Come, all you who are lost, lonely, afraid. Come, carrying your brokenness … the rejection you have known, the failed relationships, your heartache … and lay them in the tender hands of God’s one and only begotten Son. Tonight, as you watch from your places of refuge from the virus, know you are connected by Spirit with neighbors and strangers, a family made one by our brokenness, coming with our hearts full of hope, and our pockets filled with doubts. Tonight, gather in spirit just as you are, for God has promised to meet us here and to welcome us for who we are.
Musical Call to Worship:
O Come, All Ye Unfaithful, Sovereign Grace Music
God, we are nearing the end of Advent, nearing the end of four weeks of preparing for the coming of your Son, yet not quite to Christmas. Over these four weeks, we’ve been searching for the Light. In our searching, we’ve found hope in You. We’ve found love from You. We’ve found joy in You. We’ve found peace in You. Well … most of us have.
For some among us, God, that hope is harder to hold on to, that joy is often overshadowed, that peace is broken by memories or voices from the past, empty chairs at our tables, faces missing from our celebrations, or the uncertainty of the future, and there is a looming sense of loss that seems swallow any love we have, even Yours.
And so, God, we come to you with the grief, the pain, the loneliness, the sense of loss that comes in the darkness of this longest night that seems nearly endless. Tonight, as we worship and pray, we ask for Your healing for ourselves and for all others and we claim the hope that Christ indeed holds out to us in his coming.
Tonight, we remember the first words of the Apostle John: that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” We remember that when there was nothing but darkness You spoke light into existence, calling the darkness night and the light day, and You declared it was good. And it was so very good for a long time, God, until the darkness of our anguish and suffering began to threaten the light. But You were faithful. You spoke again, and the eternal Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus, the light of the world came to us – a light for all people at all times. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness shall not overcome it.
We let the Light dim again, and we’ve been searching and searching for it, God. We come to you tonight to find comfort in knowing that the Light is ahead of us, the promise of new birth is within reach. We light candles to remind us of the true light that has come into the world, and we remember that the light does not banish the darkness, but it does shine in the darkness and that “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light upon my path.” (Psalm 119:105)
Glory In the Darkest Place, Sovereign Grace Music
LIGHTING OF THE ADVENT CANDLES
We light this Advent candle to remember those persons who have been loved and lost. We pause in silence as we remember their names, their faces, and their voices. We give thanks for their memory that binds them to us this season, which anticipates Christmas.
*Lighting of the 1st Advent candle
May God’s eternal love surround them.
Isaiah 57:1-2 —- “The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.”
Holy God of Advent: you became weak so we could find strength in moments of heartbreak; you left the safety of heaven to wander the wilderness of the world, holding our hands when we feel so hopeless; you set aside your glory to hold our pain so we might be healed, even when there seems to be no hope; you became one of us, so we could never be alone in any moment, in any circumstance. So come now, Child of Bethlehem, to strengthen us in these days. May we feel your presence in a way we have never known, not just as One born in a stable long ago and far away, but as One born in our hearts, in our hopes, in our spirits, in our weakness.
We light this second candle to redeem the pain of loss; the loss of relationships, the loss of jobs, the loss of health. As we gather up the pain of the past, we offer it to You, O God, asking that into our open hands You will place the gift of peace.
*Lighting of the 2nd Advent candle
Refresh, restore, renew us, O God, and lead us into your future.
2 CORINTHIANS 1: 3-7 —– “Praise be to God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”
You have promised to go before us: into our brokenness, into hospital rooms, into empty houses, into graveyards, into our future held by our God, and You are here, even now, waiting for each of us: to serve us, to hold us, to comfort us, to live in us, now and forever. Amen.
We light this third candle to remember ourselves this Christmas time. We pause and remember the past weeks, months and, for some of us, years of downtimes. We remember the poignancy of memories, the grief, the sadness, the hurts, and the pain of reflection on our own mortality.
*Lighting of the 3rd Advent candle
Let us remember that dawn defeats darkness.
ISAIAH 40:26-31—— “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the end of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
All around us are the sights and sounds of Christmas, Gentle God: the laughter of parties, the carols and songs of the season, and the images of children sledding down hills, the music in every store, on every station. But deep within us we carry our pain, our grief walks with us every step we take, loneliness is a shawl we drape over our shoulders on empty nights. So, in this time when every night stretches into eternity, we come to you, bringing our gifts: not gold, frankincense and myrrh, but the grief that is the empty space in the closet filled with memories, the loss that is a sore which never heals, the bitterness that tastes like two-day old coffee. We have come from different backgrounds, from different families, from other faith traditions. But we have all lived in the far country of despair, wandered the land of shame, and built our lives in those neighborhoods peopled by empty dreams.
This fourth candle is lit to remember our faith and the gift of hope, which God offers to us in the Christmas story. We remember that God, who shares our life, promises us a place and a time of no more pain and suffering.
*Lighting of the 4th Advent candle
Let us remember the One who shows the way and who goes with us into our tomorrows.
REVELATION 21:3-4—–“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
We have stood on the side of every room we have gone into, hoping against hope that someone would ask us to dance, but find the wall is our only friend. In a season when so many people don’t have enough hours in a day to get their lists checked off, their cards mailed, their presents wrapped, we have all the time in the world: to remember the loss that has stolen the joy of the season; to grieve over a job, a dream, a loved one we have lost; to sit in the shadows of our homes, too weary to turn on the lights; to wander the streets lit by decorations on all the houses, but not by the Light of the world. Our fear of the future, our remembrance of the past; our pain, which is difficult, to bare and harder to release; our emptiness which cannot hold the ones we wish to embrace: all make this a season of long nights. So, be with us in our loneliness, in our longing, in our loss, in our lives.
In Jesus Name, we pray. Amen.
SCRIPTURE READING – PSALM 121
“I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip – He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you – the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”
L: God, we come to you in this Christmas season with the pain growing inside us. As the nights have been growing longer, so has the darkness wrapped itself around our hearts. In this season of our longest nights, we offer to you the pain in our hearts, the traumas that some of us cannot put into words. Loving God, hear our prayer.
C: And in your merciful love, answer.
L: Compassionate God, there are those among us who are grieving over what might have been. A death or loss has changed our experience of Christmas. Once it was a special day for us, too, but someone has died or moved away. Or we have lost a job, a dream, a goal, a cause, we find ourselves adrift, alone, lost. Loving God, hear our prayer.
C: And in your merciful love, answer.
The Christmas season reminds us of all that used to be and cannot be anymore, the memories of what was, the fears of what may be, stifle us. All around us we hear the sounds of celebration, but all we experience is a sense of feeling blue. Please be near us this night. Loving God, hear our prayer.
C: And in your merciful love, answer.
SCRIPTURE READING: JOHN 1:1-5
*Lighting of the Christ Candle
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him, nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”
Somewhere In Your Silent Night, Casting Crowns
Thank you for sharing your time with me this evening. I truly hope you found some comfort in tonight’s service. Please know that I am always just a phone call away and that God and Christ are right there with you. Now hear this benediction:
On this night, remind us that your morning of hope will come; in our sorrow, wrap us in the swaddling cloths of healing; in our loneliness, help us to find you as the Friend who never leaves us; in our loss, whisper to us your promise that we will be fulfilled in the future you hold before us in the longest nights. God in Community, Holy in One, be with us now and forever. Amen.
Go in peace knowing God is with us.
- Prelude: A Light, The Brilliance
- Postlude: Cathedral Heart, Kelley Jakle & Adam Mayfield
Even though we can’t meet together in person, the church still has expenses that need to be met. If you are able, please consider making an offering or paying your tithes through the online service provided by Holston Conference. It’s safe. It’s free. It will help us continue ministry at Union Grove.
Just visit http://www.holston.org/churchoffering, and follow the instruction for making your offering. When asked, please choose Smoky Mountain District and Union Grove UMC Blount – Friendsville.
If you are not comfortable using a debit or credit card online, you can mail your offerings/tithes to:
Smoky Mountain District
PO Box 905
Alcoa TN 37701-0905
Please be sure to make your checks payable to Smoky Mountain District and write “Union Grove UMC Friendsville” on the memo line!