhood they did.  A way of life gone.  Things will be different but is all hope lost?  Hope is still alive because God is still at work.  Isaiah 35:1-10 gives us insight into what God is working toward – a safe passage.  Notice that God does not send a chariot for a comfortable ride on this passage.  Rather weak limbs and weaker hearts (that restrict movement) give way for the people of God to WALK the path God has laid before them.   Furthermore, God promises a path that is safe. God, wanting God’s people to be on the move toward God, gives hope by strengthening what was weak and giving a safe way.  Could this safe passage lead to the super-sized Jerusalem in Isaiah 2?

In verse 8-9 cements the visual: a highway and a lion or a secure way and a threat.  God’s highway leads the travelers to Zion and God promises safety along with way.  They move from fear (vs. 4) to rejoicing (vs. 10).  Living into God’s hope is a process.  We are constantly being “saved” (vs. 4).

 Hope is still alive because God is still at work.  Isaiah 35:1-10 gives us insight into what God is working toward – a safe passage
 

If ADVENT 1 is God’s hope for humanity and ADVENT 2 is the leadership that leads us toward God’s hope, then ADVENT 3 is how we will get there – the highway.  The condition necessary to travel – healing and safety (both by God’s hand)

LECTIONARY CONNECTION

The text’s subjects are in a-b-c-b-a order; creation, humanity, God, humanity, creation.  In the center is God who comes to save.  What does salvation look like?  A very present process – being healed and walking God’s highway toward God’s hope.  But is this a salvation far off?  Not necessarily.  In the gospel text for ADVENT 3 ( Matthew 11:2-11), John the Baptist sends his followers to confirm that Jesus is the messiah by asking Jesus if he is “the one who was to come”.  John’s time was growing short and I imagined he was reflecting on his mission.  I suppose I would ask myself if my time on this earth had counted for something.  And so he poses the question to Jesus – Am I mistaken?  Or worse yet, Did I waste my time and energy?  Jesus’ response correlates to this passage because physical healing was happening.  Creation obeyed Jesus’ commands.  The new highway was in the midst of those who were told to look so carefully for it.

Once again using IFS Theory, Jesus is in our midst, the Holy Spirit tugs at our Self.  Can we envision salvation being a current process in which our Self listens, loves, acknowledges, embraces the other parts (exile, firefighter, manager)? Can our inner leader (self) make a safe passage for the other parts to be heard?  This kind of inner leadership leads to healing.  (see Advent in July; Isaiah 2) This kingdom is within and now, not to come and later.  

PREACHING THE TEXT:  focusing on the God’s highway

Jesus tells us that he is “the way, the truth and the light”.  Could the highway in Isaiah be Jesus?  Preachers can take the congregation to that assumption through the lectionary gospel text provided.  Internalizing the “highway” as a journey toward the kingdom within is an opportunity to talk about the Christian walk/journey/God’s highway.  What aspect of our spiritual growth is a journey? How is holiness a process? What threatens that journey (lions, our own foolishness, and feelings of unworthiness)?

To my entire Methodist preaching friends, this sounds like “going on to perfection”.  This Sunday may be a opportune time to educate and encourage the congregation in that journey.  However to continue my use of IFS Theory, I’d like talk about safety.  Sometimes our spiritual growth is stunted because we do not allow a part of ourselves to experience the divine.  Forgiveness, grace and acceptance are denied. Perhaps we view that part as sinful or broken(vs. 8), not worthy highway traveling.    That part is labeled the “exile” is IRS Theory.  When the Self offers acceptance and encouragement to the exile, the exile is fit for travel.   Being that God redeems everything, this includes the exile or the part of us that bears our shame.  God promises safety and restoration for the “exile”.  The same grace can be extended to the other “parts” in IFS Theory.

When our “exiles” are placed on the highway to move toward God, we are more hopeful.  Our very self is changing as the “exiles” receive the acceptance and peace God has to offer.  As a result other voices, Self, manager and firefighter begin to mimic the grace of God.  The despair felt by the “exile” is relieved.  This results in spiritual healing. 

How do we move toward God’s hope and dream (ADVENT 1)?  Our leader/Self (ADVENT 2) allows all the parts of us to follow the path God has laid before us (ADVENT 3).

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