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Sermon and Liturgy for Advent Four - Year C
Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:39-55
"Bearing The Gifts of God"


READING:  Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:39-55
SERMON :  "Bearing The Gifts of God"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
c-ad04sm.y-c 585

   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.     

         
GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)

CALL TO WORSHIP: 
L:   The hope, the peace, the joy, and the love of God be with
     you all.
P:   And also with you.
L:   We gather to bless the Lord our God and to follow in the
     footsteps of our Saviour.
P:   Blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
L:   We gather to share the Word that our God has spoken, 
     the word that gives life to all whom believe in it and in
     the One to whom it points.
P:   Blessed are they who trust in the promise of God and wait
     patiently for the revealing of the glory that is to be.
L:   Our Saviour comes!  Even now the light of his presence
     shines in the darkness!

INTROIT: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (verse 1)


ADVENT CANDLE LIGHTING
See "Sermons & Sermon Lectionary Resources" - Candle Lighting
Year C for the liturgy used here.


FIRST READING: Micah 5:2-5a
L:   This is the word of the Lord.
P:   Thanks be to God.


* HYMN: Love Came Down At Christmas


CHILDREN'S TIME
THEME STORY: Gifts Fit For A King       
SOURCE: Whole People Of God 1994 and Self 
OBJECT: Wrapped box that can be opened and Paper Hearts.

Good morning.  Next Sunday is Christmas and it's almost time to
celebrate Jesus' birthday.  I want us to think for a minute this
morning - if we were going to give Jesus a present for his
birthday, what would we give him???

I have a box here and I want us to pretend to put that we are
going to put a birthday present in it for for Jesus.  What do you
think he would like?  (Take all suggestions and put them in the
box).

There is a wonderful Christmas hymn that a has a verse in it in
which the writer, Christina Rosetti, wonders what can be given to
Jesus.  And she came up with a very special answer.  I'm going to
read you the words and you listen carefully for the the special
gift:

          What can I give him, poor as I am?
          If I were a shepherd I would bring him a lamb;
          if I were a wise man, I would do my part;
          yet what can I give him -- give him my heart.

What was the special gift?  That's right - our heart.  What might
that mean???  (become a follower of Jesus)  All the gifts that we
give Jesus are signs of our love.  How else can we show love for
Jesus???  (by talking with him, learning more about him, singing
songs to him, sharing love for others) What are some of the ways
we can show love at Christmas time???  (give presents / share
with the poor / wash the dishes / make our beds / talk with
someone who is lonely / hug our grandparents} 
     
Hand out the paper hearts - labels -- You've come up with a great
list of things we can do for others to show we love them, and
when we love others, we show our love for Jesus too.  I think
that that the best gift we can give to Jesus on his birthday is
our heart, and to try to share his love with each other all year
long.  Take these and put them up on your refrigator or something
to remember this over Christmas. 

     Let us pray...  Dear Lord Jesus  -- we look forward to
     Christmas -- and to all the good things about it --
     help us to remember that Christmas is your birthday  --
     and help us to give you a gift -- the gift of our
     hearts -- Amen


* OUR FAMILY HYMN:  Good King Wenceslas


GOSPEL READING: Luke 139-45
L:   This is the gospel of the Lord.
P:   Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


RESPONSIVE READING:  The Song of Mary 
L:   My soul magnifies the Lord, 
     and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 
     for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.
P:   Behold, from now on all generations shall call me blessed;
     for the Mighty One 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, 
     he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
L:   He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, 
     and lifted up those of low degree.
P:   He has filled the hungry with good things,
     and the rich he has sent empty away.
L:   He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his
     mery according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
     to Abraham and his posterity for ever."

-- The Gloria Patri Sung --


FAVOURITE HYMN OR ANTHEM: "REDEEMING LOVE"


SERMON:                                  BEARING THE GIFTS OF GOD

     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 Nativity scene is one of the most familiar images of
Christmas. 

At one time some aspect of that scene was the most common thing
to find on a Christmas card, and of course every school play, or
Sunday school concert, had its moment when three or four
shepherds dressed in bath robes, some wisemen with foil crowns,
and a few children dressed up as sheep, and donkeys, and cows
would gather around a young Mary and Joseph and gaze at a little
bundle laying in a small pile of straw in a miniature manager.
 
There is a feeling of warmth and peace to that scene 
- a scene that to many people summarizes the essence of
Christmas.  

It is as if the nativity scene, the creche, communicates a little
bit of what God is all about. - and that somehow, those who look
upon a reproduction of that scene - whether it be as a play or as
a set of figurines placed carefully on a shelf or a table -
understand the Christian message more completely than they do at
any other time of year.

For a lot of people that understanding comes not through any
knowledge that they may have about the Christian message - but
through the memories that they have attached to Christmas -
through the experiences that they had as a child.

The nativity scene, and the carols and songs of Christmas that
concern it, transport us back to times in which special things
seemed to have happened  - magical things 
          - like the times we gathered as a family to help mother stir
     the batter for the Christmas cakes - it was so thick and
     heavy and plentiful that we had to take shifts on the end of
     the old wooden spoon - the older helping the younger to
     actually move that spoon through that batter.
          - or like the times on Christmas Eve when we got together
     under the Christmas tree and checked out all the parcels so
     carefully wrapped and placed there that night - and wondered
     aloud to each other if the squishy ones were the annual
     gifts of socks and underwear - or if they were jackets and
     sweaters - and gee look - here is a hard package - I wonder
     if it is the train set or the toy trucks and cars I am
     looking for.
          - or like the times when we got all bundled up in our woolen
     sweaters and toques and parkas to stave off the cold
     crispness of a snowy white winter night  and walked around
     the neighbourhood to look at all the Christmas lights and to
     sing a few songs -- and found doors opening to invite us
     into warm hallways and living rooms where we had even warmer
     drinks of cider and Christmas oranges and a few cookies
     thrust into our eager hands by folk who were otherwise
     complete strangers.

Christmas for many of us, even those of us who had no attachment
whatsoever to the church, was a magic time - a time in which -
now matter how bad things might otherwise have been - something
special happened - our family drew closer together  - our
neighbourhood became more intimate - more inviting - and our
dreams - and generally they were pretty humble dreams - looked as
if they might come true.

Christmas was a time of parties - of gatherings - of songs - of
gifts - of rejoicing - of warmth - of intimacy - of cuddling - of
good food and drink - it was  a time of hope and of peace and of
joy and of love  - and all this more than at any other time of
year.  All this despite whatever else might have been going on in
the world.

And you know - despite the grinches out there somewhere - those
grinches who try to steal Christmas by getting really serious
about the Christian message and the true meaning of Christmas,
despite the grinches who would strike down Santa Claus and close
all the department stores  - almost all that stuff I experienced
as a child was very good, and almost all the stuff that I see
going on around me today is also really good.  Even if the
Crucified Christ is not always at the exact centre of things.  
Even if the Suffering Servant of the gospels is not as vividly
portrayed as perhaps some think he should be at this time of
year. 

I grew up pagan as I have said before.  I didn't begin to read
the bible until I was twelve - and I didn't get 
past the first couple of nights of reading it till I was
eighteen.

But even for us who did not have Christ - for those of us who did
not go to church - except maybe that one time of year sometime
near to midnight -  Christ was somehow important to it all.  The
creche was central - with its images of donkey, sheep and cow -
shepherds, wise men, and angels, and father, mother and child. 
Santa Claus, despite his incredible attractiveness - just
couldn't compete - and still can't compete with the Christ child 
- even among the supposed pagans that dominate our crassly
commercial society.

You see - ultimately all adults - and most kids got it all
figured out about St. Nick and with just a bit of 
encouragement they get it all figured out about Christ.

St. Nicks brings us gifts - gifts of cash - of toys - of
appliances - of clothing - he brings us the material things that
we hope and dream of - and it is delightful to climb under the
tree and find something with your name on it.  Nicholas is a good
guy - even if he is has been strangely distorted by advertising
agencies in fantastical films that seek to sell us senseless
products - Nick is a good guy - but ultimately he is just Saint
Nicholas - he is not the child after whom the season is named. 

As much as we may love the physical stuff, the material stuff -
the goodies - the stuff we associate with St. Nicholas and his
gift of gold - each one of us is built in such a way by God that
we love the spiritual stuff more.  And Christ - well somehow he
represents all the spiritual things - the warmth and the love and
the open doors and the singing together and all the other good
stuff I have been thinking with you about.

And what is more spiritual - even to the untrained eye, to the
eye who knows nothing about cross and the resurrection, or the
sermon on the mount and the parable of the prodigal son, than the
nativity scene?

The birth of any child is special - but the birth of Christ - so
publicly portrayed by the Creche - is the height of special.

We see in the birth of Christ a gathering together of many things
that are very encouraging.

We see poor shepherds - folk who must tend their sheep at night,
     folk who are separated from their families by the demands of
     their ill paid work, being specially invited by angels to
     see the new-born Messiah,
we see them in the warmth of the candle lit stable to be the
first to discover what God has wrought - the birth of child - a
child of great promise.

We see too wise men from far away,
     men who in their wealth and wisdom realize that there is
     something more, something greater,  than that which they
     already know or have,
we see them find that something greater - we see them find the
king that they seek, and kneel in awe before him - though he is
but a baby..

We see Joseph - a village carpenter - a man who works hard for a
living - a man who struggles to do what is right by the girl he
loves - a man of integrity - standing next to Mary - strong and
silent, protective and deeply caring.

And we see Mary herself - a simple girl - radiant in her
motherhood - a woman who sings of justice and suckles her child
and like all mothers of worth - stores up in her heart all the
things that are said to her about her child.

Who cannot be moved?
Who cannot see themselves there in the scene  - and wonder?
Simply wonder?

Wonder at the sheer fact of the birth, any birth,
     let alone this one,
And wonder at the star - and at the stable,
     and at the silence that is broken only by the sounds of the
     animals and the songs of praise, and the contented sighs of
     the tender child?

I wondered about it as a child 
- when I knew nothing about Christ other than that scene,
and I still wonder about it as an adult 
- now with some little wisdom about who that child was.

There is tremendous power in the nativity scene
a power that cannot be overcome by the sounds of war,
     nor by Herod's fierce breathing.
a power that cannot be quenched by a million advertisements,
     nor by a billion people seeking ever more wealth and luxury.

It is the power of the ordinary, of the humble,
The power that Mary sang of when she said 

          "My soul magnifies the Lord, 
          and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 
          for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden."

I think that deep inside us there is a profound appreciation of
what it means to have the Son of the Living God born in a manager
that is meant for the feeding of animals.

We recognize somewhere deep down that Mary is a nobody,
     that Joseph is not specially important,
          that the shepherds are just plain folk,
and the wise men are the kind of folk that are usually ignored by
the truly powerful people in the world.

We know this - and we celebrate the fact of their ordinariness
and of how God chose to bring a new life into their lives, 
of how God gives himself to just these kind of folk,
the kind of folk that we, for the most part, are.

Christmas bears to us the gifts of God.
And it bears those gifts in ordinary ways,
in humble ways,
in simple ways,
in ways that are accessible to humble, ordinary, simple people.

A child is born.
In a place called Bethlehem.
On him is the hope of the nations - and the rich and the powerful
do not recognize it.

The ordinary is the place in which all the gifts are God are
borne.

The small towns like Bethlehem and the simple folk like Mary and
Joseph, bear the gifts of God.

And so do we - deep inside us - bear the gifts of God.
And we bring those gifts forth - we give birth to them,
in every act of love
and in every communication of hope that we make to one another.

Don't let the grinch steal your Christmas
Care for one another with what God has given you inside you
and  worship the Lord born in a manager - born to set you free.

May the peace and the hope and the wonder of the nativity be
yours at this time.  Amen


HYMN: Once In Royal David's City


SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS
You, O God, gave us all that you had, in giving Jesus to us and
to our world.  We have accepted your gift and now offer to you
our gifts in return - the gifts of our heart.  May they be
pleasing unto you and of use in your work in this world.  We ask
it in Jesus' name.  Amen.


LET US PRAY
Let us pray in silence to our God and thank him for all his
benefits....  Our souls praise you, O God, and spirits rejoice in
you, our salvation -for as you did unto Mary, you have done unto
us: you have been mindful of us, and of our humble state, and you
have been merciful to us, and have satisfied our hungering
hearts.  So as did Mary, so do we.  We declare, O God, the
greatness of your name.  We proclaim your might, the deeds your
arm has done.  We affirm your power, we herald your dominion, and
we tell out the glory of your word!  Lord, hear our prayer...

Help us O God to rely upon your promises and to put our trust in
you anew.    Grant us wisdom and discernment and a faithful
keeping of Christmas - a keeping in which we give that which is
most important - your love and your hope - the love and the hope
that is made flesh in deeds of caring and sharing...   Lord hear
our prayer...

Grant O God, to those who gather during the next week safe travel
and a time of joy and peace with their families and friends - and
grant too O God that those who are alone may be visited and
cheered by their neighbours - and by us --- Lord hear our
prayer...

Grant O God, to those who are dwelling in the darkness of want,
of need, or of despair - a new light at this time.  Keep us
mindful of those who cannot sing or rejoice during this season
and so direct us that we might be ones that bring a new song to
their hearts.... Lord hear our prayer...

Grant O God, the silent requests of our hearts at this time - our
prayers for our family, our community, and our world....  Lord
hear our prayer...

Giver of the greatest gift - move in our hearts and make us a
people worthy of the name of Jesus - raise up that which is has
been brought low, and bring down that which has been lifted up.  
Prepare in us and through us the way of your Son Jesus Christ -
we ask it in his name, calling even now upon your name as taught
us to do, saying... Our Father....


HYMN: T'was In The Moon of Winter Time


BENEDICTION & THREE-FOLD AMEN
Go in peace, and may the hope, the peace, the joy, and the love
of God dwell richly within you; may God grant unto you a humble
spirit and an a compassionate heart, and may his strength, his
tenderness, his wisdom and his grace guide you and support you
both now and forevermore.  Amen

CHORAL BLESSING: "Go Now In Peace" 


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 1997 - 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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