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Sermon and Liturgy for Advent Three - Year C
Zephaniah 3:14-17; Isaiah 12:1a-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18
"The Wolf of Gubbio"

READING:  Zephaniah 3:14-17; Isaiah 12:1a-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18
SERMON :  "The Wolf of Gubbio"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
c-ad03su.y-c 908

   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.
   The following service contains a Christmas Pageant or Tableau and
   the gathering of "White Gifts" by the Sunday School.  Following the
   Lord's Prayer the service continues very much in the usual way.  The
   Tableau takes only 15 minutes and the whole service should fit 
   into our usual 75 minute format.  The narration for the Tableau is
   not included in this file. 

   Sources: Elements of the Prayers of The People from Chris Udy, 
   Canberra Central Parish, Uniting Church in Australia, 1997.  Almost
   the entire sermon is taken directly word by word from Barry 
   Robinson's In A Rapture of Distress, Dec 2000.     

GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)

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  Sing, O Daughter of Zion.  
P  Shout aloud, O Israel! 
L  Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, 
   O Daughter of Jerusalem!
P  Lift up your voices in praise, 
   O chosen ones. 
L  The Lord has taken away your punishment, 
   he has turned back your enemy. 
P  The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; 
   never again will you fear any harm.
L  On that day they will say to Jerusalem, 
   "Do not fear, O Zion; 
   do not let your hands hang limp.  
   The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. 
P  He will take great delight in you.  
   He will quiet you with his love 
   and rejoice over you with singing.

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

VOICE  - Last Sunday we lit the candle of peace.  We light it and the
       candle of hope again as we remember that Christ, who was born in
       Bethlehem, will come again to judge the world and bring it
       everlasting peace.  (a person lights the candles of hope, and

VOICE  - The third candle of Advent is the Candle of Joy.  When the angel
       Gabriel told Mary that a special child would be born to her she was
       filled with joy.  She sang a song that began with the words: "My
       soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my saviour.

VOICE  - Just as the birth of Jesus gave great joy to his mother, so his
       presence in the world gave joy to those who had none before.  He
       healed them and gave them hope and peace when they believed in him. 
       From hope, peace, and love grows joy. 

VOICE  - We light the candle of joy to remind us that when Jesus is born in
       us we have joy and that through him there will be everlasting joy on
       earth.  (a person lights the candle of joy)

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

VOICE  - Let us pray: Thank you God for the joy 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 joy with each other.  We ask it in the name of the
       one who was born in Bethlehem.  Amen.

CANDLE LIGHTING SONG: Verse 3 of "A Candle Is Burning"               - VU 6
       A Candle is burning, a candle joy,
       a candle to welcome brave Mary's new boy.
       Our hearts fill with wonder, and eyes light and glow
          as joy brightens winter like sunshine on snow.

   Carol: "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.

   Prayer By Children

   God Tells Mary and Joseph About The Baby

   Children Sing:   "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.

   Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem

   Children Sing:   "Knock, Knock, Knock"
   Knock, knock, knock, went Joseph at the inn in Bethlehem.
   Can you shelter a family and be a big help to them?
   "No room, no room," said the man in Bethlehem.
   "No room, no room," said the man in Bethlehem.

   Knock, knock, knock, went Joseph at the stable door that night.
   Can you shelter a family, for Christ will be born tonight?
   "Come in, come in,"said the beasts of Bethlehem.
   "Come in, come in,"said the beasts of Bethlehem.

   The Birth of Jesus

   Children Sing: "Knock, Knock, Knock"
   Hal-le-hal-le-lu-jah was the angel's song that night.
   Hal-le-hal-le-lu-jah!  Our Saviour was born tonight!
   "Glory!  Glory!" sang the angels in the sky!
   "Glory! Glory!" sang the angels in the sky!

   The Wise Men Visit Jesus

   Children Sing: "Knock, Knock, Knock"
   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!

   Carol: "Silent Night"                                     - VU 67

   May the blessing of the child born in Bethlehem be with you.
   May his love from the cross wash over you
   And the grace of his resurrection bestow on you eternal joy.

   GATHERING OF WHITE GIFTS (music in background)

   Please Pray after me...  

   Dear Lord God - as your Son Jesus - gave himself to the world - so
   we give these gifts - that they may help fill - those who are empty
   - and bring hope, peace, and joy - to those in need -- Bless all
   that we give -- and help us to and honour  - your most holy name. 

   and together let us sing our family prayer....

   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

Your white gifts today will be distributed by our Local Outreach Committee
both directly and through various agencies and groups through whom we
receive requests, most particularly the Golden Food Bank.
A big thank you is extended to our Sunday School teachers, helpers, and
students for their commitment and enthusiasm this fall and for their
bringing to us the story of Christmas this joyful advent morning.   

Birthdays and Anniversaries
Sharing Joys and Concerns

  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!

   (NIV)  Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let
   your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious
   about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with
   thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God,
   which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your
   minds in Christ Jesus.

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

RESPONSIVE READING: Isaiah 12:1a-6  "Give Thanks To God" (VU 880)

   (NIV)  John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, "You
   brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?  
   Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  And do not begin to say to
   yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.'  For I tell you that out
   of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.  The ax is
   already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce
   good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire." 

   "What should we do then?" the crowd asked.  John answered, "The man
   with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who
   has food should do the same." 

   Tax collectors also came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked,
   "what should we do?" 

   "Don't collect any more than you are required to," he told them.

   Then some soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?" 

   He replied, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely - be
   content with your pay." 

   The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their
   hearts if John might possibly be the Christ.  John answered them
   all, "I baptize you with water.  But one more powerful than I will
   come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will
   baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  His winnowing fork
   is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat
   into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable

   And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the
   good news to them.

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

* HYMN:  "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear"                          - VU 44

SERMON:  "The Wolf of Gubbio"

       Gracious God - bless thou the words of my lips and the
       meditations of our hearts, that they be of  profit to us -
       and acceptable to thee, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen

Barry Robinson writes that one of mhis favourite stories is the legend of
"How St. Francis Taught The People of Gubbio To Feed Their Wolf."  It is a
strangely humorous story with layer upon layer of meaning.  I would like to
relate that story to you and make some comments on it using several of
Barry's thoughts.

In a nutshell, the people of Gubbio have a problem.  The bloody remains of
some of their townsfolk start showing up on the streets of their beautiful
city when people awake in the morning.  Since the people of Gubbio are very
proud people, they are convinced that "a stranger" passing through must be
responsible for the terrible crime.  Nevertheless, they begin to "lock"
their doors at night.  When more deaths follow, the same denial "that no
one in Gubbio could be responsible for such a thing" is expressed over and
over again.

And then, someone sees a wolf wandering the streets of Gubbio one night
after everyone has retired; and the people of Gubbio realize that there is
a wolf living in the dark woods on one side of Gubbio.  Of course, this
could not be their wolf; because they never asked this wolf to come to
Gubbio.  Immediately, they begin to find ways to dispatch this wolf.

After a number of futile attempts, the people get desperate enough to
approach the holy man of Assisi who has a reputation for being able "to
talk to animals".  

St. Francis "speaks" to the wolf and gives the people what appears to be
some strange and, not entirely, welcome advice.  

He tells the people of Gubbio that they must "feed" their wolf.  

At the first, the people are not impressed with this suggestion and begin
to wonder why they ever approached the holy man in the first place.  And,
then, something miraculous happens.  Bit by bit, people begin to leave food
out for the wolf as he prowls the streets of Gubbio.  The violent deaths
cease and it is not long before every man, woman and child has learned how
to "feed their wolf."  As a result, the people of Gubbio are transformed. 
They become more easy-going, less arrogant human beings.

People who hear this story for the first time have a variety of reactions
to it.   

Some are immediately amused by the story and identify with the proud people
of Gubbio.  They recognize that haughtiness that has to "blame it on
strangers" when something goes wrong.  The denial and avoidance of the
townsfolk are all too familiar.  In laughing at the people of Gubbio as
they come to terms with their wolf, they realize that they themselves can
find healing and freedom by embracing the negative aspects of themselves,
their community and their church, that part of the story that is symbolized
by the wonderfully vague image of "the wolf."

Other people, however, just don't get it.  Or worse, they are offended by
the suggestion of a self-identity that incorporates rather than excludes
"their" wolf.  They decline the invitation to befriend and feed that which
they fear most in themselves and each other and miss the opportunity to
come to a new and healthier understanding of themselves.

On this third Sunday of Advent, traditionally called Gaudete or Joy Sunday,
the church asks us to consider some equally strange advice from scripture. 
On the one hand Paul tells the folks at Philippi to

   Rejoice in the Lord always.  I say it again - rejoice!

And Zephaniah's message - found in our call to Worship - is similiar

   Be glad and rejoice with all your heart
That sounds like what this season of Yuletide is supposed to be about -
good cheer and holiday exuberance and all that.  But, when we get to the
gospel for this week, once again we hear about John the Baptist, and John,
carrying on from the message of last Sunday's gospel reading, is doing what
he does best - lambasting the tar out of  us:

   "Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees"; he cries out,
   "every tree therefore that does not bear fruit is cut down and
   thrown into the fire."

And once again we are reminded that the God who is coming is not Santa
Claus "who knows whether you are naughty or nice",  but Jesus, God with us,
the one who calls to us to turn around and follow him.

You see, that's the trouble with listening to the Bible.  
It's wisdom is so much different than the wisdom of our world.

Instead of finding "joy" through a "positive" psychological assessment of
ourselves or in the mindless advice to "Be Happy" no matter what is
happening, we are told that "joy" is what happens when we respond to that
which God demands of us; and what God demands, in the words of John the
Baptist, is "repentance" or a change of heart.  

What the gospel is trying to do for you today is release you from the
counterfeit "joy" of popping another pill or turning up the Muzak.  

Real "joy" is what happens when we confront our sin, face up to what keeps
us unhappy, and turn toward" God's redeeming love. 

W. H. Auden once wrote "In Memory of W.B. Yeats"

   Follow, poet, follow right
   To the bottom of the night,
   With your unconstraining voice
   Still persuade us to rejoice;

   With the farming of a verse
   Make a vineyard of the curse,
   Sing of human unsuccess
   In a rapture of distress

   In the deserts of the heart
   Let the healing fountain start,
   In the prison of our days
   Teach the free man how to praise.
The Good News of Advent - the joyful news - is that God is coming to us,
not to destroy us but to refine us, to help us to become what we were meant
to be.  

It is God's great gift to us: to own up to what we have been and done, to
express our sorrow and be relieved of the terrible burden of having to
think that we are "right" all of the time.   

May you be filled with "the freedom" of knowing that you are not right all
of the time - and "the joy" of knowing that you don't have to be!  Christ
has come to set us free.  To forgive and to show us God's love.  Praise be
to God!

Let us pray....   Loving God - make us ready to receive the gift we need to
become the people you have made us to be.   Help us to recognize within
ourselves those things that need to come to the light of day and to be
tamed by your Spirit.   Nourish such longing in us for your coming into our
lives that we may grow into more humble and more joyful people....   Lord,
hear our prayer....

Lord Jesus, come and bring your joy this Christmas.  Come and bless the
ones we love; come with the gifts that never break; the knowledge that we
are loved and precious; the awareness that we belong and are valued; the
realisation that we're welcome and can welcome others. Give us the joy that
turns ordinary food into a holy feast, that makes our friends and family 
the best and finest company, and which fills us with the wonder and ecstasy
that the shepherds found in the stable....  Lord, hear our prayer....

Your coming has changed our history Lord, and given us a future.  Help us
celebrate this Advent and Christmas Season whole-heartedly and open
handedly, and to see that Christ can smile at us in every human face.... 
Lord, hear our prayer...

Father, we hold before you too this day those in our family, our church,
our community, and our world,  who have a special need of your loving touch
- hear now the prayers of hearts and the words of our lips.... (Bidding
Prayers)....  Lord, hear our prayer....

Amen, Lord, Amen and 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

   Gracious God - as you gave your most precious gift to us - and still
   give to us today the wonders of your love -- so we in joy and
   thanksgiving give to you these gifts - and all of ourselves - that
   you might sanctify and make holy both them and us - through Christ
   Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

* DEPARTING HYMN:  "Once In Royal David's City"                     - VU 62

* 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

Go in peace, love and care for one another in the name of Christ 
And rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice!  
The Lord is at hand.  
Have no anxiety about anything, 
but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, 
let your request be made known to God.  
And the peace of God, 
which passes all understanding, 
will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus; 
both now and forevermore.  Amen

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

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

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