ORDER OF WORSHIP
- Greeting & Announcements – Rev. Val
- Call to Worship, and Opening Prayer – Rev. Val & Congregation
- Hymn – Jesus, Thine All-Victorious Love (UMH 422)
- Advent Candle Lighting – Love
- Gloria Patri (UMH 70)
- Pastoral Prayer – Rev. Val
- Scripture Readings – Malachi 3:1-4 (NRSV), Luke 3:1-6 (NRSV), 1 Corinthians 13 (MSG) – Rev. Val
- Hymn – I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light (UMH 206)
- Message: Where There’s Love – Rev. Val
- Hymn – The Gift of Love (UMH 408)
- Service of Holy Communion
- Offertory Prayer – Rev. Val
- Doxology (UMH 95)
- Hymn – People Look East (UMH 202)
- 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! It is my privilege to welcome members of the Maryville College Pride Club worshipping with us this morning! If you wouldn’t mind, when we’re done this morning please stay in your seats long enough for a few of us to get to the Narthex. We have a gift for you.
Save the date!
- December 12 – Third Sunday of Advent (Joy)
- 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: O come, O come, Immanuel,
P: And be light for our darkness.
L: Be comfort in our grief,
Be a friend for our loneliness,
P: An oasis for our searching.
L: O come, O come, Immanuel,
All: Restore our joy, heal our wounds, bring us peace, remind us we are loved.
L: Come, let us worship God, as we pray:
L: Come, let us worship God, as we pray together saying …
Adapted from a prayer by the Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston
ALL: Please give us the ability to comprehend, Spirit, to see the pattern without missing the detail. Help us understand the meaning of the complexity that surrounds us. Not with facile answers but with genuine integrity, let us encounter our lives, let us be mindful of what we have to learn. With diligence we will strive to free ourselves from assumptions. With joy we will anticipate new discoveries. Give us a touch of your deep wisdom, Spirit, and we will follow it like sailors looking up to read the stars.
Advent Candle Lighting
Advent Candle Lighting Liturgy 2021 – Derek C. Weber
L: For many of us, the call to head home is one of joy and of hope. We can’t wait to reconnect with family, with history and tradition, with a wonderful time of freedom and loving support. We can’t wait to come home.
There are those who fear going home, however, and there are times when going home brings back memories that are not so good, not so healing. We are reminded of when we didn’t fit in, when we didn’t measure up, when we weren’t loved like we needed to be loved. Home can be a difficult place for some.
The prophet Malachi tells us that even when we are in the hottest of fires, there is a presence who can make us better, who can refine and purify. John the Baptist tells us that the road home is always under construction, mountains leveled, and valleys filled in, to make smooth the path that leads us to our true destination, where we can live in peace and unity with all, a place where there’s love.
P: We light these candles, the candle of hope and the candle of love, as a sign of our assurance that though the road is hard, we believe it is worth the journey. It is time to come home.
God Who Is and Was and Ever Shall Be, there is just so much right now. We are trying, as patiently as we know how, to remain hopeful as we look forward to celebration of Emmanuel, God With Us, You with us … Even knowing that before you came down as a tiny baby, You had already been with us, ever faithful, ever true, still we long to feel and know and affirm Your presence.
Malachi told us you were sending someone to help us get ready for your arrival. John, son of Zechariah, was that messenger and told us, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
But it’s so hard, God. we’ve been zigging and zagging over rocks and through brambles and thorns, and every time we reach the summit of the mountain expecting to see the broad wide valley below … we see an endless vista of more mountains, each bigger and sharper and steeper than the next. Every path looks like Escher’s stairs full of twists and turns and places that turn our world upside down.
The Baptist told us that every valley would be filled, every mountain and hill made low, every crooked path made straight, and all rough ways made smooth until all would see the salvation of You, but we can’t seem to make that happen. It seems when we try, we just make it worse. We push up more mountains than we level.
Paul told us that if we didn’t do everything with love, we were doing nothing, we were nothing. But God, loving is so impossible right now. People are so angry and mean and so filled with hate and judgment … and judgment … and …
Breathe on me, Breath of God. Fill me with life anew, that I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do.
Breathe on me, Breath of God, until my heart is pure, until with thee I will one will, to do and to endure.
Breathe on me, Breath of God, till I am wholly thine, till all this earthly part of me glows with thy fire divine.
All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. For there is a force of Love moving through the universe that holds us fast and never lets us go.
Breathe … and give thanks for blessings known and unknown … for grace and for mercy and for God’s enduring and faithful love.
Dear Lord, You arrived on this earth unnoticed. On that night, there was no welcoming committee, no ceremony, no festivities to mark this shift in history. Few on earth knew what took place. Not until it was made evident by a shining star in the sky, a host of angels, and proclamations.
Lord, make Yourself obvious in our lives. So often, Your presence is unnoticed by us. Busy and distracted, we walk right by, like people passing on a dirt road by a rickety stable, not knowing the Savior sleeps inside.
Help us to sense Your nearness and to see You actively working in the circumstances surrounding us. Like a bright star piercing the Bethlehem night sky, lead us to where You are.
Each morning, call us near. Every evening, encompass us with Your peace.
This season, we’re drawing near.
Lead us, God. Send Spirit to fill us and turn us around. Help us to love all as well and easily as you love each of us. Help us to fill the valleys and make low the mountains. Guide us onto straight paths. Make smooth our way.
Come, Lord Jesus, and hear our prayer.
Heal the afflicted, comfort the grieving and lonely, uplift the downtrodden, liberate the oppressed.
Come, Lord Jesus, and hear our prayer.
Move us to reach out into the margins just as You did, to extend our hands in sincere and genuine acceptance and love for all Your children.
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 authoritarian regimes.
- 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.
Malachi 3:1-4 (NRSV) – See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight–indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness.
Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.
Luke 3:1-6 (NRSV) – In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, son of Zechariah, in the wilderness.
He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”
1 Corinthians 13 (MSG) – If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.
When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.
We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears, and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.
The scriptures of God for the People of God.
Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – Where There’s Love
With excerpts from the Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, Prof. Audrey West, Diana Butler Bass, Thomas Wolfe, and Jake Owensby
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.
Malachi prophesied of a messenger in the spirit of Elijah who would come “to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.” Isaiah prophesied of “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”
Elijah was a major prophet whose story is written in the Book of 1 King, chapters 17 and 18. Elijah is one person in the bible who didn’t die … has never died … you might recall him if you know that song, “These are the days of Elijah, declaring the word of the Lord …” … Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind while still very much alive. It was Elijah and Moses who descended to meet with Jesus on the top of that mountain when Jesus was transfigured. A messenger coming “in the spirit of Elijah” was a messenger indeed.
The people of Israel knew Elijah’s prophecies as well as they knew Isaiah’s and Malachi’s, and the believed then and believe today that Elijah would some day return, coming ahead of the messiah.
Approximately 400 years later, the angel, Gabriel, visited Zechariah, the husband of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, and told him he and his wife would have a child they should name John, and that John would go on before the Lord to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
The scriptures say John went all through the region around Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. A region that, at the time, was fraught with bandits and Roman soldiers and zealots and the temple police under orders from insecure religious leaders who feared any challenge to their authority. And still, with all that, he still went out in answer to his calling.
And the people came and John baptized them there in the waters of the Jordan and told them to return to the teachings the prophets had proclaimed generations before them. Repent … turn around … return to the ways of God.
Jesus spoke of John in Matthew 11:7-10: “Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:
“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’
Justin Coutts writes, “In many ways John represents the lineage to the Hebrew Scriptures and the line of the prophets. …
While John represents the old line and tradition of the prophets, Jesus represents the new way. We are told specifically that John did not drink any alcohol, but we know Jesus was famous for his wine making. John lived an ascetic life in the desert, Jesus lived among the people eating with them and being fully engaged in this world.
John baptized with water, but Jesus baptized with the Holy Spirit.
The old way cleared the path for the new way … The new way did not scorn the old way but honored it as the greatest there ever was.”
A 14th century contemplative monk wrote a text, called The Cloud of Unknowing, to an advanced student. In the text, the monk talked about two kinds of humility: imperfect humility and perfect humility.
Coutts wrote, “Imperfect humility is where we begin, it is a sense of insignificance in the face of God’s grandeur. It is a sense of spiritual poverty and unworthiness. It is the kind of humility that makes us small.
But there is a second kind of humility which realizes the superabundant love and worthiness of God himself and in that is humbled.
The first humility comes from truly understanding oneself. Imperfect humility is seeing through the masks we put up to know our true selves and our true nature. But perfect humility comes from the act of letting all that go. Perfect humility happens when we lose and forget all awareness and experience of our own being so that we don’t think either of our holiness or our wickedness but have knowledge of nothing except God.
The first humility reminds me of John. His preaching focused on repentance. The proclamation that sin was encroaching in and that by realizing our spiritual poverty and unworthiness we could be made ready for the messiah.
Jesus reminds me of the second humility. His preaching focused on God’s love. It was a proclamation of the worthiness of God and loving the broken. John’s teaching was to turn inward and repent. Jesus’ teaching was to turn outward and to serve. We can see in all of this how repentance makes ready a highway for love. How John’s ministry made the people ready for Jesus’ ministry.”
I was asked recently why, since Advent began, we seem to be going backwards through Jesus’ life. In essence, we’re in a process of deconstructing, of reassessing, of examining ourselves.
Advent is about waiting expectantly for the coming of the messiah, but it’s also about preparing to receive him. That doesn’t mean just decorating the house for the season. It means preparing ourselves to receive him … to clear and straighten the inner path to receive his love. Advent isn’t about all the glitter and tinsel and shiny glass ornaments and twinkling lights. It’s about taking a serious unadorned look at our inner selves and shedding those habits that are unrighteous and unholy. Some habits are easy to identify … greed, jealousy, bigotry, racism, hate, … others can be trickier … close-mindedness, intolerance, self-righteousness, selfishness.
In this process of deconstructing, we should also be in a process of reconstructing … of recreating ourselves in a new, more righteous way of being. John the Baptist was about our cleaning up our acts both individually and collectively. Jesus was about rebuilding us into who God would have us be, who God knows us to be, who God loves us.
Cat Clyburn of Yet Alive wrote, “The greatest gift is this. God was so desperate to be one with us, to show us that our lives were meant to be full of hope and joy, that God became Jesus Christ and taught us how to live as if God was present always. Because God is present, always. The telos of our lives is not death, and the telos of the world is not apocalypse, with God on the other side. The telos of our lives is toward God, here in the land of the living; we know this because God became Jesus. And the incarnation of Christ doesn’t live in the past but is ongoing, every day, every hour, every moment. Even here, even now. God lives and moves and works among us, here and now, in our bodies and in our reality. Every bit of this life is Spirit-drenched.
In a time of waiting, in a season such as this, it can feel like we don’t know what we are waiting for, and that the best we can hope for is that on the other side of all this misery, God is waiting. But that is not the best we can hope for, because we serve a God who came to us incarnate. Though we may struggle to imagine a reality in which goodness comes to us without collapse, God promises us that we will see God’s work on this side of death. We serve a God who shared our humanity, so desperate God was for us to know and understand, and sense that God was with us.”
Jesus was less about telling of us of that someday home and all about telling us how to make that home in the here and now … a whom where there’s love. So much love just waiting to be shared. Love enough for everyone with plenty left over.
Stan Mitchell is a graduate of Vanderbilt School of Divinity, co-founder of Everybody Church, a global church community, and founding pastor of Gracepointe Church in Nashville, TN, a progressive Christian church. Rev. Mitchell spends a lot of his time ministering to and counseling people, especially people in the LGBTQ community. On Friday, Dec. 3, he wrote:
“In this season of Advent, I find myself reflecting on the man from Nazareth, the one born auspiciously in Bethlehem. And as simply as I can say it, I do not believe Jesus lived so that a group of people would call themselves Christians, fall in love with and worship him. With that said, I must also say, strong affinity and deep affection for him abides in so many of our hearts. Mine for sure.
Predicting this would happen, Jesus asked, whatever love for him may have reasonably developed in these souls of ours, that we transfer it to the people around us. All of them. Even our enemies.
And so, the one who as a baby taught us how to receive gifts from wise people hailing from religions other than ours, said to those closest to him, “If you love me, keep my commands. And this is my command, that you love one another.” Tellingly, this was one of the last things he said to his followers before his young death.”
And Lisa Sharon Harper wrote, “We see what God considers to be good. It is not our perfection. It is our capacity to love God, love ourselves, love others, love the rest of creation, and love through our governance. It is our radical interdependent connectedness.”
I want to close with some wise words from the Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston: “Love will find you, wherever you are. It will seek you out in the most hidden places of your heart. It will search the crowded cities and walk the empty hours after midnight. It will overcome any obstacle placed before it, even those you create for yourself, to find you and to bring you its gift. No matter how far from love you feel you have drifted, it will never give up on you. Love is the Spirit, watchful and persistent, enduring and forgiving, the steady presence of a reassurance that will keep you safe whatever chance may bring you. If you are a believer, then believe this: love will always find you.”
Advent is about preparing the way to return to the beginning. To prepare, we must be willing to let go of those things which prevent us from living fully into and sharing generously the Love of God, even if part of that is the wrong beliefs we’ve been taught about faith, about what it is to follow Christ, about who has a seat at his table … all so that we to Come Home to God for Christmas where there’s love.
SERVICE OF HOLY COMMUNION
Rev. Dr. Pat Whittemoore, ALPS & Tennessee-Memphis-Holston Course of Study
We do not provide a transcript of this portion of our service.
Please join me in a prayer for our gifts this morning:
God of mercy and grace, we pray that the gifts we offer this morning might be used to bring some compassion to the chaos that is our world. We give these gifts in love, hoping they will heal some of the hurting; and as they do, make the crooked road straight for the coming of the Christ. May the hills that separate us from sisters and brothers be made flat and may the valleys of our isolation be raised up, so we will be ready to welcome the Christ as one. In that holy name, we pray.
Marilyn E. Thornton, The Africana Worship Book for Year C (Discipleship Resources, 2008), 157.
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:
Can you be a voice crying in the wilderness? Can you proclaim that God is active in the world? Maybe? The time is near, of the crowning of the year. We sing with angels, setting the roadways and the buildings humming. As people who are being changed, we go into a world that is being changed, ready to share the Good News that the long-expected Jesus is coming, that we are being freed from whatever binds us.
Glory be to God! Who walks with us, sings with us, and struggles with us, each and every day. Go now to love and serve the Lord.
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