Service for Sunday 11 December 2011
Year B Advent 3
Call to Worship Luke 1: 46-55 (Responsive) NRSV Bible.
Hymn Together in Song 245 We have a gospel to proclaim
Prayers of Adoration and Confession
It's coming up to Christmas again, God,
and the shops are decorated
and the Christmas carols are being played -
and for once everyone seems to know something about at least a tiny part of the gospel.
We thank you for the message of your infinite love for us,
wrapped in the form of a helpless baby.
We thank you that in a cynical and secular world – this sign of your love still breaks through into the lives or ordinary people.
We thank you that everyday people are still inspired to acts of kindness and compassion, in response to the story of Christmas.
We confess that we see Jesus as the homeless baby of Bethlehem
but rarely look for him among the homeless in our city.
We confess that we see Jesus as the refugee, fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod's persecution
but we don't go looking for Jesus in the refugee detention centres in this country.
We confess that we see Jesus as your gift of love for all humankind
but we don't tend to share the gift with all of humankind, and we don't love our neighbours as ourselves.
We repent and are sorry for all our sins.
Turn us around,
may your love be born anew in us this Christmas.
In Jesus' name. Amen.
Declaration of Forgiveness
Hey look, guys, we've got a candy cane on the communion table again!
Who would have expected that?
What else can we notice about it? We had it one way up and it looked like a shepherd's crook, and reminded us about the shepherds visiting Jesus – and you put some sheep under the tree.
Then we held it the other way up and it was a letter J – to remind us of Jesus – and you put some hay and some swaddling cloths under the tree.
Let's look at the colour – those red stripes. I think they remind me of a very sad thing – that when Jesus grew up, people were mean to him and hurt him and made him bleed. I think red stripes remind us of Jesus' blood. Actually, do you see something else on the communion table today that reminds us of that part of Jesus' story? (Communion) Who remembers what was happy about that part of the story? (After Jesus was hurt and died, he was raised to life again, and is still with us.)
There's something written on this candy cane! What a surprise that is!
Does someone want to find me a grown up to read this?
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him in the face. John 19:1-3
Did I see another new present under the Christmas tree today? Who can help me with it?
Advent Candle liturgy Week 3 – Joy – Adults 11 December
1st Reader: Sometimes we just go through the motions of Christmas.
2nd Reader: We do the preparation work and shopping, but we've lot the excitement, and the joy.
1st Reader: But when you think about it there's so much to be joyful for: the people we share our Christmas with, and that we live in a place where we are free to celebrate.
2nd Reader: Most of all, we can be joyful that in Christmas Jesus became a part of our world – the most amazing gift of all time.
All Adults: We celebrate the joy of Christmas.
Hymn – first three verses of Light one Candle (Tis 286)
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
John 1:6-8, 19-28
This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God!
As we go through Advent, we follow traditional themes of hope, peace, love and joy.
These themes come together in the incarnation – God's coming to us in Jesus. In the Christ-event, God's own Son, God's own self, took a huge risk – in becoming vulnerable – becoming subject to the conditions of human life, for us.
This whole story is about God aligning God's self with us – not coming to us with superhero strength, or living in privilege in a palace, or having great wealth or human power – but instead being among the weakest of us, a newborn baby, a refugee, a citizen of a nation that's under foreign rule, a prisoner under executed for a crime he didn't commit.
We began the service with Mary's hymn of praise from Luke's Gospel – about God's choice of the poor and lowly over the rich and powerful.
Now we read from Isaiah: good news for the poor, care for the broken-hearted, liberty to the captives, release for the prisoners, the declaration of the Day of the Lord.
The first century Jewish belief was the Day of the Lord was a day of judgement that should be a day of good news for the righteous (such as very righteous Pharisees). It should be bad news for pretty much everyone else because no-one else was good enough.
Instead what we hear is the reminder from long before first century that before we do anything to earn God's love (like being righteous or good enough), God already loves us. More than that, God is compassionate and has a special love for those who are weak and vulnerable. God has the greatest care for the people with the greatest need (and these may not necessarily be the most “deserving” of people.)
The passage from Isaiah proclaims a jubilee. This was a part of Old Testament law, but there's no sign that it was ever actually carried out. The idea of the Jubilee was to protect vulnerable. In the year of jubilee, slaves would be freed – so if someone were so impoverished as to have to sell themselves into slavery, they would get a fresh start. Lands would return to the family who traditionally owned them – meaning that selling of land was really only a lease until the next jubilee – and no family could be left in the poverty of not owning land. No-one could lose the freedom or the inheritance God had given them – they could only give them up for a time out of need.
The jubilee was God's means of protecting ancient Israel from the modern problem of a few rich getting constantly richer while the poor get constantly poorer. It was intended to be a safety brake – once in every generation – to ensure that the gulf between rich and poor never got to the point of crippling the nation. (Maybe a world-wide jubilee – a cancelling of all debts and a redistribution of wealth – would be a good thing now.)
What does Isaiah's declaration of the jubilee have to do with looking forward to the coming of Jesus?
The concept of the jubilee was about sharing God's love and concern, especially for people who were least able to care for themselves.
At Christmas, God, in Jesus, chose to become one of the people least able to care for themselves – the greatest show of love and self-sacrifice imaginable. God in Jesus, gives up the wealth of heaven, to help us in our poverty, to share with us in our poverty.
Years ago, when I was a journalist, I did a story on the retirement of a Catholic nun who worked with the Murrie women in a country town. The Aboriginal women clearly loved the nun dearly, and I asked what made her so special. The answer? “Because she came and sat in the dirt with us.”
Here is the wonder of Christmas. God loves us enough, to come to us in Jesus, and sit in the dirt with us.
Prayers of the People
God of Love,
As the world waits for Christmas
we pray for all the people who don't have anything to celebrate.
We pray for the people who won't have a feast because they struggle to find a meal
We pray for the people who won't celebrate with family because they have no family
We pray for the people who won't celebrate in worship because they don't feel they belong in church.
We pray for the people who won't celebrate at home because they will be in hospital or prison or detention centres, or because like the infant Jesus, they have no home.
We pray for the people who won't celebrate with the person they love most, because the person they love most has died.
And God we pray for all the people who will celebrate this Christmas
- who will come to church to give thanks,
- who will have homes to go to
- who will have food to eat
- and family and friends to share it with.
May we all take this opportunity to share your love with those around us, especially those in the most need.
In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
Passing the Peace
Hymn Together in Song 526 Lord Jesus Christ, you have come to us
Service of Holy Communion (Uniting in Worship P 162)
Hymn Together in Song 256 From Heaven you came, helpless babe.