• Prelude – Gaudete In Domino Semper, Corpus Christi Watershed
  • Welcome & Prayer – Rev. Ohle
  • Call to Worship – Advent Hymn, Christy Nockels
  • Prayers of the People – Rev. Ohle
  • Advent Reading – Joy – Rev. Ohle
  • Scripture Reading – Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; Philippians 4:4-9; Luke 1:39-55
  • Message – Finding Joy – Rev. Ohle
  • Closing Anthem – Say Yes, Edmonds Music Collective
  • Benediction – Rev. Ohle
  • Postlude – Canticle of the Turning, Theresa Donohoo, Gary Daigle, Rory Cooney


Hello! I’m Rev. Val Ohle, pastor of Union Grove United Methodist Church in Friendsville and I want to welcome you to this morning’s worship service. The Latin chant you’re hearing in the background is “Gaudete in Domino Semper … an introit or entrance song.  It translates to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob,” and comes from Philippians 4:4–6; and Psalm 85:1.

As you may have guessed, today is not just yet another Sunday of Advent … it’s Gaudete Sunday, a day of searching for and finding joy which is most likely a serious challenge right now, but joy’s there. I’ll be talking about it in the message, so be sure you stick around for that.

Very quickly, I want to remind you that, if you’re among the first 50 to do so, you can get a free facemask by filling out the connection card on our website or Facebook page.

Also, don’t forget the upcoming special “evening” services that I’ll be releasing by 7:00 p.m. on December 21, December 24, and December 31.  I encourage you to make plans to watch them with your households.

And lastly, if you’re financially able, please consider taking time to make weekly offerings. You can make them online through a secure service provided by Holston Conference or you can mail them in. The information is available on our website, at the end of this video, and in our weekly worship bulletins sent through our email list.

Now let’s pray and hear the call to worship:

Come, Christ Jesus, be our guest, and may our lives by you be blest.

Come, God-with-us, and free us from the false claims of the empires of this world. We are lonely for you and your peace.

Come, Emmanuel, and dwell with us, make us your people indeed, the people through whom you bring love and justice to the world.

Come, Jesus, and reign; claim your rightful place in our hearts and in the midst of our community. Plant the seeds of hope among us. Establish God’s reign on earth. For we pray as you taught us that God’s reign might come in fullness on earth.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.


This is the time we lift up our joys and concerns, our praises and our petitions. To protect the privacy of those we pray for, we do not say any names. Please know that I am lifting up any prayer requests you’ve sent me, and your unspoken prayers as well. There will be one or more moments of pause during the prayer for you to lift any prayers of your own. There may be points in the prayer where you will be prompted to respond out loud.  Just watch the screen for the words to appear in front of me and say them with me.

Let’s pray:

God, whose Son came to proclaim good news to the poor, bind up the broken-hearted, free the prisoner, and comfort those who mourn;

God, whose Son bestows a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

God, whose Son rebuilds ancient ruins and restores broken places; hear us now.

We are weak, we are lonely, we are struggling, we are hurting and grieving, we are lacking in faith and in hope, we are afraid, we are becoming desperate.

God of joy and exultation, you strengthen what is weak; you enrich the poor and give hope to those who live in fear.

Look upon our needs this day.  Make us grateful for the good news of salvation and keep us faithful in your service until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives forever and ever.

Comfort those who are grieving, heal those who are hurting in any way, help us build the bridges to reunite where there is division and strife, and give solace to those who are tired and feeling lonely and isolated.

Help us understand that just because we can’t always hear You or because the answers aren’t laying in front of us like billboards doesn’t mean that You don’t hear us or don’t love us. Help us be patient. Fill us with your peace during these trying times.

Move us, God. Thank you for the vaccines that have come and that are coming. Thank you for guiding the doctors and scientists and logistics experts that have worked so hard to figure all this out. Thank you for all those who contributed their time or resources to make this happen as quickly as possible, but please, God, move us. Move us to be more loving and understanding of one another. Move us to be more vigilant in doing those things that help flatten the curve like wearing masks, washing our hands, only going out if we have to, and maintaining social distances when we do go out until because we know, we’ve been warned that it will take months to get everyone vaccinated.

We know you’re always with us and that we’re never alone, but help us feel you here with us in tangible ways that dispel any doubts that try to creep into our minds or our hearts.

We’re about to go through a significant change of leadership in this country and we ask that you be with and guide that leadership through this change.

Bless our church here in the Grove, God. Help us to reach as many of your children as possible. Help me to provide the ministry and leadership they need. Help them to share that ministry with others and guide them to know what to say and how to help those they reach out to.

It’s so easy right now to believe all the chaos will go away with the coming new year. Help me to prepare your children worshipping here for the long road ahead of us on this journey to some semblance of normal. Help me to help them maintain their hopefulness, dwell in Your love for them, and find the joy despite the sorrow. Fill us with your Spirit, Lord. Hear us now.

We ask these things today in the name of your Son, our Lord, and with the confidence of your children we pray the words he 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, and the power, and the glory forever. ”



We want everything to look nice: the decorations of the season, our homes with their lights and tinsel, wreaths, and ribbons. We want to lighten the darkness around us, bring beauty to the ugliness that wears us down. We decorate because it is tradition. Because it lifts our hearts. Because it makes us feel like children again. We deck our halls because company is coming.

The prophet Isaiah smiled when he said, “God will give a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, a mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.” No matter how far we feel from the spirit of the season, God promises to decorate us with love and with joy.

We light these candles as a sign of our joy in the beautiful things of this season – not just the things that glitter and flash, but the deeper things, the beauty of the heart and the soul, the beauty of love shared in service and hospitality. We light this candle of joy because company is coming.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel.[i]


O God, most holy and praised: As Your Son gathered disciples to himself to teach them your ways, so your Spirit has gathered us in this time and place. Make us alert and attentive as we read and reflect on Your scriptures; help us take them to heart and live into them so that your will is truly done on earth as in heaven. We pray in the name of our true Teacher, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 (MSG)

The Spirit of God, the Master, is on me because God anointed me. He sent me to preach good news to the poor, heal the heartbroken, Announce freedom to all captives, pardon all prisoners.

God sent me to announce the year of his grace—a celebration of God’s destruction of our enemies—and to comfort all who mourn, to care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion, give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes, messages of joy instead of news of doom, a praising heart instead of a languid spirit.

Rename them “Oaks of Righteousness” planted by God to display his glory. They’ll rebuild the old ruins, raise a new city out of the wreckage. They’ll start over on the ruined cities, take the rubble left behind and make it new.

“Because I, God, love fair dealing and hate thievery and crime, I’ll pay your wages on time and in full, and establish my eternal covenant with you. Your descendants will become well-known all over. Your children in foreign countries will be recognized at once as the people I have blessed.”

I will sing for joy in God, explode in praise from deep in my soul! He dressed me up in a suit of salvation, he outfitted me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom who puts on a tuxedo and a bride a jeweled tiara.

For as the earth bursts with spring wildflowers, and as a garden cascades with blossoms, so the Master, God, brings righteousness into full bloom and puts praise on display before the nations.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (MSG)

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.

Don’t suppress the Spirit, and don’t stifle those who have a word from the Master. On the other hand, don’t be gullible. Check out everything, and keep only what’s good. Throw out anything tainted with evil.

May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it!

Philippians 4:4-9 (MSG)

Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

Luke 1:39-55 (The Magnificat; NRSV)

Mary didn’t waste a minute. She got up and traveled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah’s house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out exuberantly,

You’re so blessed among women, and the babe in your womb, also blessed! And why am I so blessed that the mother of my Lord visits me? The moment the sound of your greeting entered my ears, the babe in my womb skipped like a lamb for sheer joy. Blessed woman, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true!

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 – Finding Joy …

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my Rock and Redeemer. Amen.

“Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

Hello? God? Is it morning yet? Because lately I feel like we’ve been stuck in a year or more of one very long, very dark night. All that noise and arguing and name-calling and mud-slinging and conflicting messages and fear and blame and outrage over elections and having to wear masks and who gets to sit next to us in church and … and, well, we have definitely been going through some serious trials, haven’t we? A killer virus, what seems to be a total breakdown in our relationships with all our allies, the economies around the world and the climate itself at risk of collapse, and an election the outcome of which has pitted neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend, family against family, state against state, and has some people calling for a secession that would most likely lead to a second civil war. Unemployment claims are at an all time high, people are losing their homes, their jobs, everything. People who never worried a moment now find themselves standing in line at food banks. Hospitals are filling to capacity. Not just here in the US, but everywhere. 1.6 million people have died, almost 300,000 of them right here in the US …

There is a sense of desperation hanging in the air the likes of which we haven’t seen for a very long time.

James tells us in James 1:2 to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds …”.

In Thessalonians and again in Philippians, Paul tells us to “rejoice, always.”

But it is so very hard this year … Where do we find the joy, God? Where do we even begin to look?

Mary knew. Mary knew where the joy was and why she should be joyful. And Mary knew this joy because when the angel, Gabriel had come to her and told her what God planned for her … she said yes.

In Mary’s beautiful song of praise, known as the Magnificat from the Latin for “magnify”, Mary magnifies the Lord, proclaiming God’s greatness and rejoicing in God as Savior.

Her song begins with God’s actions in her own life and how by choosing her to be the mother of the messiah, the Mighty One has indeed “done great things for” her. Elizabeth has just welcomed and honored her, saying, “blessed is she who believed,” and now she recognizes with awe that not only Elizabeth, but all generations will call her blessed. Blessed!

By current standards, Mary doesn’t look at all blessed. She isn’t from a family that can afford expensive food or clothing. She’s a nobody, a peasant girl from a small village. Her friends and neighbors see her as a disgrace because she is unmarried and pregnant. Even Joseph had a moment of pause as we learn in Matthew 1:18-19.

“Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.”

But still, Mary knows joy despite her circumstances, maybe even because of her circumstances.

She recognizes God’s action in her life as consistent with God’s saving action in history, that God’s agenda differs radically from the plans of human rulers, and she sings praise to God for overturning society’s structures by bringing down the powerful and lifting up the powerless, and that her son will bless not the makers of war, but the peacemakers.

Mary sings about the God who saves not just souls, but living people. The God she celebrates is not content merely to point people toward heaven; God’s redemptive work begins here on earth. God fills the hungry not only with hope, but with food. Rather than being satisfied with comforting the lowly, Mary’s Lord lifts them up, granting them dignity and honor, a seat at the table and a voice in the conversation. At the same time, God shows strength by disrupting the world’s power structures, dethroning rulers, and humbling the mighty.

Her song is quite possibly the most radical and revolutionary passage in the Bible in the way it declares the good news for the poor and lowly, but what does Mary’s song mean for the wealthy and the powerful? Is there nothing but judgment for them?

Though judgment and salvation may seem like opposites, they go hand in hand. Those who stand in awe only of themselves and their own power will be judged. Yet if the wealthy and powerful can only see it, by bringing them down — by emptying and humbling them — God is saving them, too. When they turn their gaze from themselves and their own accomplishments, when their awe is directed to God — then there is mercy for them, too.

Both in Mary’s song and in Jesus’ ministry we see the God who loves us as we are but does not leave us as we are.

When God empties the rich of their excess and fills the hungry with good things, the result is not social reversal — with the powerless and the powerful changing places — as much as it is social leveling. The rich and powerful are stripped of their arrogance and taught to love their neighbors as they love themselves. Thus God provides for the poor and honors the humiliated. When the arrogant are scattered and the powerful brought down, then every person has access to enough of the world’s resources, and no one has too much. Every person is treated with dignity and respect, and no one uses power to harm.

Mary’s song magnifies the Savior who loves the whole world with a love that makes creation whole. God’s saving judgment is for all of us, bringing us down from the pride that fills us with ourselves until we can’t see either God or neighbor, bringing us up from the shame that distorts our worldview and convinces us that no one — not even God — could love us. The mother of the Messiah has experienced God’s blessing. She is not hashtag blessed. Her blessing, like ours, is a cross-shaped blessing, “a condition of complete simplicity (costing not less than everything)” as T. S. Eliot so memorably said, yet bringing true freedom, the priceless gift of God’s salvation.[ii]

Mary knew joy because when the angel, Gabriel had come to her and told her what God planned for her … she said yes.  Yes to God, yes to the risk of being unmarried and pregnant, yes to it all.

It’s in that saying yes to God, to all that He asks of us, to the grace he freely gives us, to His son as our king and savior … it’s in that yes that we find the joy we so desperately seek, especially in times like these.

Let’s pray:

God of hope, you call us home from the exile of selfish oppression to the freedom of justice, the balm of healing, and the joy of sharing.

Make us strong to join you in your holy work, as friends of strangers and victims, companions of those whom others shun, and as the happiness of those whose hearts are broken.

God of joy and exultation, you strengthen what is weak; you enrich the poor and give hope to those who live in fear.

Look upon our needs this day. Make us grateful for the good news of salvation and keep us faithful in your service until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives forever and ever.

Merciful God of peace, your word, spoken by the prophets, restores your people’s life and hope. Fill our hearts with the joy of your saving grace, that we may hold fast to your great goodness and in our lives proclaim your justice in all the world.[iii]

In Jesus’ name, amen.


Thank you, again, for worshipping with me today. Don’t forget to mark your calendars for the special evening services on Dec. 21, Dec. 24 and Dec. 31, and we observe the Longest Night also known as Blue Christmas, a special Christmas Eve candlelight service, and a New Year’s Eve Watchnight service.

Now hear this benediction:

Go in peace; love and care for one another in the name of Christ; – and may God the Father bless you richly, – may Christ the Son pour the riches of his grace upon you, – and may the Holy Spirit, our comfort and our support, lead you in the path of hope, and of peace, of joy and of love both now and forevermore.

Stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask when you go out, make a joyful noise when you’re out there, let yourself be filled with the Love of God and let it shine out from you for others to see, carry a heart of hope for the Light that’s coming, and go in peace. God be with you.



  • [i]https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/articles/advent-candle-lighting-liturgy-2020
  • [ii] Judith Jones, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fourth-sunday-of-advent-3/commentary-on-luke-146-55
  • [iii] https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/prayers.php?id=50


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
Holston Conference
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!