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Sermon and Liturgy for The Third Sunday of Advent - Year A
Isaiah 7:10-16; Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38,46-55
"Being Prepared: Saying Yes To God's Love"


READING:  Isaiah 7:10-16; Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38,46-55
SERMON :  "Being Prepared: Saying Yes To God's Love"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
a-ad04sn 812000

   The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
   for the upcoming Sunday. Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
   found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
   SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.

   Sources: The following uses a quote from David A. Tietz
   (d_tietz@compuserve.com) as found in his "Matthew 1 Sermon:
   Joseph" as sent to the PRCL List on December 18 1998 regarding
   the Christmas Pageant without Joseph.


GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)


* GREETING & CALL TO WORSHIP
L   The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, 
    and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P   And also with you
L   Come, listen, do not despair or give up hope.  
    The Lord promised a sign to the House of David 
    when it thought itself lost forever.
P   The Lord said that a young woman would be with child, 
    and bear a son. 
    She would call him Emmanuel - which means "God with us".
L   Come, listen, rejoice and be glad.  The Lord promised a child to Mary, 
    a child who would be the Saviour of his people.
P   He would be conceived by the Holy Spirit and by power.  
    She would call him Jesus - which means "The Lord saves".
L   Come, listen, worship and adore our God.  For God has kept his promise
    to the house of David, and to Mary, and to the all the world.
P   The Lord has given us a sign - and by his name, the name of Jesus,
    Emmanuel, we will praise and thank him.


* ADVENT INTROIT (VU 1, verse 1)
   O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel,
   that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.
   Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.


ADVENT CANDLE LIGHTING AND PRAYER OF INVOCATION
VOICE  - Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Love.

VOICE  - Jesus shows us God's perfect love.  He is God's perfect love in
       human form.  Those who believe in him and live in him, live in love. 
       Love transforms and perfects all things.  It never ends.

VOICE  - We light this candle today to remind us that God is love.  We
       thank God for hope he gives us, for the peace he bestows, for the
       joy he pours into our hearts, and for the love that redeems us and
       shows us the way.

Light the First, Second, Third and Fourth Candle

VOICE  - Let us pray -- O God of Love, Emmanuel, send your light into our
       hearts at this time.  Help us to be ready for the time of Christ's
       appearing.  Grant that we may so dwell in him that his perfect love
       fills our entire being.  Make our worship a time in which we
       celebrate your love and are made ready to show that love to the
       whole world - both today - and forevermore.  Amen.


ADVENT CANDLE LIGHTING SONG (VU 6, verse 4)
   A candle is burning, a candle of love,
   a candle to point us to heaven above,
   A baby for Christmas, a wonderful birth,
   for Jesus is bringing God's love to our earth.


ANNOUNCEMENTS AND SHARING JOYS & CONCERNS


INTROIT FOR THE WORD OF GOD (please stay seated):
   Open my ears, that I may hear voices of truth thou sendest clear;
   and while the wave notes fall on my ear, everything false will disappear.
   Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see.
   Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine!     (VU 371 v. 2 & refrain)


A READING FROM ISAIAH 7:10-16
   (NRSV)  Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, 'Ask a sign of the
   LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.'  But
   Ahaz said, 'I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.' 
   Then Isaiah said: "Hear then, O house of David!  Is it too little for
   you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also?  Therefore the Lord
   himself will give you a sign.  Look, the young woman is with child and
   shall bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel. He shall eat curds and
   honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 
   For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good,
   the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.

L  This is the word of the Lord.
P  Thanks be to God.


GATHERING WITH THE CHILDREN
- Title: The Christmas Story
- Theme: Retelling The Tale
- Source: Self

Ask the children about the pageant presentation last week.  Can you tell me
the story of Christmas.  What happened first?  (The promises to Israel). 
Next - the Angel visits Mary - and then Joseph.  Then Mary and Joseph go to
Bethlehem   why?  What is next?  Shepherds hear angels.  Wise Men come. 
Visit Herod. Etc

   Dear Lord God.  We thank you for your promise to come to us. --  We
   thank you for keeping your promise   and for coming to us in Jesus. 
   Help us to celebrate his birth   and to remember that you still come
   - to us today.  Amen


* HYMN:  "The First Noel"                                           - VU 91


A READING FROM LUKE 1:26-38
   (NRSV)  In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town
   in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was
   Joseph, of the house of David.  The virgin's name was Mary.  And he
   came to her and said, "Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you." 
   But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of
   greeting this might be.  The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid,
   Mary, for you have found favour with God.  And now, you will conceive
   in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be
   great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God
   will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over
   the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." 
   Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?"  The
   angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power
   of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born
   will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative
   Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the
   sixth month for her who was said to be barren.  For nothing will be
   impossible with God."  Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the
   Lord; let it be with me according to your word."  Then the angel
   departed from her.

L  This is the gospel of our risen Lord.
P  Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


RESPONSIVE READING: "The Song of Mary" (Luke 1:46-55)
L   My soul magnifies the Lord,
P   And my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour;
L   For he has looked with favour on the low estate of his handmaiden.
P   Behold, henceforth generations shall call me blessed; 
    for he who is mighty has done great things for me, 
    and holy is his name.
L   His mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation.
P   He has shown strength with his arm;
L   He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
P   He has put down the mighty from their thrones, 
    and exalted those of low degree;
L   He has filled the hungry with good things, 
    and sent the rich away empty.
P   He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
    according to the promise he made to our ancestors, 
    to Abraham and his descendants forever.


CHOIR ANTHEM: "Sing For Joy"


A READING FROM MATTHEW 1:18-25
   (NRSV)  Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. 
   When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived
   together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  Her
   husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to
   public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.  But just when he had
   resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream
   and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your
   wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will
   bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people
   from their sins."  All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken
   by the Lord through the prophet: "Look, the virgin shall conceive and
   bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is
   with us."  When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the
   Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital
   relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

L  This is the gospel of our risen Lord.
P  Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

       
* HYMN: "Hope Is A Star"                                             - VU 7

                    
SERMON: "Being Prepared: Saying Yes To God's Love"

     Gracious God, source of hope, peace, joy and love - attend this
     time of speaking and this time of hearing - this time of
     prayerful seeking and this time of meditation.  Move in me and in
     all here assembled - that your saving word may be experienced and
     your name glorified in us and through us, now and evermore.  Amen

We have looked at three ways of being prepared for the coming of Christ
this Advent Season.

We have stressed the need to keep the vision of God's kingdom alive in our
hearts - that vision that gives hope as it tells us about the purpose and
meaning of life.

We have looked at the wonder of how God's peace comes as a gift to us when
we seek it, when we turn from those things that build walls between us and
our neighbours and our God nd follow in the path shown to us by Jesus,

And we have briefly spoken of how God grants his gift of joy to those whose
hands are open to give and receive the blessings that he pours out on his
faithful people.

Today - as we see Christmas approaching, I want us to consider the
importance of our saying Yes to God's love
     and how our saying yes to love is able to bring to birth in our world
     a new and marvellous thing,
          how it prepares us and others for the coming of the Messiah.

You know the Christmas Story is strongly reliant upon something that most
people find very strange.  It is reliant upon two people saying yes to God. 
And saying yes in most unusual circumstances, to a proposal that seems most
strange indeed.

We are all keenly aware of Mary and how she said yes to God,
and so came to be the mother of the Messiah,
mother of the one we call the Son of God,
mother of the one who would die so that we might live.

But have you considered how this Yes profoundly changed the course of
Mary's life?  How her willingness to trust the angel of God and to accept
his word altered her entire world?

Engaged to be married,
she is suddenly to be with child by one who is not the man she loves

The risks are tremendous.

And what is this child of God's love to be? 
this child that she says yes to when she opens her life so totally to God?

At the time that Mary conceived there were many Messiahs, many folk who
proclaimed that they had been chosen of God to take the throne of David, 
     - to take David's throne back from the corruption of the rulers who
     sat upon it
      - to take it back from the control of the many who had manipulated it
     since the fall of Jerusalem: from the Persians, the Greeks, the
     Egyptians - and now the Romans,
- to take it back and to sit upon it and bring to Israel that time that God
had promised would come.

There were many Messiahs at the time Mary conceived.
Most of these were either ridiculed or were killed or both.

So why would her child 
- this child that she was told would be of God
be any different?

Truly Mary had a lot to store up in her heart and ponder,
     as the scriptures tell us over and over again that she did,
she had not only to store up the angel greetings 
     and the words of shepherds and wise men and prophets,
she had to ponder what all these would do with her life and the lives 
     of her child and of her husband.

And Joseph?
What did it mean for him to say yes to God?
How easy could have it been?

Joseph is the odd man out in the Christmas Story, isn't he?

A minister that I know tells the story about how once a worried mother
phoned the church office on the afternoon before the annual Christmas
program to say that her small son, who was to play the role of Joseph in
the Christmas Pageant, had a cold and had gone to bed on doctor's orders.

     "It's too late now to get another Joseph," the director of the
     play said.  "We'll just have to write him out of the script." 

     And they did!  Joseph just disappeared!  And few of those who
     watched that night actually realized that Joseph was missing."

Joseph is often forgotten.  
But consider his role in bringing Jesus into this world for a minute.

Without Joseph how would Mary have been supported?  Her family would have
been bound by the law to reject her if Joseph had rejected her.  Her baby
would have been seen as illegitimate.  Her life, and his, would have been
in a ruin.

Joseph nurtured and protected and watched over and loved both Mary and her
child.  And so brought into the world - as much as did Mary - that child
whom we call the gift of God's love.

But how easy could it have been at first?

How easy could it have been for him to say yes to the Angel who came to him 
and told him that the story that Mary had told him was true?

It is hard to believe many of the things that God tells us, hard to accept,
     especially when our feelings have been hurt and our sense of what is
     really possible in our world is limited by the pain that we experience
     and the pain which we see in the world around us.

Could it have been any different for Joseph?

Joseph, the scriptures tell us, was a righteous man, a good man, a kind
man.  

He didn't want to expose Mary to public disgrace, 
     but he certainly didn't want to marry her either,
          in fact he had resolved to cancel their betrothal just before the
          angel finally appeared to him.

It must have been hard for him to accept what he heard - yet, with the same
kind of faith with which Mary said yes to God,  so did Joseph.  He said yes
to God and he took Mary to be his wife.

And what would the future bring?
What would Mary's and Joseph's Yes to God bring?

It would bring to them a wonderfully intimate experience of God's love.
     It would bring to them and to the world not just the marvel of a new
     and tender life.
It would bring to them and the world the King of Love,
     the Shepherd of the Sheep,
     the one whom we await this day
     and the one whom we know already in our hearts
if we too have said Yes to God.

You know the promise is to us - as well as to Mary and to Joseph.  
The promise that if we say yes to God and his gift of Love 
that we and our world will be blessed.

But it is no easy thing to say yes.
To say yes involves risks. 
To say yes involves overcoming our sense of pain and hurt.

Think of the number of people whom you know who seem to live by the maxim:
"once burned, twice shy."
     The number of people who are unwilling to risk accepting love,
          The number of people who are afraid to show the love that God
          puts into every heart,
               The number of people who have erected a wall around their
               life so that they will not ever again feel hurt or pain
               because of how an imperfect love has let them down.

Yet, ultimately, love is what it is all about - what living is all about,
whether that love be the perfect love of God or the imperfect love of human
kind.

Pain and hurt will come to us all - whether we love or not.
Pain and hurt will afflict us all - whether others love us or not. 
They came to Mary.  They came to Joseph.  They came to Jesus.

The big question for us - is will that pain and hurt have any meaning? 
- will it have any sense???

People unfamiliar with our God, marvel and wonder at the sign of his love
that we display.  They marvel and wonder at the cross - a symbol of
suffering - yet also a symbol of so much more.  That cross signifies that
God loved us so much that he gave his only son so that we might not perish.

That cross signifies that God loves us so much, that he walks with us into
the worst that life can deal out, and helps us to overcome it.

When we say Yes to God's love 
we say Yes to that which will change our lives
and give to them meaning and purpose.

When we say Yes to God's love 
we say Yes to that which will transform our lives
and give to them a radiance that transforms others.

Christmas, as most people over the age of five know, can be a very
difficult time of year.

It is a time when we feel that we are supposed to be happy and joyous,
     a time in which we and the world around us, so it seems, puts upon us
     this expectation that we should be full of good cheer and at one with
     all of our family and with all of our friends.

We can really lay a trip on ourselves and allow others to lay a trip on us
during this season.

And it is so hard 
     - when we do see others full of joy and expectation
     - and we have in ourselves little but a sense of pain and loss,
it is so hard to really embrace what this season is truly about:
     - which is nothing more or less than making room in our lives for
     God's love,
     - than saying yes to the wonderful gift that God offers us through
     Christ our Lord.

There are no 'shoulds' at Christmas
     other than the should of saying yes to God's love,
and that should always comes to us as a gentle knock at the door,
     rather than an overwhelming pressure to be happy and to be a million
     and one other things that we simply are not and cannot be.

I have talked to you over this Advent Season about be being prepared for
the coming of Christ into our lives.

I have spoken about hope - about peace - about joy - and now about love.

I urge you as you prepare for Christmas day to remember that these things,
     hope, peace, joy, and love, 
are gifts to us, not demands upon us.

They are gifts by which God comes to us and changes us and our world.

Say yes to God's love
as did Mary and Joseph
even though the saying yes involves risk and sacrifice.

Say yes.  Keep the vision alive.
And walk in the path of Jesus with open hands and hearts,
and God will come to you and to our world,
and make the rough places smooth.

He will come 
     and as he did at the creation of the world 
          and at the tomb of Jesus
     and he will bring order of chaos
          and life out of death.

This is the mission of our God in and through Christ Jesus our Lord,
who by the power of the Holy Spirit can accomplish all things 

Praise be to God day by day.  Amen.


* HYMN: "In The Bleak Mid-Winter"                                   - VU 55


PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE AND THE LORD'S PRAYER
Father - we rejoice at this time in your most gracious will - a will that
is so shaped by your love that has held nothing back from us.  As we ponder
this day the message of the angels to Mary and to Joseph and how their
lives were changed by their acceptance of that message - we pray that our
lives  too may be changed - that we may be people who trust in your word
despite the obstacles - despite the impossibilities - that at first present
themselves to us as we hear it.  Grant that like Mary we may be your
willing and humble servants - and that like Joseph we may place obedience
to the vision you give us over any thoughts of our reputation or
convenience...  Lord hear our prayer....

We thank you God, that is since it is to the needy and the lost, and to the
least that you sent Jesus, we can know that he also comes to us.  We thank
you that in Him, the Mystery of Love was born and is known, the love that
names us good and the power that makes us good.  Help us to always
celebrate the radiance of Christ, he who was born in Bethlehem to be our
light and the light of the whole world.  Lord hear our prayer...

Lord - we pray today for those who need the gift of Christmas in their
lives - those who have not understood your unique statement of their worth
in your sight...  We pray for those who feel empty, that they may discover
the Babe of Christmas who fills the soul with peace and hope...  We pray
for those who feel alone - that they may discover that you are with them -
that Jesus is still Emmanuel, and that in him and through him you inhabit
every heart and transform every life open to his Spirit..  Lord, hear our
prayer... 

We ask all things through Christ Jesus - the babe of Bethlehem, the lamb
that was slain, the one who is both our brother and our Lord - saying to
you, as he taught us to say -- Our Father...


* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS: As the Offering is presented all stand for the
Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU 541) and Prayer of
Dedication

   Gracious God - we thank you for your many gifts to us and our world. 
   Most of all we thank you for your gift of love in and thru Jesus
   Christ.  As He offered himself for the world to you - so we offer
   ourselves and our gifts to you at this time.  May your name always
   be glorified in what we say and do - Amen.


MINUTE FOR MISSION: The Prayers of Advent              - Charlene Fairchild
- A Sharing of the Story of the O Antiphons (see our O Antiphon page)


* DEPARTING HYMN: "O Come, O Come Emmanuel"                          - VU 1


* COMMISSIONING (Unison): In the power of the Holy Spirit we now go forth
   into the world, to fulfil our calling as the people of God, the body of
   Christ.


* BENEDICTION AND THREEFOLD AMEN
L  Go without fear into life's difficult places, remembering that God is
   with you, that you are not alone.
P  We know that God is with us wherever we go, that God's strength and
   might will always sustain us.
L  Go as the hands of God to bring comfort to others and as the voice of
   God to bring good news to those to whom the Spirit directs you.
P  By God's Spirit which dwells within us we will do God's work.
L  Go in peace - and may the word of our God be made flesh in you - may
   the light of God surround you, and the love of God fill you - both now
   and for evermore.  Amen.

* CHORAL BLESSING:  "Go Now In Peace"                              - VU 964
 

copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 2001 - 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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