ORDER OF WORSHIP
- Prelude – Let There Be Peace On Earth, The Pianissimo Brothers
- Welcome & Prayer – Rev. Ohle
- Call to Worship – Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, Shane & Shane
- Prayers of the People – Rev. Ohle
- Advent Reading – Joy – Rev. Ohle
- Scripture Reading – Isaiah 26:7-15, 2 Peter 3:8-14, Luke 2:8-14
- Message – Finding Peace – Rev. Ohle
- Closing Anthem – Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy, David Bowie & Bing Crosby
- Benediction – Rev. Ohle
- Postlude – Oh Holy Night, Green River Ordinance
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.
This is the fourth and final Sunday of Advent and the focus is on finding peace, something I think we’ve all been craving for quite some time now.
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.
There may be a special post for Christmas Day and, if you’re in the area, listen closely at noon. Union Grove will be joining in a conference-wide Christmas Day bell ringing to celebrate the birth of Christ.
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:
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord, Emmanuel! God with us, You came to us long ago as a helpless babe, as one in need of human love and care.
You taught us how to love and care for one another. Help us to hold on to childlike wonder, amazement, and love, and help us to love one another all year long.
Guide our feet into the way of peace, as only the Prince of Peace can lead us, by laying down our lives for one another and serving one another.
In the name of Christ, Emmanuel, God with Us, we pray, Amen.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
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.
Lord, you know that the time we’ve spent away from you has been filled with turmoil, disappointment, frustration, heartache, and despair. We have forgotten all about being blameless and turning the other cheek. We gave in to urges to be petty, spiteful, and hurtful. And while “telling it like it is” sure felt good at the time, we now find ourselves empty, confused, and ashamed. Today, we come here for Sabbath, for rest, refreshment, and renewal. Lord, we want to be sanctified and holy; we do. We want to be kind, to hold on to the good, and encourage and greet each other in love, but you’re going to have to help us – a lot. Fill our mouths with praise and laughter, our hearts with joy and peace, and our souls with quiet satisfaction. This is our prayer.
Bring healing and peace to all who are ill or hurting, lonely, frightened, and alone.
Bring comfort and peace to those who are grieving the loss of loved ones, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and countrymen.
Bring hope, relief, and peace to those who have lost or who fear the loss of livelihood, home, who aren’t sure where the next meal will come from, who don’t know where to turn next.
Bring unity and peace to your children, God. We have been divided far too long. Help us to bridge the divides. Help us to hear one another, to understand, and to find ways forward. Drive the hate from our hearts and minds. Help us to learn to love one another.
Bring clarity, courage, conviction, and compassion to those who lead us. Cause them to see and put the needs of the least among us and the needs of individuals ahead of the needs of their donors. Remove the planks of partisanism from their eyes and soften their hearts.
Bless this church at Union Grove, God. Fill its people with your Spirit. Strengthen us and guide us to carry out your will for the community and to build your kingdom here.
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. ”
ADVENT READING – CANDLE OF PEACE
We live on the brink every day. We stand on the threshold between this world and the next one. We live and move between the ordinary and divine, between the mundane and the mystery. Too often, we forget to look up and see the angels in our living room. We forget that the love we give and live is a sign of eternity, God with us, right now. We forget that company is coming.
Luke tells us that God’s favor came to a girl, an ordinary girl. It might have been you or your daughter; it might have been the girl down the street or your grandchild. But the messenger of God came and greeted her and said, “The Lord is with you.” What a gift and a promise: Emmanuel, God is with us.
We light these candles with peace in our hearts for the promise of proximity, the nearness of God. Even when we forget to listen, to lean into that presence, God is as close as our own breath. This, in a confused and confusing world, is a peace that passes all understanding. It is the peace that knows that 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 26:7-15 (MSG)
The path of right-living people is level. The Leveler evens the road for the right-living.
We’re in no hurry, God. We’re content to linger in the path sign-posted with your decisions.
Who you are and what you’ve done are all we’ll ever want. Through the night my soul longs for you. Deep from within me my spirit reaches out to you.
When your decisions are on public display, everyone learns how to live right.
If the wicked are shown grace, they don’t seem to get it. In the land of right living, they persist in wrong living, blind to the splendor of God.
You hold your hand up high, God, but they don’t see it. Open their eyes to what you do, to see your zealous love for your people.
Shame them. Light a fire under them. Get the attention of these enemies of yours.
God, order a peaceful and whole life for us because everything we’ve done, you’ve done for us. O God, our God, we’ve had other masters rule us, but you’re the only Master we’ve ever known.
The dead don’t talk, ghosts don’t walk, because you’ve said, “Enough—that’s all for you,” and wiped them off the books.
But the living you make larger than life. The more life you give, the more glory you display, and stretch the borders to accommodate more living!
2 Peter 3:8-14 (MSG)
Don’t overlook the obvious here, friends. With God, one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day. God isn’t late with his promise as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time to change.
But when the Day of God’s Judgment does come, it will be unannounced, like a thief. The sky will collapse with a thunderous bang, everything disintegrating in a huge conflagration, earth and all its works exposed to the scrutiny of Judgment.
Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy life? Daily expect the Day of God, eager for its arrival. The galaxies will burn up and the elements melt down that day—but we’ll hardly notice. We’ll be looking the other way, ready for the promised new heavens and the promised new earth, all landscaped with righteousness.
So, my dear friends, since this is what you have to look forward to, do your very best to be found living at your best, in purity and peace. Interpret our Master’s patient restraint for what it is: salvation.
Luke 2:8-14 (NRSV)
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace and goodwill among people.”
The scriptures of God for the People of God. Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – Finding Peace …
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my Rock and Redeemer. Amen.
I’d like to read for you “A Journey of Longing – Parts 1 and 2”, two Christmas devotionals written by Tara Malouf from Waiting for the Light: An Advent Devotional, compiled by Susan Wade, Ricci Kilmer, and Christine Sine. Malouf’s contributions are reflections on Genesis 1 and Revelation 21:1-7. Let’s hear what she has to say.
“I stand on the edge of unformed worlds and watch them come into being. I see light, brilliant color, and exquisite detail. I hear rushing waters, animals calling to one another and the sound of footsteps on the gravel. I hear the words “it is VERY good” and those words are forever imprinted upon my psyche. They churn in me images of intimacy with the Creator, my fellow bipeds and all creation. I taste joy and sweet glory dripping off this newborn terrestrial ball.
Then tears … the sound of pitiful weeping and thud of an apple falling to the ground. The taste in my mouth turns bitter with pride, shame, hiding, and toil. I feel the jolt of a planet askew in its orbit. I must squint for the light has dimmed, my eyes relegated to the spectrum of shadows. I feel the stabbing pain of jealousy, murder, arrogance, love of self. I am disoriented with the rest of the planet. I have become “homo incurvatus in se ipsum” – man bent in on himself. I am trapped and only a whisper of “it is good” lies below audible frequencies in the regions of my heart.
I am hot and weary from wandering a planet that does not cooperate with me. I hear promises and I hope; I trust … I long. I celebrate moments of light when the “very good” seems to well up almost to crescendo but then … always falls flat.
I walk, I lie, I settle down, I am oppressed, I am delivered, I run back to tyrannical idols. I obey, I distrust, I watch generations die, I hope, I am faithful, I disobey. I watch leaders rise and fall, I cry in agony, I am carted off to foreign lands, I watch God be faithful, I am deafened by his silence. And I wait … I long … for that “very good” rhythm.
I hear the sound of weeping again and this time find my face and hands wet with tears. I cry as a sojourner in a strange land. I hear the words of the prophets and they stir my soul awake with promises of justice, wholeness, and intonations of “very good.” My tongue, so used to bitterness, perceives ever so slightly the taste of joy once again.
Then I hear nothing …
Heavy weighted under this unbearable nothingness lies my hope. It is suffocating – being executed by the crushing weight.
Yet in its final breath, a single Baby’s cry rings out and shatters the grip of this oppressive foe. The weary planet shudders and takes, at long last, a gasp of fresh air. The Baby’s cries reverberate to the outer edges of the universe and command the attention of a King – and the planet stands up straighter, a new creation process begun.
For many, the Advent journey ends with the Baby’s cries. The promised Savior has been born; our waiting is over. But I do not think it should end there. For we live in the unraveling story outside the pasges of the Book – a story not so different from the one gone before. A story of longing and waiting and hope.
Though able to breathe, this planet still wheezes and coughs within its brokenness. It groans for full restoration – for the new creation to be complete. And I stand on its infected skin hearing children crying and people yelling. I feel the pain of wars and hate and cruelty. I, like back at the beginning, still taste the bitterness of sin. I still live with that awkward curvature of my soul.
And I wait …
Though I catch glimpses of Reality, I long for this Baby to return in the fullness of His Kingdom.
I long for Him to immerse a tired creation once gain with the fullness of His glory.
I long for peace.
I long for a world put to right.
I long for the reign of a just king.
I long for healing and for joy to be the only flavor in our mouths.
I long for rest … for Shalom.
And I long to live fully in the dance of “it is VERY good.”
I share Malouf’s longing for peace, that elusive feeling of tranquility, of quiet … quiet of the heart, mind, and soul … and I wonder … where, in this year of years, do we find peace?
John F. Kennedy said, “Peace is a daily process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.”
Spiritual Author Eckhart Tolle says, “Peace is one of the most important of human experiences. If you don’t have peace, then you’re not able to appreciate whatever else you do have. You may not even be able to recognize the good in your life because you have not recognized the good in yourself.”
Tolle’s right about the importance of peace, although I’m not sure that his definition of peace is the same as the peace Christ promises to leave with us in John 14:27, which says, ““Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
In fact, Jesus mentions peace a number of times.
Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
Luke 10:5-6 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you.”
Matthew 10:12-13 “As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you.”
John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
John 20:19-23: On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Again Jesus said: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Shalom, the Hebrew word translated to peace in English language Bibles, appears 237 times in the Old Testament. On the other hand, eiréné is the word most commonly translated to peace in the New Testament and occurs 92 times, 25 of which are in the Gospels,
Eiréné has a number of meanings, depending on which reference source you use, but my favorite definition comes from HELPS Word-studies. It says that eiréné comes from the word eiro, meaning “to join, to tie together into a whole”, so eiréné properly means wholeness, i.e. when all essential parts are joined together. In their words … “peace is God’s gift of wholeness.”
Let that sink in for just a minute … Eiréné, peace … is God’s gift of wholeness.
Right now, our world doesn’t feel very whole, does it? It feels more like an ice sheet on a winter lake groaning under the pressure, threatening to crack at any moment if just one more weight is laid on it.
We’re not unlike that ice-covered lake. Individually we face pressures of doubt, worry, fear, physical or financial pressures, issues to resolve, people or just things we have to deal with along the way.
All humanity is under pressure, too. Wars, political power struggles, natural disasters. And humanity is not the only species that needs to see peace, wholeness, the security of knowing that there is hope and a future. Even our climate, our environment, creation itself is facing extreme pressure.
Oh, to find eiréné, God’s gift of wholeness, of true, … inextinguishable … peace … under the Christmas tree this year of years. Peace that would stop that ice sheet from groaning.
Today’s passage from Isaiah offers a roadmap to peace as we each travel on our own journeys in life and even for this journey we’re all taking together.
Isaiah tells us that God prepares a way for us that leads to peace: smooth, straight, level, mountains brought down, valleys raised up. Pressures and difficulties are not ignored, but God deals with them justly, and so a smooth path is created for those who seek God and God’s ways.
We know God led the people out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and through the oppression of the Babylonians and Assyrians, but it seems sometimes God is harder to see these days. Where do we find the path He’s made for us?
In a manger. In those first cries that all newborns cry just as Tara Malouf wrote in that piece I read in the beginning of this message. That single Baby’s cry rang out and shattered the grip of that oppressive foe that was pushing for all it was worth on this sheet of ice we call life.
God took his very breath, his Word, and manifest it in that infant born in the stable in Bethlehem. Not the warrior king messiah that everyone expected, but the Prince of Peace who came to teach us how to love, how to live, how to worship, how to be peacemakers. Who, before he left us, gave us his peace. And it is in him that we continue to find the peace we so desperately seek.
It’s like that lovely hymn we all know so well says[i],
Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
That hymn, “O Holy Night”, was written by French poet Placide Cappeau in 1847.
His words are amazing in light of the fact that they anticipated the French abolition of slavery by one year and the American Emancipation Declaration by almost 16 years (the American Civil War took place between 1861-1865). When he looked at the world, he saw God actively working in it toward the full realization of God’s kingdom.
And he clearly saw the beginning of God’s Kingdom in the birth of Christ:
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth that will lead to the break of a new and glorious morn in the near future and in the meantime, God’s Spirit is working among us toward the remaking of the world. God’s kingdom of peace and justice cannot be stopped! God is not going to stop reforming this world until all of his children are treated with respect; until all of God’s creatures are afforded the same rights, freedoms and opportunities. Until there is no more war, no more hunger, and no more oppression.
Not everybody who looks at the baby in the manger sees the magnitude of what Cappeau saw. To some, it’s just a baby born in unfortunate circumstances. To some Jesus was a good man, but his death was the end.
As happens every year, God is inviting the world to look at the birth of Christ through the eyes of faith. God is daring the world once again to look, really look and see the miracle and the hope, much like Cappeau looked around and saw God’s plan unfold in the world. We all have a choice as we wait–we can sit back and be passive, or we can open our eyes of faith and do our part in preparing the way for the Lord Jesus. Peace on earth and goodwill to all.
Father God, Creator of heaven and earth, sea and sky, and all that flows, grows, crawls, walks, swims and flies upon it, you have created each of us – saint and sinner alike – in your image, and we thank you, God, for loving us when we are clearly undeserving.
Today, God, we stand before you and ask your mercy and forgiveness. Please, Lord, help us empty ourselves of the ways of the world and fill us so full instead with your blessed holy love that we glow like these Advent candles in the darkness to all others who desperately need to see, know you, and to know your love.
Fill us with holy love, God, and bless us with eiréné – with your gift of wholeness, your peace. Guide us to become the peacemakers for this, our time, in your Kingdom on earth. Teach us your ways. Strengthen us for your work. Lead us where you would have us follow.
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. God be with you.
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!