ORDER OF WORSHIP
- Greeting & Announcements – Rev. Val
- Call to Worship, and Opening Prayer – Rev. Val & Congregation
- Hymn – Good Christian Friends, Rejoice (UMH 224)
- Advent Candle Reading – Joy
- Gloria Patri (UMH 70)
- Pastoral Prayer – Rev. Val
- Scripture Readings – Zephaniah 3:14-20 (NRSV), Isaiah 12:2-6 (NRSV), Luke 3:7-18 (MSG) – Rev. Val
- Hymn – Alleluia (UMH 186)
- Message: Where There’s Joy – Rev. Val
- Hymn – Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee (UMH 89)
- Offertory Prayer – Rev. Val
- Doxology (UMH 95)
- 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 third Sunday of Advent, called Gaudete Sunday. Regardless of the names we assign to be represented by the various candles, nearly universally today, churches and families observing Advent will light the rose colored candle.
Next Sunday is communion Sunday and I encourage you to bring a friend, a family member, a neighbor. For those worshipping online with us, if you want to participate in communion, you’ll need enough bread and juice or other appropriate beverage for those worshipping in your home.
Also, except for the next two Sundays, the nineteenth and the twenty-sixth, our remaining Advent and Christmas services … Longest Night, Christmas Eve Candlelight Service, and Watchnight … will be online only. The online services are pre-recorded and will be posted to our Facebook page at 6:00 p.m. on the twenty-first, 6:00 p.m. on the twenty-fourth, and 11:25 p.m. on the thirty-first.
Lastly, beginning on Epiphany Sunday, we will begin a new worship series called Afterfaith.
Save the date!
- December 19 – Fourth Sunday of Advent (Peace)
- *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: A path to our God,
P: Winding through the ordinary,
L: Weaving through the busyness,
P: Overcoming roadblocks and detours.
L: A way to come home,
P: Leaving the past in the past,
L: Moving from darkness and exile,
P: Coming into the light.
L: Advent is a path to our God,
P: A way to come home,
L: A discovery of God’s voice:
P: Rejoice, rejoice. God is with us!
L: Come, let us worship God, as we pray together saying …
From Revised Common Lectionary Prayers ©2002
O God of the exiles and the lost,
you promise restoration and wholeness through the power of Jesus Christ.
Give us faith to live joyfully,
sustained by your promises
as we eagerly await the day when they will be fulfilled
for all the world to see,
through the coming of your Son, Jesus Christ.
Advent Candle Lighting
Advent Candle Lighting Liturgy 2021 – Derek C. Weber
L: It’s a reunion, every time we come home, every time we embrace those we love, no matter how long it has been. It feels like sunrise, like the clouds are parting and the rain has ended. It is joy, nothing less than pure joy to grab hold of those who are home for us, who make home for us. Whether we wake up to them every day, or travel many miles to see them again,
P: … it is joy to come home.
L: The prophet Zephaniah tells us to rejoice at the thought of going home. The prophet tells us to imagine being set free, being unburdened, being released to live, to fully live in the grace and wonder of life itself, surrounded by those who love us like no one else. And then to live like that was our truth even now, even here.
P: It is joy to come home.
John the Baptist reminds us, however, that it takes choices to live in this joy. It doesn’t just happen; we choose to make life a joy by how we love others, by how we serve and give and care for others, by how we do the job we do and how we impact the world around us. We build joy as we build a home in this world and the next.
P: We light these candles, the candle of hope, the candle of love, and the candle of joy as a sign that we are on our way home, and we walk with a skip in our step because we can see the destination, and it is pure joy. It is time to come home.
Friends, as we joyfully await the glorious coming of the Christ, let us pray for the needs of the church, our community, and the world.
God Who Is the Alpha and Omega, God Who Is With Us, we lift up to you all those who were in any way harmed in the path of the storm this weekend. Comfort the families and loved ones of those whose lives were stolen by the storm. Bring healing and comfort to those who were injured, peace and resolution to those who lost their homes and businesses, and understanding and strength to those who congregations that lost their houses of worship.
Come, Lord Jesus, and hear our prayer.
Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, Incarnate and Resurrected Christ, our Rock, our Redeemer, our King, our Friend, we lift up to you all those who stand in the margins, or who have been pushed away from your table. Help us to see them, to reach out to them, to show them your love and to bring them home.
Come, Lord Jesus, and hear our prayer.
Spirit, our Helper, our Advocate, fill us now so we may be the church and the body of Christ. Help us to remember that the kin-dom is not just near, it is within each of us, in the here and now.
Come, Lord Jesus, and hear our prayer.
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.
Zephaniah 3:14-20 (NRSV) – Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!
The LORD has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak.
The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it.
I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.
At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the LORD.
Isaiah 12:2-6 (NRSV) – Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.
Luke 3:7-18 (MSG) – When crowds of people came out for baptism because it was the popular thing to do, John exploded: “Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to deflect God’s judgment? It’s your life that must change, not your skin. And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as ‘father.’ Being a child of Abraham is neither here nor there—children of Abraham are a dime a dozen. God can make children from stones if he wants. What counts is your life. Is it green and flourishing? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.”
The crowd asked him, “Then what are we supposed to do?”
“If you have two coats, give one away,” he said. “Do the same with your food.”
Tax men also came to be baptized and said, “Teacher, what should we do?”
He told them, “No more extortion—collect only what is required by law.”
Soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He told them, “No harassment, no blackmail—and be content with your rations.”
The interest of the people by now was building. They were all beginning to wonder, “Could this John be the Messiah?”
But John intervened: “I’m baptizing you here in the river. The main character in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.” There was a lot more of this—words that gave strength to the people, words that put heart in them. The Message!
The scriptures of God for the People of God.
Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – Where There’s Love
Excerpts in italics from “The Joy 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.
About today’s passages, Dr. Derek C. Weber of Discipleship Ministries wrote, “The gray skies and weeping clouds put a damper on the holiday busy-ness. The lights seem swallowed up by the pale glare of the day, as if they can’t quite pierce the gloom. The greenery festooned with red ribbon hanging on the fence is dull and dampened by the persistent rain. And yet. That’s the power of Christmas. Of Incarnation. Of God with us. There is always an “and yet.”
Dreary it may be, and yet there is joy. Underneath and back behind, there is joy. Persistent, transforming, sustaining joy. Christmas isn’t really about seasonal joy. It isn’t about extravagant commercial excesses either. At its best, it is a reminder of the joy that is ours always, a shot in the arm to our flagging spirits, or a kick in the pants to our bored complacency. At least it would be a kick in the pants if John had his way.
John was a pants kicker from the start. He did a high kick in Elizabeth’s womb when he heard Mary’s voice through the waters in which he swam. And he came out kicking, I’m sure. He kicked himself out of the house as soon as it was possible. He kicked it out in the desert, kicked over beehives to get the wild honey, kicked a tree full of locusts for snacks to munch on while he wandered around shouting at rocks and stones. He kicked a camel’s carcass for a coat to wear. Then he decided it was time to kick some sense into the people of God down by the riverside.”
I had occasion to be in downtown Knoxville at the City-County building Friday. In case you’re not familiar with it, the City-County Building sits on the river between the Henley and Gay Street bridges.
I was standing on the cross-walk, the top of that glassed-in bridge that crosses from the Main Avenue entrance to the General Assembly room over to the main building on the river, and for a bit, I felt like I was literally on the riverside Dr. Weber referenced.
You see, there was a street preacher down on the lawn across from the West Hill Avenue entrance to the main building preaching in the style of John the Baptist. He was all about everyone needing to repent, repent, repent. At the top of his lungs, he told us how we were all sinners, how our only hope was to repent. Two people ignored him while another stood at the guard wall and watched him intently. I sat at one of the tables and listened, waiting to hear the good news of his message and repeatedly thinking, “Yes, but …” to what he was saying. He never quite got past the hell and damnation part. At least not while I was out there on the crosswalk.
Dr. Weber wrote, “I don’t know about you, but I always smile a little bit at verse 18: “With many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.” Really? There were more? More exhortations? What else did he say? What else did he kick? And good news? This doesn’t sound like good news. This sounds oppressive, finger-pointing, name-calling, previous White House occupant tweet level pain. How in the world can we say he proclaimed the good news?”
And I was right there with Dr. Weber … because like I said, that street preacher wasn’t saying anything about the good news.
Dr. Weber cleared it up for me, though. He said, “Except he did.
“That’s the problem with good news. For the good news to be good news, it first has to be bad news. John understood that. John majored in that. He was a PhD level intellect in that needing the bad news to hear the good news thing. So, he let them have it. He poured it over them, like the water he splashed into their faces, shouting at them to wake up. He asked them to question their own motives. “What brings you here? You snakelets, still sucking on your egg tooth used to crack your way out of your shell. Still wet behind the ears, if snakes had ears. You don’t know what you’re doing. Mostly because you ain’t doing nothing! Except looking out for yourselves. You think you’re special; you’re nothing; you’re rocks in my shoe, stones I stub my toe on! You’re mulch, grass cuttings we leave to be picked up with the garbage!”
You would think the people hearing John would have asked him to chill. Who needs so much negativity? But they didn’t. As Dr. Weber explains, “They asked him, in a panic, “What then should we do?” And they panicked because they were afraid he was going to say, “run like hell!” or “You’re out of luck, bucko, bend down and kiss the grass goodbye!” So, they asked with fear and trembling. But he didn’t snarl or sneer. He didn’t tell them it was too late. When he answered in a way that made sense, groups of them came forward. “What should we do?” they asked in tag-team fashion. “What about us?” they echoed all along the riverbank. Tax collectors and soldiers asked him. Athletes and film stars, politicians and truck drivers, biker gangs and refugees – they all came in ones or dozens and asked him: “What then should we do?” And he had an answer.
“Bear fruit.” (No, not those kinds of bears!) Bear as in carry, as in show, as in live. That was his answer: live! What should we do? Live. But live rightly. Live, he told the soldiers, for justice. Don’t abuse your power; don’t threaten to get your way, to scare or coerce. And learn contentment, for heaven’s sake. Don’t keep wanting more and more and more. To the tax collectors, called by some the enemy of the people, he said, “live for mercy.” Don’t take more than the people can stand, more than you are supposed to take. Don’t rob, don’t steal, don’t wound with the stroke of your red pen. Care about the people over whom you have authority. To the crowd thronging the banks of the water he said, “Live!” Live in generosity, live in community, live as though you belong to one another because you do. Live as though you are responsible for one another because you are!”
Repent and live rightly, and while you’re repenting … while you’re turning your life around and living, bear fruit worthy of repentance. Worthy? As in earning it? If I do right, I’ll get what I deserve?
Bearing the good fruit John the Baptist told the people down by the riverside about means to do as John Lewis said … to rise up and make Good Trouble against any and all unjust systems that hold people down. It means joining together to show the world what it means to live in community where everyone has a seat at the table, and I do mean everyone.
We have to identify and give up anything we do … intentionally and even unintentionally … that perpetuates those unjust systems. Individualism has to be set aside and community reestablished. The sacred value of every living being and all of creation has to be restored and upheld.
Bearing the kind of fruit worthy of repentance is hard and these days it’s just as scary and almost as dangerous as it was when Jesus lived. It can be painful both personally and collectively. At least initially, it will pit neighbor against neighbor, family against family, nation against nation. But if we don’t do it. If we don’t stand up for the poor, the weak, the orphan, the outcast, if we don’t work to free those enslaved to those very systems, then the pain we feel as we watch the world we know crumble like a house of cards will grow inside us like a cancer. And that pain inside of us will cripple us and rob us of healing and of joy.
No, as Dr. Weber writes, bearing fruit isn’t to earn some kind of divine reward. That’s not why we do it. “Bear fruit because you have repented. Because you have turned around and are now walking a new direction. Because you now know life and want to share it; because this life you have claimed—this joy from which you have drunk—is not meant to be kept inside, to be kept quiet. You’ve got to share it. You’ve got to shout it. You’ve got to sing it. Isaiah says so.”
Isaiah says, “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. . . .”
Weber goes on, “With joy you will draw water … Drawing water was a daily task, mundane, necessary, one of many. Yet, there is a joy in it. Drawing water is about life, about living and sustaining. It is about cleansing, making new, dying, and being reborn. “I baptize you with water,” John says. So, you can start over. So, you can repent. So, you cannot be afraid. So, you can give thanks to the Lord. For life. For water. For even a gray rainy and dreary day that vibrates with Christmas presence.”
We draw from the well of Living Water. I don’t know how it is for you and it took me almost my whole life to do it, but I assure you … no matter how down I get, how scared I get, how worried I get, how frustrated or angry I get … when I focus on Jesus … when I remember that I am a child of God and God Is With Us … I calm down and there is such joy in that sense of calm, in that sense of well-being even in times when I shouldn’t feel well at all.
And that’s a joy worth sharing, don’t you think?
The trick is to pay attention … listen deeply. If you do, you’ll be able to hear the raindrops singing praise as they patter across the leaves in the yard. Pay attention, listen deeply, and look closely. Then you can see the light that proclaims presence even on the palest of days.
Pay attention, listen deeply, look closely, and live fully. Then you can taste salvation in the sweetness of the water that flows so freely. We are called, by John and Isaiah both, to be present in our worship and our living – even as we realize that worship is living and that to live is to worship.
Don’t forget Zephaniah, though almost everyone does. He joins the refrain, sings the do-wahs with John the B and Isaiah. “Sing aloud . . . shout . . . Rejoice and exalt with all your heart!” Zephaniah really gets into it, too. It’s clear he’s got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in his heart!
He’s wanting to go home, to the home of God’s promise, the home of hope and kin-dom and peace. He knows it will be a struggle, and there is work to do to get there, to even get close, but it is work that it worth it. It is work that is joyful, if we pay attention. That’s the call in Zephaniah, and in Luke’s rendition of John’s song, and in Isaiah.
We’re all singing of the joy of home. The home that Christmas is a glimpse of. The home that we all long for. So, come, let us adore him. Fully present as we do. Fully alive, as we drink with joy the waters of salvation. Come home … where there’s joy.
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.
Phillipians 4:4-7 (NRSV)
Thank you for being here this morning, whether in-person or through our live-stream, whether member or visitor, and I hope you found some value in today’s service.
Now hear this benediction:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Go in peace to share hope, to share love, and to share joy as you love and serve the Lord.
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