Advent Candles - Love (Read by children)
Cong sings: O come, Desire of nations bind all peoples in one heart and mind. From dust thou brought us forth to life; deliver us from earthly strife.
R1: We praise God for he is happy with us.
R2: He gives the needy good things.
R1: God of justice and peace. We open our hearts to you.
R2: Give us courage to turn away from distractions and distortions
R1: and turn toward the home you have made, are making, and will complete through Christ.
R2: Help us to be instruments of your righteousness and bring your love to others.
R1: People, say with the psalmist,
Cong: Whom do we have in heavens except you? And with you, we have no other desire on earth. (Ps 73:25 LEB)
R1: We light the candle of hope. We light the candle of peace. We light the candle of joy. We light the candle of love – for the One who makes his home among us.
Cong sings: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
Children’s Time Pastor Chuck
Do you know what a jumping jack is? Can one of you show me? Today we are going to talk about jumping johns. Do you know what that is? Well, when then angel came to Mary and told her she will give birth to God’s Son (Jesus), and that her elder relative Elizabeth is already pregnant with John the baptizer; Mary went to stay with Elizabeth for a while, and when Mary arrives and calls at the door, the baby (John) inside Elizabeth leapt for joy. A week after John’s birth, his father explains why -- among other things he said, God has given us a powerful Savior (Luke 1:69a) [so that] we can serve him without fear. (Luke 1:74b)
So back to today’s topic -- a jumping John is when you stand, and reach down with your hands as close to your toes as you can (kind of like curled up in the belly) and then hear someone say, “Are you home?” You stretch out as tall and as fast as you can making you kind of jump and you lift your hands in the air as far as they go - but you don’t clap them like that jack jumper, and you say with happy energy “God has given us a powerful Savior!” and then you bend down again and then when you hear, “Are you home?’ You jump up again and say with happy energy “We can serve God without fear!” (Do this a few times, then get the adults to join in as best they can in the pews) Let’s pray… Dear Father, we are so thankful and excited because you sent your Son Jesus to be our powerful Savior, and because Jesus came to a manger on this earth to save our life, to save us from sin, we can serve you without any fear, and with all our energy and with a lot of joy. Amen. Hand out lifesavers.
Bible Reading Luke 1:35-45
35 The angel answered [Mary], “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.” 38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. 39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” (NIV)
Message “God Makes This World a Home” Luke 1:46-55
For some, thanks to the powerful and widespread Egyptian Empire, times were very stable, prosperous, reliable, safe. But for others, it was an unpredictable, unmanageable and an unimaginable mess. But it was into that dark, oppressive world that God’s message comes most clearly – to one common shepherd out in the wilderness.
I remember a camp meeting where the evangelist was preaching on the Exodus, and said, if it were up to him; he would have recruited some great orator who would come with choirs and they would have this majestic approach to overwhelm the Egyptian pharaoh when asking to free his people from slavery.
But God chose a person who practically needed an assistant to speak for him. God does do what he needs to in order to get his will accomplished, but it is rarely through shock and awe, and never for its own sake, but to fulfill a deeper purpose.
Back up to the beginning of that story – to the call of Moses through the burning bush that would not be consumed by the flames. The display caught Moses’ attention, but it was a curiosity more than overpowering. It drew him toward it where God could talk to him.
Like the evangelist, someone figured it would be logical and more natural for God to choose to speak in majestic, public, peals of powerful thunder rather than in a still, small, private voice. So, he asked a rabbi, "Why did God speak to Moses from the thorn bush?" The rabbi answered, "To teach you that there is no place on earth where God's glory is not, not even in a humble thorn bush."
For some, thanks to the powerful and widespread Roman Empire, times were very stable, prosperous, reliable, safe. And while we may have romanticized and made spectacular the Christmas story, at the time, on the surface-y, strictly human level, it was anything but.
A baby boy born to a young, yet to be married, poor female and her intended, whom the government had forced to be on the road, to a town where there was no room for them. Jesus was born in a stable -- a small, cramped, congested, messy place.
By human standards and expectations, the Creator of the Universe should have at least sent his Son to be born in Rome to a noble power broker, where upon adulthood, his pure influence would have a natural and immediate impact. Who wouldn’t obey a Roman ruler with all power of the mightiest military of the world behind him?
But instead we have a pauper in a stranger’s stable -- amid dusty animals, mucky straw, sneaking vermin, spilled grain, and all the usual smells and sounds and sights found in a stable. This whole thing was out-of-place, out-of-sync, chaotic, congested, convoluted -- what a mess for this seemingly insignificant couple. But this is the mess in the “mess-age” of Christmas: There is no stable, no place in our world or in our lives that is too poor, too remote, too outcast, too "other," too messy, that God cannot be found and formed in us.
Indeed, it is especially in the midst of these troubling times that God’s message can ring most clearly – to those who can open their hearts to it.
Back up to the beginning of this story -- Mary and Elizabeth, one thought too pure to have a baby, the other too old – both now pregnant; come together and open up to each other – and they find the stable-ness of their lives is not in their circumstances, but in God’s presence and message to them right in the thick of it all.
Mary was certainly not in an optimal situation for having a child. And yet, when confronted with the shocking news, she did what all of us must do when our present is scary and our future unknown: she reached deep into her soul and found courage that came from a place beyond her own self, beyond her own limitations and fears. So Mary responds not to what is a scary present and an unknown future, but to the stability of God’s presence and power within her.
Mary greets Elizabeth, John the baptizer kicks and leaps for joy and Elizabeth assures Mary that she is blessed for believing the Lord would fulfill his promises in and through her.
Bolstered by the collaborating witness in Elizabeth’s prophetic words, (not only saying Mary was also uniquely pregnant, but that Mary was the mother of her Lord); Mary found courage that came from her faith and trust in God, and she is inspired to offer up a beautiful prayer of praise herself.
Read text 46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. 50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.” (NIV)
Can we be as courageous as Mary and allow God’s light to shine through us for the transformation of the world?
If our life feels fragile, and perhaps not very stable, if our situation is “humbling”, if our schedule seems "too busy", if our circuitry is all hovering near overload, if someone is “standing on our last nerve”, don’t think God cannot come close to our life, to our heart. We could be on the very verge of experiencing, (metaphorically speaking), a genuine burning bush, a "stable time" in our life. Open up to it, exalt in it, and be willing to let the Spirit of God "do great things for you."
Can we be as courageous as Mary? In the midst of dire circumstances, Mary was willing to receive Christ, physically, into her womb. Are we willing to receive Christ into our hearts? And are we willing to live with Mary’s courage? Can her song be our song too? Can we refuse to give in to the fears that the world constantly pushes at us? Can we reject the notion that everything is spinning out of control, and embrace that the world is simply about to turn just as God intends it to turn?
Mary courageously sees God’s transformation of the world in Jesus’ coming birth, and through all those who have followed Christ since.
A single dad was new to a particular community and he decided to take his seven-year-old son to church one day. Since they were new, they didn’t know about Jr Church or anything else on that church’s schedule, so his son sat with him in worship.
The minister preached about the history of the church, about people who were just regular people but responded to God’s call and became saints -- people like Peter, James, Mary, and Martha — people who knew Jesus personally.
He talked about other people in the early, fledgling church: people who came from all kinds of different backgrounds and cultures, but responded to God’s call and became saints -- people like Tertullian, Irenaus, Augustine and his mother Monica - who clarified the faith and laid the foundation of the church.
He talked about people who lived over a thousand years later — regular everyday people like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Saint Teresa of Avila who challenged us to find a different and deeper relationship with God.
He talked about modern day saints, such as Mohandas Gandhi, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King who struggled for the rights of all people.
While all this was going on, the little boy was fascinated by the stained-glass windows that lined the sanctuary. It was a very bright, sunny day, so he was overcome by the colors. It was as if a rainbow had shattered and covered the congregation with radiant shapes of red, green, gold, blue, and purple. The colors that were reflected by the people in the windows — some of the same people that the minister was talking about — the colors were beautiful and they filled the church.
The service ended, when they were driving home, the father asked the son what he thought of the church service.
“I liked it,” he said.
“Did you listen to the minister’s sermon?”
“What he was talking about?”
“Something to do with people called saints.”
“And who are the saints?”
The boy said, “They are the people who the light shines through.”
The Christmas season reminds us that the light of the world comes to a simple stable manger, comes to the most unlikeliest of places and people, but when people are ready to receive it -- his light shines through and the world is turned upside-down. Let’s pray.
Prayer Lord, sometimes it is difficult for us to believe that "there is no time, no place, no event so earthly that you cannot be there, working your grace. There are so many moments where earth is crammed with heaven, Bethlehem moments where something divine is birthed through very commonplace human events. Awaken our hearts to notice the meek and unassuming way that God characteristically comes to make this world his home, and help us to rejoice in the news of Christ’s birth in the manger, and his birth in the hearts of men and women everywhere. Amen.
Know without a doubt that the great mystery of our faith is confirmed by the Spirit, seen by angels, and announced to the nations, believed in throughout the world: that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who makes his home around - with - and in -- all who will welcome him.