Worship on the Lord’s Day
Advent 4 10:00 am 24 December 2023
Online & Onsite (Mixed Presence) Gathering as a Worshipping Community
Led by the Rev Brad Childs
Music director: Binu Kapadia Vocalist: Fionna McCrostie
Elder: Gina Kottke
We gather to worship God
L: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
P: and also with you.
Welcome and announcements
Silent preparation for worship
Lighting of the Candle of Love
Voice 1: The prophets call and the psalmists sing to announce that God is love.
Voice 2: “For the mountain may depart and the hills may be moved, but my steadfast love shall never depart from you…and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54)
“Give thanks to the LORD, who is good…give thanks to the Lord of lords, whose steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 136)
Voice 1: From the mystery of God’s love came our creation and we are nurtured daily by it. The power of God’s love is transformative; because we have received God’s love, we cannot remain the same. Love means seeking the best for others. Love is compassion for all creation. Love speaks the truth with kindness. Love is the way of seeing others as God sees them.
Voice 2: Holy are you, Source of all new life among us.
All: Jesus Christ is the love of God come into the world.
Voice 2: We join with all creation and lift our hearts in joyful praise.
All: We light this candle to burn for love. (The Advent candle is lit)
Opening praise: Hope is a star (119)
Prayers of approach and confession
Our Lord the world is often messy.
But life is also beautiful and full of surprises.
At this time of year, there is great anticipation and people far and wide come to celebrate with us.
And while not everyone celebrates the coming of your son, we also recognize that as He said, “Those who are not against us are for us” and so we welcome any and all to experience some measure of your love this season even if they don’t worship as we do.
We thank you that peoples all over are being inspired to think beyond themselves, to be charitable, to spend more time with family, to think more about those they love and to present friends and neighbors with gifts to show they care. We celebrate you and and they with us.
Lord your name is praised.
And yet, Father we must also admit our corner of the world is more joyous than many others.
And we must admit that the Christmas peace, hope, joy, and love that we experience is too often temporal and based on the whims of our feelings.
As we come together this season remind us that we should do it more often.
As we seek to more charitable we asks that you make charity a more regular offering for us.
As we attempt to be more friendly remind us that nothing stops us from friendlness the rest of the year.
As we give to those we love, reminds us that we don’t need reasons to lavish praise and presents on people we truly cherish.
God too often we forget how blessed we are. And too many things we have taken for granted.
Forgive us and lead us forward as we seek to bring Christmas blessings to the world all year round.
Response: I will trust in the Lord
Assurance of God’s grace
You like Mary have found favor with God. For all God’s people… You are forgiven. Be blessed and be a blessing. Amen
Musical Offering: O come all you unfaithful (Binu and Fionna)
We listen for the voice of God
Response: Open our eyes, Lord (445)
Story: Mary had a little lamb
Many years ago, a woman named Sarah Hale wrote one of the best-known and best-loved children’s poems ever written. Most of you probably know that poem. It is “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” It goes like this:
Mary had a little lamb,
Its fleece was white as snow.
And everywhere that Mary went
The lamb was sure to go.
Christmas will be here soon — the day we celebrate the birthday of Jesus. In our Bible reading today, we read about an angel who appeared to Mary and told her that she would have a child and that she would name him Jesus. Sometimes, Jesus is called “The Lamb of God,” and since Jesus’ mother was named Mary, I thought I would read a new poem called “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” It may never be as popular as the original poem, but it might help us to remember the true meaning of Christmas.
Mary had a little Lamb,
He was born on Christmas day.
She laid him in a manger bed
To Sleep upon the hay.
Angels filled the night-time sky
And they began to sing.
Shepherds heard them all proclaim
The birthday of a King.
Wise men saw a blazing star
Up in the sky that night.
They followed it until they found
The King of love and light.
Mary had a little Lamb,
But He wasn’t hers, you know,
He was the very Son of God,
The One who loves us so.
The Father of this little Lamb
Loved the world so much
That He sent his only Son to earth
So we could feel His touch.
He came to give us joy and peace
And take away our sin.
So when He knocks on your heart’s door,
Be sure to let Him in.
Why do I love this precious Lamb?
What can the reason be?
The answer is quite plain to see,
It’s because He first loved me!
It’s a beautiful little poem and a good reminder about what this season is really about. So when you hear Mary had a little lamb the next time wonder about the other Mary and the other lamb.
Prayer : Our God, we thank you for life. We thank you for our families and our homes and the people that we love back. Our God, we pray that you would make us more caring and kinder with the people that we say we love. And that we prove it with our actions.
The Lord’s Prayer (535)
Song: To a maid whose name was Mary (130)
Scripture: Romans 16:25-27 and Luke 1:26-38
Response: My Lord, he is a comin’ soon
It’s Christmas time, & Lucy comes in where Charlie Brown is standing & says, “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown. `Tis the season of peace on earth & good will toward men. Therefore, I suggest we forget all our differences & love one another.”
Charlie Brown, whose face lights up at this idea immediately, says, “That’s wonderful, Lucy. I’m so glad you said that. But tell me, do we have to love each other only at this season of the year? Why can’t we love each other all year long?” To which Lucy quickly retorts, “What are you, a fanatic or something?”
You know, I have to say… If wanting to love one another all year round is what makes a person a religious fanatic, then I hope this church is filled with religious fanatics every day its doors are open.
It’s a shame that Christmas is a season at all. I wish it were a normal. I pray that everyone like Scrooge at the end of A Christmas Carol might also say, “I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.”
But the problem is simple. It’s easy to be nice when everyone else is also trying to be nice.
Now I’m guessing maybe not a lot of you know about the Ozarks. But that was the family vacation hot spot when I was a kid. The Ozarks are an extremely gorgeous highlands region in the central U.S.A. They cover the extreme southeastern ridge of Kansas, north Arkansas and about half of southern Missouri. Silver Dollar City and Branson Missouri are right in the heart of it. One is a theme park and the other was built to be a kind of family friendly Las Vegas. In the 1980’s when conservative Christians in the U.S. were boycotting Disney for being too liberal the Ozarks were like a mecca for the uptight. At the time, my parents fit right in. I spent a good chunk of my summer childhood in the Dolly Parton Theater. And I must admit I would love to take my kids to see the live action old west. It was pretty cool. It’s like a whole town filled with actors carrying on like they are back in Dodge City, Kansas with Wyatt Earp. This is because Disney was evil but gun fights were just fine – I guess.
Anyway they have this huge Passion Play that runs year round. And a number of years ago a certain actor was named to play the role of Jesus.
As he carried the cross up the hill a tourist began heckling, making fun of him, & shouting insults at him. Finally, the actor had taken all of it he could take. So he litterally threw down. I mean he threw down his cross, walked over to the tourist, & punched him out.
After the play was over, (in other words right then and there) the director told him, “I know he was a pest, but I can’t condone what you did. Besides, you’re playing the part of Jesus, & Jesus never retaliated. Surprisingly the man was not fired (this is true story by the way).
The director understood but he told the actor, “Don’t do anything like that ever again.” Well, the man promised he wouldn’t. But the next day the heckler was back worse than before, & finally the actor exploded & punched him out again.
Very understandably the director said, “That’s it. I have to fire you. We just can’t have you behaving this way while playing the part of Jesus.” The actor begged, “Please give me one more chance. I really need this job, & I can handle it if it happens again.” So the director decided to give him another chance.
For some insane reason (I cannot imagine why) he got another change. The next day the actor was carrying his cross up the street. Sure enough, the heckler was there again. You could tell that the actor was really trying to control himself, but it was about to get the best of him. He was clinching his fists & grinding his teeth. Finally, he stared the man down, marched up to that heckler and said, “I’ll meet you after the resurrection!”
The weird thing is… in a way we all do the same thing.
We call ourselves Christians, that word literally means “little Christ’s”. We are in fact called to play the role in Christ in this world in every single thing we do. Do we really do much better?
I must confess, I think we fail so often to bring love into the world and peace on earth, not because we are bad people, or even because we’re pushed too far but because we are largely apathetic. In other words, though we should be fanatics our enthusiasm fades because if you hear them enough, even the greatest stories ever told start to seem old and worn.
It doesn’t mean we aren’t loving people or are bad Christians it just means that we actually take love for granted so much that we forget to be loving. And we all do it.
This week I read this little assessment titled The Stages of a Cold. It goes like this:
“How does a typical husband respond when his wife comes down with a cold?
In the first year of marriage: Sugar Dumpling, I’m really worried about my baby. You’ve got a bad sniffle and there no telling about these things with all the terrible viruses that are going around these days. I’m talking you to the hospital, Dear where I’ve reserved a private room for you. And I know the food’s lousy, so I’ll bring all your meals from your favorite restaurant. I’ve already made the arrangements.
Second year of marriage: Listen Darling, I don’t like the sound of that cough and I’ve called the doctor to rush right over.
Third year of marriage: Maybe you’d better lie down, honey. Nothing like a little rest when you’re feeling lousy. I’ll bring you something. Do we have any canned soup?
Fourth year of marriage: Now look dear, be sensible. After you feed the kids, do the dishes and mop up, you should get some rest.
Fifth year of marriage: Eh, that sounds bad. Why don’t you take a couple aspirin?
Every year of marriage after: For Pete’s sake, stop all that sneezing. What are trying to do give me pneumonia? (Hot ill green, pg155)
There’s actually a lot of truth in that assesment. Maybe not quite that bad but what if you treated your spouse every day like you did the day you proposed or what if you treated your friends every day like you did the day you found out they needed you the most?
See, It’s not that we don’t love our spouses but being that we are around each other so much, we all tend to take each other for granted.
It takes special occasions like, anniversaries and birthdays to shock us back into reality about how we should really be treating each other every day.
Christmas does that for us too.
In December of 1999 Glen Zander of Portland Organ was writing for his local paper when one day out of the blue he received a very interesting call and immediately went out to conduct and interview.
It seems the owner of a drive through coffee bar in Portland was surprised one morning when a customer not only paid for her mocha but also paid for the person behind her in line. Now that’s not terribly odd as it happens from time to time. But then that second customer was so pleased that she bought a coffee for the next customer. According to the barista, this string of kindnesses – one stranger paying for another, continued for two hours and twenty seven customers in a row. What’s more, apparently it only ended because the last person had actually forgotten his wallet. (1001 ill, pg504) If that hadn’t happened, I wonder how long it might have gone on?
About this time of year we start hearing a lot of about people trying to take the Christ out of Christmas. Interestingly I got a thing from a friend on Facebook from the Catholic Press that said “Protestants, taking the Mass out of Christmas for 400 years.” Fair point.
But maybe the problem isn’t that other people are trying to take the Christ out of Christmas (though that happens). Maybe the bigger problem is that we take the Christ out of the whole rest of the year.
1 John 4:9 says that “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him”. (That our lives might be loving – like his.)
So maybe the best way to put Christ back into Christmas is to live like Christmas is every day!
My prayer for us today is that we might be that very thing for the world, which we claim to be all year round, “Little Christ’s”. “My prayer is that peace and good will towards men”, might be something we can strive for as much in July as we do the last two weeks of December. My prayer is that we all wake up on December 26th and discover that… (According to Lucy at least) we’re all still a bunch of fanatics.)
Song: Come, Thou long-expected Jesus (110)
We respond to serve God: Our time of giving
Reflection on giving: Dayspring is empowered to carry out our mission of worship, service, and care by generously given volunteer time, talent, and treasure. Many thanks to all who give so generously!
Prayer of love
Child of Bethlehem, as your birth draws near,
may we draw near to you. May we kneel with
the shepherds and the wise men in the humble
stable and give thanks.
Child of Mary, born in us today, make us mindful
of your presence through the Christmas season.
Help us to remember that it is your birth that we
celebrate and it is for your life that we give you praise.
Child of us all, we give thanks today that you
were born to us. In the darkness of long ago
you came to bring food to the hungry, justice to
the oppressed and a home to the homeless. Help us to do the same.
You are with us still, bringing to fulfillment your
order of love. May we do likewise.
Wherever we can be of use, put us to use,
Where there are phone calls to be made,
Where there are prayers to be offered,
Where there are gifts to be given,
Where there are lonely people in need of company
Where there are sick in need of comfort
Where there are leaders that need prayer
Where there is food in want
Where clear water in need
Let us share your love,
Let us be an answered prayer,
Let us be your hands we pray
And in all things we give you praise. Amen.
Song: O little town of Bethlehem (164)
Sending out with God’s blessing
May you live within the light of love in these coming days. May love call forth the songs you sing. May love enliven your celebrations. May love be within you, and may love surround you. May you know – deeply know – the abundance of God’s steadfast love.
Response: Gloria in excelsis
Numbers in brackets after a song/hymn indicate that it is from the 1997 Book of Praise of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Those and other songs are being used in accordance with the specifications of Dayspring’s licensing with One Licence (3095377) and CLC (A735555).
The Rev. Brad Childs retains the copyright (© 2023) on all original material in this service. As far as Brad Childs is aware, all of the material that has not been attributed to others is his own creation or is in the public domain. Unacknowledged use of copyrighted material is unintentional and will be corrected immediately upon notification being received.