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Posts Tagged ‘Advent’

Creator God,
Lord of all history,
Holy Spirit, breath of God,
with angels and archangels
and all the company of heaven,
we join the chorus of those who worship you.

We come, seeking your holy purpose in our lives.
Our hearts yearn for your presence.

We bring to you
our great need to belong
to be loved
to know that our lives matter.

We bring to you all the wrong pathways
we have travelled
as we seek to meet that need.

Touch us again with your grace and your mercy.
Teach us to rest in you.
Open us to wonder and mystery,
then set us toward Bethlehem.
There show us your Son, Jesus,
and fill our lives with your light,
for you are the One we seek.

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Call to Worship

God is telling a story in our lives.
It’s quite a story-
full of the promises God makes
and our struggles to trust;
full of mystery and angels
with surprising news;
full of hard endings
and unexpected new beginnings.

Come, hear the story
pay attention to the angels’ message
in your heart
in this place and time.

Then join all creation
in worshipping the God
who tells it
full of grace and truth;
who comes in Jesus,
the Word made flesh,
and makes our story holy.

Prayers of Adoration and Confession

Promise-making God,
your steadfast love and faithfulness
surrounds us all our day.

God of all time, Lord of all history,
you create new beginnings
where we have run out of possibilities;
you make a way
were there is no way.

Glorious Lord of hope,
You come into our lives
among the poor and the lowly.
You enter into our suffering.

For all these blessings to us,
in this season of waiting,
we praise you with open and empty hands.

Be born in us,
be present among us,
form us in your love and truth and life,
we ask in the name of Jesus,
whose coming we await.

Assurance of God’s Grace and Love

We are a people on a journey with Jesus. Along the way, Jesus gathers our lives into God’s powerful, redeeming grace. The work of Advent is to receive that good news with open hearts. Christ’s peace be with you.

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God of hope,
you promise peace and joy and unfailing love.

We wait for you, Lord,
our souls wait
with deep yearning
for you to act
to bring hope to lives
that are caught in despair,
to make peace in cities
wounded by so much violence,
to move us toward joy and love.

You are more patient with us
than we are with you, Lord.
You work in our hearts
and our minds
and our spirits,
changing us in deep places
so we become the place
where your hope and peace and joy and love
can come to birth.

Give us grace
to slow down enough
to pay attention
to the work you are doing in us
and among us.

Give us grace
to face the hard truths
that make a way
for your transforming power
and healing presence.

Give us grace
to yield to you.

We pray in the name of Jesus
who has set us on this Way of Life.

Amen.

 

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Sally Longfellow is a minister in the United Church of Canada. Years ago, when her children were still young, she would give them “the speech” every year at Christmas (Christianity Today). “Remember,” she would tell them, “Jesus only got three presents, and none of them were toys, so don’t be disappointed by what you get.”

One year, during a worship service after Christmas, she called the children of the congregation forward for the children’s time. She asked them about their Christmas celebrations. They told her about all the presents they had received. She asked, “What do you think Jesus would say to Santa Claus today?” Her daughter answered, “Jesus would say, ‘How come I only got three presents and none of them were toys?’”

In the seasons of Advent and Christmas, we celebrate God’s choice to come to us in a most unexpected way. God, Creator of the cosmos, full of power and might, chooses to be born to two Jewish peasants on the fringe of the Roman Empire. The Holy Spirit, free and wild, chooses the limitations of human life.  The God of  unimaginable glory shows up in the midst of ordinary human beings who are confused and frightened and not at their best.

The mystery we touch in this season is that God uses such unexpected people and such unexpected methods to get near to you and to me. Ever since that first Christmas, God has been gathering together people who have been surprised by Jesus and who are open to the mystery.

I have a friend, a minister, who sometimes prays in worship, “Lord, let something happen in this service that isn’t printed in the bulletin.” He wants to leave space for God to break into the familiar routines. He wants to leave space for the Holy Spirit to break into places where the congregation had stopped expecting anything significant to happen.

It is a great mystery — that through the unexpected God brings new life, and hope, and salvation. Jesus often gets born into places where you are confused or broken, frightened or uncertain.

Leonard Cohen’s song, “Anthem”, is a beautiful, haunting song about God’s intrusions into our hurting, broken world. The chorus says:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There’s a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

There is good news: even when life has not met your expectations, you are not abandoned. God is not absent. God has not given up on you. Look around — look closely: even in the darkest night, the presence of Jesus the Christ still shimmers there. The darkness has not overcome the light of Jesus.

God’s path to the future opens in unexpected directions. Stay open to it. Your life, your Christmas, don’t have to be perfect or good enough or right enough. In Jesus, God offers you three gifts and none of them are toys.  In Jesus, God offers you God’s own presence — full of mercy and grace and love. Receive the gifts and you discover they were what your heart wanted all along.

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A prayer for Advent

 

God of mystery and miracles,

Your Word brings light into the dark places of our lives;

Your presence gives us strength to endure

when we are pushed beyond our own strength.

You find us in our lostness and,

with love beyond our imagining,

you lead us home.

All this you offer in and through Jesus Christ.

Yet, we resist you.

We resist loosening our tight grip on our lives.

We hesitate to trust you

for you may lead us where we do not want to go.

You know the places in our hearts

and in our minds

where we are well-defended

against your intrusions.

In this season of longing,

grant us grace to bring all that we are to you, O Christ

— all the broken places

— all the lost wanderings

— all the weariness from trying to live lives that are pleasing to you.

Hold them all in the fullness of your love.

Then, be born in us,

that we may find our home,

our life,

our joy

in You, Lord of light and love.

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“God’s Highway”

A sermon preached by the Rev. Christine Jerrett at Central United Church, Sarnia, on December 6, 2009

Scriptures: Isaiah 40:1-9; Psalm 13; Mark 1: 1-8

A few months ago, I told you about a video clip on YouTube which features part of a talk given by the Roman Catholic priest and author Brennan Manning. I was reminded of it this week as I thought about the great love from God that comes to us in the birth of Jesus and about how we prepare ourselves to receive that love into our lives during the season of Advent. This is what Manning says:
“In the forty-eight years since I was first ambushed by Jesus in a little chapel in the Allegheny Mountains in western Pennsylvania, and then, in the literally thousands of hours of prayer and meditation, silence and solitude over those years, I am now utterly convinced that on Judgement Day, the Lord Jesus is going to ask us one question and only one question: ‘Did you know that I loved you? that I desired you? that I waited for you day after day? that I longed to hear the sound of your voice?’”
At the end of the clip, Manning asks us if we dare to trust that love. Every moment of your life is planted deeply in the love of God. Every part of who you are, what you do, what happens to you, is held in the heart of God. Nothing in all creation could ever separate you from the love. Do you believe that? Dare you trust it?
God asks us that question in all our experiences of living in this world. We give answer to that question at various levels. We learn to answer it at deep levels when we face the loss of people or things that are dear to us.
Loss is difficult at any time. It can be especially difficult at Christmas when there is so much excitement and anticipation. The expectation is that everyone will find this ‘the most wonderful time of the year.’
We have made available some resources for dealing with those expectations when you are grieving the loss of someone you love. They contain suggestions that you may find helpful in getting through the season. It is important to search out such resources because the experience of loss destabilizes us. It takes away the supports we had been counting on to keep going.
“Loss” does not just include the death of someone you love, although that is certainly one of the most significant losses with which people deal. However, other losses can also disorient you — declining health so that you cannot accomplish as much as you once did; the loss of a job that gave you much of your identity; reaching the stage of life where you become acutely aware of opportunities that have passed you by and that you will never be able to get back. All those personal losses get set within the larger context of our time in which there is a pervading sense that one age is dying and another is still struggling to be born. Much of what we have worked for and much of what we cherish is being lost in the process.
The experience of loss can be much like that of the Achilpas — a nomadic tribe in Australia that was described by the cultural anthropologist Mircea Eliade. According to the creation myth of this tribe, their god, Numbakula, made the heavens and the earth. When he was finished, he cut down a gum tree, anointed it with blood, and placed it between the heavens and the earth. Then, he climbed the pole and disappeared into the sky. Following the legend, the Achilpas made their own gum-tree pole. As the tribe wandered from place to place, they chose their direction according to the bend at the end of the pole. No matter where they went, as long as the pole was in their midst, they felt secure in the world. Their lives had direction. One day, however, a tragic accident happened and the sacred pole broke. The entire tribe was thrown into anxious despair. The people wandered aimlessly for a while, but eventually, they just lay down on the ground and waited for the sky to come crashing down. (Craig Barnes tells this story in his book, Yearning: Living Between How it is and How it Ought to Be, p. 19)

We all have some Achilpa pole that helps us get through life. It gives us direction. It provides as sense of security and comfort. When that pole breaks, it can feel as if the whole world has crashed. It can feel as if we have lost the centre that held everything together.

Isaiah 40 comes from a time when the people of Israel had lost their bearings. One hundred and fifty years earlier, the Babylonians had invaded Israel. They had destroyed the Temple, the centre of Israel’s life. They had taken the governing and business class leaders into exile. The Israelites found themselves in a place where they did not want to be. They were far from home and without any real power to change things. For some of them, these losses were followed by a loss of faith in God. As time went by and God did not rescue them, they began to doubt that God cared about them, or that God even remembered them. Worse than that, if God did care and remember, perhaps God was unable to do anything that would make a difference. Perhaps the Babylonians were just too powerful.

Into that emptiness, Isaiah spoke: “Comfort, comfort my people. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.” Then, Isaiah takes us into what seems to be divine council chambers. We hear God commissioning a messenger to thunder in the desert, “Prepare for God’s arrival!” The God who had seemed so absent and powerful was now on His way. God was about to act on Israel’s behalf. The people were to get ready to welcome God.

The messenger is skeptical. He knows how transient human life is. “What am I going to shout?” he asks. “That people are nothing but grass that withers? That their love is as fragile as wildflowers? What’s the use?”

The response he gets from God is a peculiar promise. “The valleys shall be lifted up. The mountains and hills shall be made low. The uneven ground shall be made even. Then, the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” God is on the move and that means that new possibilities are emerging. Those new possibilities do not depend on whether or not the people of Israel are able to do the right things. They do not depend on whether or not powerful Babylon will cooperate. God is constructing a highway so that God can get to God’s people. That decision changes everything. New life is coming.

There are some things that we can do for ourselves that help us get through times of loss. Then, there are times when we cannot do any more. Our work in those times is to wait for God to come to us. Most of us are not very good at waiting. We like to take charge. We like to be in control. We want to do something that will make a difference. We are better at grasping than at waiting.

However, waiting is also an essential part of living in faith. The promise we are given is that our waiting is not just an empty space. It is not just a waste of time. In that time of waiting, God is still holding us in God’s love. Somehow, this God who loves us is at work in hidden ways, working all things together for good (Romans 8:28). We might not be sure what God is up to, but we can choose to believe that, whatever is happening, it is permeated through and through with God’s love for us and God’s holy purposes for our lives.

Several years ago, Ben Weir was a missionary in Lebanon. One day, he was kidnapped near his home in Beirut. He was stuffed into the trunk of a car and driven away. The next morning when he woke up, he was blindfolded. He was chained to a radiator in what seemed to be a very small room. This was the beginning of 16 months of captivity. That morning he began to do something that he repeated often throughout those sixteen months. He practiced remembering who he was. He would say to himself, “I am the same person. I am a child and missionary of the same God. I am the husband of the same wife, the father of the same children, the professor to the same students…I am the same person I was yesterday. I was not a captive then. Today I am. But that is the only thing that is different.” (This story was told by Mark Labberton in The Dangerous Act of Worship, p. 88) That assurance that his identity was determined by God in Christ, not by his captors, helped him through.

The Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, used to wake up every morning and trace the sign of the cross on his forehead. He would say, “I am a baptized person.” Whatever happened that day, whatever challenges he faced, he knew that nothing could change God’s love for him. Whatever the powers that opposed him tried to do to him, they were not more powerful than the God whom he served. Luther lived each day by the promise of God.

The promise of Advent is this: the God who loves you with unimaginable love is building a highway into your life. There is more going on than you know. Somehow this powerful love is working God’s purposes in your life, giving it direction, leading you into deeper communion with God.

The invitation of Advent is to trust that promise given by the One whose ‘Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14).

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Advent Prayer

Before the glory of your presence
All the heavenly host and the choirs of all creation cry
Holy, Holy, Holy.
The light of your presence shines in our darkness
and we join the chorus
Holy, Holy, Holy.

You know the longings that are deepest in our hearts.
All of them point us toward You.
Thank you for guiding our steps, even when we did not know it,
or understand what You were up to.
Open our eyes to Your work among us this day
so that we may see what is really happening.
Waken us anew to Your Holy Spirit
within, around, beneath, above us.
Give us words to speak of the joy You give.
till we know in every moment
that all is gift, all is grace.

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