ORDER OF WORSHIP
- Greeting & Announcements – Rev. Val
- Call to Worship, and Opening Prayer – Rev. Val & Congregation
- Hymn – O Little Town of Bethlehem (UMH 230)
- Advent Candle Reading – Peace
- Gloria Patri (UMH 70)
- Pastoral Prayer – Rev. Val
- Scripture Readings – Micah 5:2-5a (NRSV), Luke 1:39-55 (NRSV) – Rev. Val
- Hymn – My Soul Gives Glory to My God (UMH 198)
- Message: Where There’s Peace – Rev. Val
- Offertory Prayer – Rev. Val
- Doxology (UMH 95)
- Service of Holy Communion
- Hymn – Canticle of the Turning (bulletin)
- Benediction – Rev. Val
WELCOME, CALL TO WORSHIP, & OPENING PRAYER
Good morning! For those who’ve worshiped with us before either in-person or online, welcome back. For those who are joining us for the first time this morning, we’re glad you here. Make yourselves at home!
This is the fourth and final Sunday of Advent, and the last time we’ll meet in-person and in real-time online before the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior.
Just a reminder that we will have online-only services for the Longest Night on Dec. 21 and the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service on Dec. 24, both beginning at 6:00 p.m. These online services are pre-recorded and will be posted to our Facebook page.
Lastly, beginning on January 16, the Sunday after Epiphany Sunday, we will begin a new worship series called Afterfaith.
Save the date!
- *December 21 – Finding Comfort*
- *December 24 – Finding the Light*
- December 26 – First Sunday After Christmas
- *December 31 – Watchnight Service*
- January 2 – Second Sunday After Christmas
- Communion Sunday
- January 9 – Epiphany Sunday/Baptism of the Lord*Online only worship. Videos will be available on our Facebook Page & website beginning at 6 p.m. Dec. 21 and 24, and at 11:25 p.m. Dec. 31.
Call to Worship
Dr. Derek C. Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, Discipleship Ministries of the UMC
L: Come, joy, lighten our spirits.
P: Come, hope, lift us from despair.
L: Come, peace, ease our frantic worry.
P: Come, love, shine in all we do.
L: Come, Jesus, be born in us.
P: Come, Lord, set us free.
L: Come, God,
P: Rule in our hearts and teach us to sing with joy!
L: Come, let us worship God, as we pray together saying …
From Revised Common Lectionary Prayers ©2002
O God of Elizabeth and Mary,
you visited your servants with news of the world’s redemption
in the coming of the Savior.
Make our hearts leap with joy,
and fill our mouths with songs of praise,
that we may announce glad tidings of peace,
and welcome the Christ in our midst.
Advent Candle Lighting
Advent Candle Lighting Liturgy 2021 – Derek C. Weber
Lighting of the Peace Candle
L: Sometimes when we are trying something new, or when we are facing a difficult decision, or when we want to celebrate something, or when we just feel lost and alone and uncertain about life, the universe and everything, we need a blessing. We don’t always think of it that way, or word it like that. We say we need advice, or support, or companions, or someone to come along beside and lift us up again so we can see more than the tops of our shoes.
P: We seek a blessing.
L: For many of us, we come home; we ask mom; we talk to dad, or brothers and sisters, close friends, those we grew up with, those who know us best. We want them alongside; we want to be in their presence. Somehow, we know that being there, being home, will make all things better. Maybe it won’t be fixed, or solved, or wished away, but at least we won’t be alone.
P: We seek a blessing.
L: Mary, faced with an incomprehensible burden and gift, ran to Cousin Elizabeth’s house, looking for someone who knew a little of what she was going through, looking for a place to hide until the reality of her condition could become something real. And she received a blessing. The prophet Micah spoke of a blessing coming to an unexpected place, an unassuming town. Yet by God’s grace would become the means through which God would bless the whole world. Bethlehem, the little town of blessing.
P: We seek a blessing.
P: We light these candles, the candle of hope, the candle of love, the candle of joy, and the candle of peace as a sign that we know blessing and we know waiting for blessing to be felt and lived. We light these candles as a sign that we still seek a blessing. It’s time to come home.
Lighting of the Christ Candle
This night, this night is a night to remember. A night when home broke in on us. A night when we were not forgotten or alone or abandoned. This night. This night is the night when here and there became one, when past and future combined in a breathless present. This is a night when we are home, in ourselves, in this family, in the God who loved us enough to walk beside us.
We gather in the night to proclaim the light. We shrug off despair and embrace hope. We set aside conflict and choose peace. We push away despair by claiming joy. We overcome hate by rising into love. Because this night we know, even in the shadows of our doubts, we know that we are loved. That’s what it means to be home.
We light these candles, hoping to become the light, hoping to radiate light by how we live. We light these candles to create a space called home in this place, in our place, in inner places. We light these candles to declare that unto us a Savior is born, who is Christ the Lord. Welcomed home by angels singing and shepherds kneeling. Welcomed home by those like us who have worshiped for thousands of years. Welcomed home again tonight, right here, right now, in us.
It’s time to come home, time to be home.
Paul G. Janssen, and printed in Prayerful Preparation: Living God, Renew Us. Published by the World Communion of Reformed Churches
Friends, as we await the glorious coming of the Christ, let us pray for the needs of the church, our community, and the world.
Lord our God, you have revealed yourself as One who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people;
In a world that looks away from injustice, You cast your eyes on the destitute, the poor, and the wronged;
You have called us to follow you, to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release for the captives and recovery of sight for the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed and to proclaim the time of your blessing.
Be present with your church, Lord, as we respond to your call. Open our eyes to the downtrodden. Fill us with compassion for the plight of the alien, the refugee, and the immigrant. Lead us into ministries that help orphans and widows. Give us courage to block the paths of the ungodly who exploit the poor.
Set us free from pious exercises that prevent us from the true worship you choose: Sharing bread with the hungry, Sharing homes with the homeless, Sharing clothes with the naked, Sharing hearts with our own kin.
So may your justice roll down like waters, your righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Lead our footsteps to stand with the poor, that we might stand with you.
Have mercy, O God: Scatter the proud, Put down the mighty, Lift up the lowly, Fill up the hungry, And send the rich away empty-handed.
God we lift up to you the afflicted, the struggling, the fearful, the lonely, the distraught. We lift up this church and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to you. We lift up our nation and ask for your help in healing the divisions that threaten our nation and other nations around the world.
Come, Lord Jesus, and hear our prayer.
God we lift up to you our ongoing prayers and petitions …
- For the eradication of COVID-19 in every form and an end to the pandemic.
- For protection of all innocents in all war torn nations and all nations under authoritarian rule.
- For lands and places stricken by natural disasters, drought and wildfires.
- For the healing of the planet.
- For the protection and preservation of democracy here and around the world
- For an end to discrimination and oppression in any and all forms
Come Lord Jesus, and hear our prayer.
Dear heavenly Father, whatever else You see that we need—whatever is for the good of our neighbor and redounds to Your glory—we pray that You would grant to us, Your children. We ask it Jesus’ name who taught us to pray:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.
Gracious God, as we turn to your Word for us, may the Spirit of God rest upon us. Help us to be steadfast in our hearing, in our speaking, in our believing, in our living, and in our loving.
Micah 5:2-5a (NRSV) – But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.
Luke 1:39-55 (NRSV) – In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
[And Mary said,] “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
The scriptures of God for the People of God.
Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – Where There’s Peace
Unless otherwise cited, excerpts in italics are scripture or are from “The Blessing of Home”, Dr. Derek C. Weber, Discipleship Ministries.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.
Micah … no offense, Micah … is one of the “minor prophets.” That doesn’t mean that he was less important or significant. It means his book, like the other eleven minor prophets, was shorter than those of the four major prophets. One of the reasons his is shorter is because he’s very direct. He doesn’t waste a lot of words saying what he had to say. We are most familiar with Micah 6:8 – “He has shown all you people what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
The passage from Micah today is a prophecy of the coming messiah. Well, it’s a prophecy, an homage if you will, of the place where the messiah will be born. It’s Micah that first introduces us to Bethlehem Ephrathah. There is a kind of gentle pride in this passage, especially considering how direct Micah was with his words. “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah” … the translators thought Ephrathah was a region, hence the “of” part, but it was just Bethlehem Ephrathah. “… from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.”
Bethlehem Ephrathah … The little town. The minor town. The good for nothing much kind of town. And yet, God can use you, even you. Bethlehem – it has two different meanings, you know. It means house of bread, but can also be translated as house of war. Ephrathah translates as both fruitful and, sometimes, as barren or worthless. Depending on how you look at it, Bethlehem Ephrathah was either a little town of worthless war or the little town of fruitful bread.
And it’s from Bethlehem Ephrathah that He who is to rule in Israel will come by way of a woman giving birth, and he will stand and feed his flock in the strength of God, in the majesty of the name of God, and his shall be great to the ends of the earth securing the future for his flock. And he shall be one of peace.
There was at least one person who remembered what Micah said about Bethlehem, and that was Matthew. Matthew recalled Micah’s prophecy in 2:1-6, “And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.”
I wonder if, when that long awaited holiest of nights finally came, if Micah looked down from heaven and whispered, “O little town of fruitful bread, I told you this night would come. God hear her prayer his mother fair, who bears your Godself Son. She speaks of liberation, of justice that shall come. Through Christ our King, God’s peace shall spring, His will on earth be done.”
I wonder if, up there in heaven, Micah turned to all the other prophets and said, “Hah! I told you so! I said the one who comes to be born in the town whose name can mean worthless war or fruitful bread will stand strong like one who is going to war, but instead will feed his flock like a shepherd. He’ll be more concerned with fruitfulness than with the emptiness of death and killing. And through him, we’ll know peace and will sit secure.
And because of that security, because of trusting in that peace, even in warlike times, even in unsettled times, being fed the bread of fruitfulness, we can do amazing things, incredible things, unimaginable things – like saying yes to a fruitfulness almost incomprehensible in our world. (Like when an angel appears in your living room and asks if you’d be willing to give birth to God.)”
I wonder if Micah smiled to himself and thought, “minor prophet, huh … just look what God can do with minor,” and did a little celebration dance as he gazed down on that sleepy little no where town and watched as that ordinary little girl with the ordinary name gave birth to someone so extraordinary he changed the whole world.
While I wonder about Micah, there’s something I don’t wonder about … and that’s whether Mary knew. Sorry, Mark Lowry. You wrote such a beautiful song … and managed somehow to get the story so totally wrong! Not only did she know, she knew before she ever gave God her “yes”. Ordinary little Mary from the ordinary little town of Nazareth was visited by an angel. Luke 1:26-37 says, “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Mary knew before she ever said yes to God. And still, she said yes. Luke 1:38, “Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.”
Ordinary young Mary. Except she isn’t. Ordinary or plain. She is as beautiful as all of creation. She is as exceptional as is each person made in God’s image. And Mary is made even more exceptional, even more beautiful by her obedience to the invitation from God. Her acceptance of the gift and the calling and the joy that is planted deep within her. And so she runs through the hill country, the region of Ephrathah, the place of fruitfulness because she is a part of the fruitfulness of God. She runs to share the joy. She runs to be in relationship. She runs. “In those days Mary set out and went with haste . . .”
“Blessed is the fruit,” says Elizabeth, from her own fecundity. She who was called barren, worthless; that’s what the angelic visitor told Mary. That’s how the angel described Elizabeth. Ephrathah. Fruitful and barren, opposites contained in one place, one being. Elizabeth, like Mary, is one of the beautiful ones, one of the exceptional ones who said yes, who said, “thank God,” who said, “let this joy be to me.” No wonder Mary ran to be with Elizabeth. Luke says she stayed there three months. Three months! Long enough to see the impossible birth come to be possible. Long enough to hear the naming. Long enough to feel the blessing. Long enough to breathe the fruitfulness of God.
In his commentary on this week’s passages, Derek Weber asks, “Do we sometimes give up too soon? Despair too soon? Feel inadequate, insignificant too long? Are we unable to wait for blessing, for fruitfulness? And you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, one of the little clans, one of the nothing places, where the bypass passes by, and the vibrancy wanes and the lights dim to shine on other towns far away. And you, O little person of your place who feels like life has passed you by and like no one knows or cares if you even are. From you shall come . . . what?”
That’s the million dollar question we constantly face as followers of that wee infant, isn’t it? From us shall come … what? Maybe, if we look closely at what Mary said, if we’re willing to listen to what was both her prayer and her prophecy … and if we were to couple her prophetic prayer with what he would teach us over the next 33 years as he walked with and among us … from us shall come … what?
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
That’s what he told the disciples, what he told us. But peace in this day and age is fleeting at best and seems to be low on the list of priorities for those in positions that could actually bring it about for everyone.
Too often in these times we live in, peace for one group comes at the cost of loss of peace for another. Anything that disturbs the peace of the Caesars in this world results in laws and actions designed to ensure the Caesars peace cannot be disturbed.
Jesus didn’t leave us his peace just so we could talk about it, quote it once in awhile when we met as communities of faith, though. He left it for a reason. Everything he did, he said, he taught us was for a reason. He left it to us to build the kingdom here on earth.
By answering the call of Mary’s prophetic prayer, the commandments Jesus gave us, by carrying out all he taught us we can start a spiritual revolution. We can reclaim what it is to be Christians, restore Christianity to what it should be. By following Jesus from the manger to the cross, standing up and advocating for justice where there is injustice, unseating tyrants, the uplifting of the oppressed, feeding any and all who are hungry for the bread of life, we can build the kingdom and bring about peace. I want to close with contemporary retelling of Mary’s prayer by Rev. M. Barclay:
My soul is alive with thoughts of God.
What a wonder, Their liberating works.
Though the world has been harsh to me,
God has shown me kindness,
seen my worth,
and called me to courage.
Surely, those who come after me will call me blessed.
Even when my heart weighs heavy with grief,
still, so does hope abide with me.
Holy is the One who makes it so.
From generation to generation,
Love’s Mercy is freely handed out;
None are beyond the borders of
God’s transforming compassion.
The power of God is revealed
among those who labor for justice.
They humble the arrogant.
They turn unjust thrones into dust.
Their Wisdom is revealed in
the lives and truths of those on the margins.
God is a feast for the hungry.
God is the great re-distributor of wealth and resources.
God is the ceasing of excessive and destructive production
that all the earth might rest.
Through exiles and enslavement,
famines and wars,
white supremacy and climate crises,
God is a companion in loss,
a deliverer from evil,
a lover whose touch restores.
This is the promise They made
to my ancestors,
to all the creatures and creations,
now and yet coming,
and in this promise,
I find my strength.
Come, Great Healer,
and be birthed through us.
Come great healer, Prince of People, God with Us, Immanuel. And come, all you who are weary, broken, downtrodden, outcast and rejected. Come home where there’s peace.
Please join me in a prayer for our gifts this morning:
God who gives all gifts, in this season, we focus so much on giving gifts to one another. Help us, we pray, to remember what John the Baptist tells us is on your wish list: that we might bear fruit worthy of the repentance that is the very heart of this season: fruit of compassion, fruit of sharing, fruit by denying ourselves so that others who have little will have enough. In response to you, we give that our fruit might please you. In the Savior’s name, we pray.
SERVICE OF HOLY COMMUNION
Rev. Rob McCoy
We do not provide a transcript of this portion of our service.
“One Small Yes” by Bob Holmes, Contemplative Monk
Thank you for being here this morning, whether in-person or through our live-stream and I hope you found some value in today’s service. Please remember that our services on December 21 and December 24 will be online only and available at 6:00 p.m. on our Facebook page and, from my family and heart to yours … May you have a blessed Christmas.
Now hear this benediction:
God’s conspiracy of love is the key to His original plan born of eternity into time, to rescue us from our fallen, broken, dualistic nature. In one small yes, Mary’s choice has determined the fate, not only of mankind, but of all creation. With Mary’s yes, a miracle began, the bridging of God and us, of earth and heaven. This is a staggering thought and reality. Through Mary’s son, God has made a way where there was no way. Through Mary’s son, God who is Christ has created in us a new creation, and a new humanity within the old. It only takes one small yes.
Go in peace to share hope, to share love, to share joy, and to share peace as you love and serve the Lord. And may you find it in yourselves to say one small yes.
- All works cited within the text above.
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