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Sermon and Liturgy for Advent Two - Year C
Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 1:68-79; Luke 3:1-6
"A Matter of Direction"


READING:  Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 1:68-79; Luke 3:1-6
SERMON :  "A Matter of Direction"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
c-ad02smsu.y-c 583907

   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: Thanks to Ross Bartlett and Dave Jagger of the United
   Church of Canada for certain seeds that flowered within the sermon. 
   Their initial notes were sent the preaching list that was housed on
   "Telos" in 1994.  The Call To Worship is based on the two found in
   John Maynard (maynard@SYMPAC.COM.AU) "Prayers and Litanies For
   Advent 2C" as sent to the PRCL List, December 4 2000.  Seeds for the
   Prayers of The People also found in Maynard.  The Childrn's Story is 
   based on an item found in "The Whole People of God, Year B-C", 1994

           
GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)


* WORDS OF WELCOME AND CALL TO WORSHIP
L  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God,
   and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P  And also with you.
L  The news is out! The messenger is coming!   
P  He will bring with him the covenant in which we delight.
L  Every valley shall be lifted.  Every mountain and hill made low . 
   Crooked places shall be made straight and rough places smooth.
P  Our mouths are filled with laughter, O God.  
   Our tongues are ready to shout for joy!  
   For you have done great things for us.
L  The day foretold is coming when our deafened ears will hear a choir, a
   heavenly host proclaiming peace!
P  The One foretold is coming, whose cry will pierce the deepest gloom,
      a newborn's wail in the silent night!
L  The day is at hand!  The Saviour draws near!


* INTROIT: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (verse 1)                        - VU 1

    
ADVENT CANDLE LIGHTING:                          - by the Richard's Sisters
VOICE  - Last Sunday we lit the first candle in our Advent Wreath, the
       candle of hope.  We light it again as we remember that Christ, who
       was born in Bethlehem, will come again to fulfil all of God's
       promises to us.  (a person lights the candle of hope)

VOICE  - The second candle of Advent is the Candle of Peace.  Peace is a
       word that we hear a lot.  It is one of the things that we hope for. 
       Christ brought peace when he first came to us and he will bring
       everlasting peace when he comes again.

VOICE  - The prophet Isaiah called Christ "the Prince of Peace".  When
       Jesus came he taught people the importance of being peace makers. 
       He said that those who make peace shall be called the children of
       God.

VOICE  - We light the candle of peace to remind us that Jesus is the Prince
       of Peace and that through him peace is found.  (a person lights the
       candle of peace)

VOICE  - Peace is like a light shining in a dark place.  As we look at this
       candle we celebrate the peace we find in Jesus Christ.

VOICE  - Let us pray: Thank you God for the peace you give us.  We ask that
       as we wait for all your promises to come true, and for Christ to
       come again, that you would remain present with us.  Help us today,
       and everyday, to worship you, to hear your word, and to do your will
       by sharing your peace with each other.  We ask it in the name of the
       one who was born in Bethlehem.  Amen.


CANDLE LIGHTING SONG: Verse 2 of "A Candle Is Burning"               - VU 6


CHILDREN'S TIME: "The Story of The White Gift"
THEME     Why we do what we do
SOURCE    Concept/Story from Whole People of God, 1994
OBJECT    Wrapped Food Object (in white)

Good morning.  Next Sunday what is happening (Christmas Pageant).  Next
Sunday is also White Gift Sunday.  How many of you know what White Gift
Sunday is all about???  (Sharing and caring by offering gifts to the world
to and through our King)

Today I want to tell you the story of the very first White Gift.  Some say
it all began about 1000 years ago in the mighty kingdom of Cathay - where
their ruled a very rich and very powerful king called Kubla Khan.

Unlike many kings Kubla Khan was generous and wise.  He treated the rich
and the poor alike and was especially nice towards little children.  It was
a time of peace in the land because Kubla Khan ruled for the benefit of all
his people and not just the rich and powerful.  One year his subjects
decided to hold a great birthday party for him to honour him as their King. 
They had held great birthday parties for Kubla Khan before, because he was
well loved, but this particular year they decided to do it differently. 
They wanted to make him especially glad.  They knew that he treated all his
people the same - so they decided to show no difference in the gifts that
he gave him - and have every gift that was given wrapped in white so that
they would look all the same.
   
The people brought their white gifts to Kubla Khan on his birthday.  Some
were only to bring a handful rice - but it was wrapped in white.  Others
were able to bring beautiful ivory and precious jewels, but these too were
wrapped in white.  All the gifts looked the same and when the king
unwrapped them he treated them all the same - because he knew that each
gift was given with the same degree of love and devotion as the next gift. 
And in a white book, people who did not have any gifts to offer, could
offer their time or talent to serve the king, by entering their name in
that book.

Next Sunday, when we give our white gifts to God - we will do what the
subjects of Kubla Khan did.  We will honour the birth of our king - the
birth of Jesus - by giving to him what we can - knowing that like Kubla
Khan he will use our gifts to help other people - no matter who they are -
knowing that he treats everyone of us alike with his love and devotion.


* CHILDREN'S HYMNS:

   ---- O COME LITTLE CHILDREN ----
   O come, little children, oh, come, one and all
   To Bethlehem haste, to the manger so small,
   God's Son for a gift has been sent you this night
   To be your Redeemer, your Joy and Delight.
             
   He's born in a stable for you and for me.
   Draw near by the bright gleaming starlight to see,
   In swaddling clothes lying, so meek and so mild,
   And purer than angels, the heavenly child.
           
   Kneel down and adore him with shepherds today,
   Lift up little hands now, and praise him as they
   Rejoice that a Saviour from sin you can boast,
   And join in the song of the heavenly host.

   ---- KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK ----
   Clippety-clop went the donkey, on the way to Bethlehem.
   The donkey carried Mary - he was a big help to them.
   Mary, Mary, your Son will be born tonight!
   Joseph, Joseph, God's Son will be born tonight.
            
   Twinkle, twinkle, twinkle, like a diamond in the sky.
   Twinkle, twinkle, twinkle, like a diamond in the sky.
   Shining!  Shining!  In the sky o'er Bethlehem!
   Shining!  Shining!  In the sky o'er Bethlehem!


* LET US PRAY...  Dear Lord God - we thank you - for how you lift up the
   poor - and bring down the mighty - and show to all people - the same
   love - the love of a caring Father for his children - and the love of a
   caring mother for her brood   Send upon us the time of peace   and help
   us to care for one another - as you care for us    We ask it in  the
   name of Jesus.  Amen


* THE LORD'S PRAYER (sung)  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; and lead us not into temptation,
   but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, the power and the
   glory, for ever and ever.  Amen


ANNOUNCEMENTS AND SHARING JOYS & CONCERNS
- Announcements
- Birthdays and Anniversaries:
- Sharing Joys and Concerns


ST ANDREW'S THIS WEEK


ANTHEM:


A READING FROM MALACHI 3:1-4
   (NIV) "See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before
   me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the
   messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the LORD
   Almighty. {2} But who can endure the day of his coming?  Who can stand
   when he appears?  For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's
   soap. {3} He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will
   purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.  Then the LORD
   will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness,{4} and the
   offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in
   days gone by, as in former years.

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


RESPONSIVE READING: The Song of Zecheriah (VU page 900 and Sung Response)


A READING FROM LUKE 3:1-6 
   (NIV)  In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar--when
   Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his
   brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch
   of Abilene-- {2} during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the
   word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. {3} He went
   into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of
   repentance for the forgiveness of sins. {4} As is written in the book
   of the words of Isaiah the prophet: "A voice of one calling in the
   desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. {5}
   Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The
   crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. {6} And all
   mankind will see God's salvation.'"

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


* HYMN:  "ON Jordan's Bank"                                         - VU 20


SERMON: "A Matter of Direction"

   O Lord,  we pray, speak in this place, in the calming of our minds
   and the longing of our hearts, by the words of my lips and in the
   meditations of our hearts.  Speak, O Lord, for your servants listen. 
   Amen.

The good news of Jesus Christ begins with John the Baptist 
   wild John,
       long-haired John,
          John dressed in the skins of wild animals
              wandering the wilderness
                 eating honey and locusts
crying out to the people - Repent - The Kingdom of God is at hand.

Repent.
The Kingdom of God is at hand.

You know - sometimes we get it all wrong when we consider the message of
John.

We combine the word of John about repentance with the message that he and
the prophet Isaiah spoke about preparing a way for the Lord in the
wilderness, and we conclude that we are the ones who must do the work of
making level every mountain and hill and raising up every valley and
smoothing every rough place.

But that is not the message that John proclaims!

John's message is a word of grace -

And all his talk of lifting up every valley, and making every mountain and
hill level and all the crooked places straight -
    is not talk about what we must do as part of our repentance,
       - rather it is talk about what God does in us as a result of our
       repentance; as a result of our turning toward him and acknowledging
       our need for him, and determining to walk in his way.

The good news of our faith - 
   the news that makes our faith so much different than most other faiths
   in this world
is that God reaches out to us.

This is so much different than human based religions which propose that we
can find God if only we do this and that.

The Jewish faith - the Christian faith 
- is one in which God calls out to us - 
- and comes to us
- and invites us to be re-united with him 
- and to live with him in joy and peace.

In the prophecy of Isaiah and the proclamation of John the Baptist 
and in the ministry of the Christ to whom John pointed,
God is the one who levels and smooths the rough road 
God is the one who lifts up and makes straight the path.

What we are called to do is to repent, to believe, and to walk the road
that God has prepared and is preparing within our lives - within our world,
the road that leads us to him and him to us.  The specially smoothed road,
the lovingly levelled road. 

So what is repentance.

Well, first of all, repentance is not a word that is invented by the
church.  It comes from a nomadic time, a time prior to the creation of many
roads or maps.  

Moving through the wilderness you can get lost.   You notice that the
countryside looks different.  You finally stop and say, "I'm going the
wrong direction".  

That's step one. 

But you don't really deal with the problem until you change directions.  

That's step two.

An illustration:

   When Charlene and I are driving somewhere and she notes that I make
   five right-hand turns in succession she may ask: "Are you lost?" 

   Being the humble soul that I am I respond "no, I'm not lost."  

   She notes that I make three more right hand turns and then says
   something that no loving spouse should say to another: "Why don't
   you ask for directions."  

That's kind of like John's preaching in the wilderness.  At first you don't
really want to hear it.  

I don't know about you, but often I don't want to ask for directions.  I
want to believe that I'm self-reliant and in control.

   But finally - the message sinks in - and  I admit to myself (and
   sometimes even to her) that I while I am driving the car - I am not
   really in control.  And I stop and ask for directions.  Admitting
   I'm lost is the beginning of repentance.  That's step one.

Step two is to take the advice I have received and actually turn the car
around and go in the direction that I have been told to go in.  It is an
easy thing to do - as long as I don't forget step one:
   - the step that requires me to admit that I need to follow someone
   else's directions 
   - the step that requires us all  to admit that we need to do what God
   asks us to do rather than doing what we think is best.

Step one - and step two.

   There is a town in Labrador called Wabush.  It was, for many years,
   virtually cut off from the rest of the world.  In the last decade a
   road has been put through.  Now if you brave the six to eight hour
   trip over an unpaved road you arrive in Wabush.  There is only one
   road in and, thus, only one road out.  To leave Wabush you have to
   change direction.

   To repent, we have to change direction, and all the thinking,
   wishing, praying, resolving in the world in the absence of action
   will not create repentance.  You actually have to turn around and go
   down the road.

What I am trying to say is that repentance is more than a feeling,
it is a kind of confession 
- coupled with a kind of action - a change in direction,
and when we confess and act 
- when we decide to go in the way God calls us to go and then do it, 
then God takes care of the rest.
- God prepares the road for us and leads us to himself,

Indeed God comes down the road towards us - even as the father of the
prodigal son ran down the road to meet him when he regained his senses and
decided to return home, home to the hope and the peace, the joy and the
love that needed, but could not find when he was out on his own.
 
Another illustration 
- one involving reunion and the joyful making of peace.
I have spoken of it once before to you 
- but I want to do so again from a different angle.

It involves Charlene's brother Ian and our meeting on Reconciliation Day
back on April 2 1993.

   When Ian invited us to meet with him in Toronto - he told us things
   had changed with him  We didn't believe it.  We didn't want to
   believe it. We knew better.  We had been burned before.

   But finally we submitted the matter to God in the form of a fleece 
   - and God answered that fleece in a way we did not expect - and
   directed us to go to Toronto.

   We did so with a certain amount of fear and trepidation - but
   overall we went feeling that since God had directed us to go - it
   must be right to go.

   Our attitude about having a visit with Ian had changed - it had
   turned around.  We allowed God to be in charge and we drove down the
   road that God called us to  - and lo - it was very good - in
   physical, emotional, and spiritual terms.

Physically    The road itself was good - the hills and mountains along the
              401 have been levelled and the valleys filled in.  Work crews
              regularly work at smoothing out the rough places.  And best
              of all - the traffic - we normally dreaded - was not too bad
              the evening we went down.

Emotionally   Well - as I said - we knew God had his hand in our venture -
              despite our initial intentions, so we went forth in hope -
              not sure things would work out with Ian - but sure that they
              would work out somehow.  And they did - and they did so well.

Spiritually   Well - it taught us that perhaps we need to repent in other
              areas of our lives - that we might just need to ask God to
              take control of some of the areas of our life where we figure
              we already have all the answers.

Repentance is more than simply a feeling. 

We can resolve to repent, we can make up our minds to change, 
We can tell God that we are sorry 
- that we want things to be different with us,
but until we actually do something different - we haven't repented.  
We've only talked about it.

In some ways, feeling sorry or feeling shame is to repentance as a menu is
to a fine meal.  If I take you out to a fine restaurant and after you've
considered the menu I take you out of there saying" "wasn't that a fine
meal?", you'd have the right to think I'd lost it.  

But if I then go on with you to order a meal note what happens next.
You get served.  
waiters and busboys and cooks attend to your needs,
and while there is a bill to paid at the end -
it is a bill that I am prepared to pay.

And in the case of repentance before God - that bill is very tiny indeed,
at least in comparison to the bill that we have to pay if we continue on
our old path, the path of "good intentions"
the path that leads us further and further away from God.

Repentance involves acknowledging that we have been our own Lord, 
or that other lords, other powers, have been controlling our lives.  

Repentance, then, involves putting those powers behind us 
and "submitting" to the Lordship of Christ Jesus, of God. 

The change from one road to another, the turning around of repentance
is actually that of allowing God into our lives to take over; 
of allowing God to set our agenda and then following it.

Having said all this  - let me repeat what I said at the beginning.

John the Baptist's message is a message of grace.
The transformation of our lives is not something we do, 
it is something that God does for us as we walk the road 
God has prepared for us.  

All we are called to do by John is to confess our need for God, to
acknowledge that there are areas in our lives where we are on the wrong
path, and to turn anew to God - and to begin to walk the path he sets
before us - in obedience to his will.

John wants us all to come and swim in the pool of God's forgiveness.  
To be immersed in the grace of God 
and to walking the road that he has prepared for us.
looking for his presence,
and listening for his commands,
and doing as he asks us to do,
for him,
for ourselves
and for our brother and sisters,
and for our world.
  
As we walk the road of the Lord,
the Lord will fills in the valleys and levels every mountain 
and makes the crooked paths straight and the rough ways smooth.  

As we walk toward God,
he walks towards us,
and gives to us the peace and the joy 
and the strength and the hope 
and the love we need
for grace-Full living in this world.

God wants us to be in a loving relationship with him,
a healing relationship with him.
a good relationship with him.

In fact God wants that so much, that God gave himself to us without
qualification or reserve.

In the child born in Bethlehem, in Jesus, 
God came to live with us and to establish peace between us.

Repent, change direction, turn towards God,
and enter into the joyful reunion that the Lord has planned for you.
Glory be to his name, now and forevermore.  Amen


* HYMN: "Harold!  Sound The Note of Gladness"                       - VU 28


PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Holy God, we look for You, we long for You.  Let us see that You come among
us.  Make us aware of Your presence and help us to turn toward you and so
come to glimpse your glory and your power and experience your grace and
your love...  Lord, hear our prayer....

Loving God, prepare us to celebrate the first coming of our Lord Jesus and
to do Your work in expectation of His Second Coming in power and great
glory.  As we turn and walk the road toward your outstretched arms, remove
from our lives those powers and forces that have caused us to do evil
rather than good, to hate rather than love, to hold resentment close to us
rather than the power of your forgiveness, to seek amusement rather than
fulfilment.  Bring down the high places that obstruct your path and fill in
the valleys that hinder our coming to you.  Forgive us Lord for having
wandered away from you and help us to walk each day in the direction you
would have us go....  Lord, hear our prayer...

Compassionate God, by the coming of Christ Jesus you give us strength in
the midst of our weakness, peace in the midst of our conflicts, and light
in the midst of our darkness.  We hear your voice calling to us, we see
your hands reaching out to us.   O Lord, enfold us in your arms, and not
only us - but all who we lift before you now in our hearts and with the
worlds of lips.... BIDDING PRAYER.... Lord, hear our prayer.... 

Gracious God, by Your tender compassion the light of Christ has dawned
upon us.  You have prepared a way to you for us and for our world.  And you
come upon it.  Come Lord Jesus, Come Holy Father, Come Spirit of
Righteousness and Truth, and make this world a new and better home, now and
forevermore.  Amen


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

   God of peace, for all the many blessings we receive at your hand
   accept our thanks.  Receive these gifts we return to you and the
   sacrifice of our hearts, that your light might shine throughout all
   creation.  We ask it in Jesus' name.  Amen,


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


* 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 & THREEFOLD AMEN
Go in peace, love and care for one another in the name of Christ 
- and may God richly bless you in this time of waiting
- may the love of Christ make the rough places smooth,
- and the light of the Holy Spirit guide you in your daily walk
this both now and forevermore.  Amen


SUNG BLESSING:  "Go Now In Peace"                                  - VU 964


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2000, 2003
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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